Take a Look Back at Some of Nickelodeon’s Most Popular Shows of the ’80s & ’90s, We ‘Double Dare’ You to Say I Don’t Know.
Nickelodeon (Nick) is a staple for kids of all ages and has created some of the most hilarious, cringeworthy, and iconic shows to date. The channel was created back in 1977 and was originally called Pinwheel as a nod to the children’s toy. Its flagship show featured ABCs, puppets, animation, and was basically a copy of Sesame Street on a new network. However, the channel only grew from there and became irreplaceable to ’80s and ’90s kids.
Nick is still out there and recently released a new show called Bossy Bear, which follows an animated blue bear and its friend Turtle as they go on “wildly awesome adventures.” Let’s take a walk down memory lane looking at some of the best shows on Nick during the 1980s and 1990s. Grab your Lunchable and Squeezit, and get ready to unlock memories of shows that your brain has long forgotten about.
‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ (1979-1990)
You Can’t Do That on Television walked so Double Dare could run. It created one of Nick’s most iconic moments, the panic when the bucket drops and green slime oozes all over the contestants. Think of the show as Saturday Night Live with teens, set in Canada. One of the most popular segments of the show featured the kids being careful not to say things like “Water” or “I don’t know,” and if they did they might get dumped with green slime.
In the early ’80s, Livewire became Nick’s highest-rated program because of its legendary guests. It was a talk show for kids, hosted by Fred Newman, and featured guest appearances by KISS, the Ramones, R.E.M. (this was actually their television debut!), and other music icons. The show was taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater and talked kids through current events and issues that they faced on a daily basis.
‘Standby… Lights! Camera! Action!’ (1982-1987)
Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy hosted the show which gave kids a look into the world of filmmaking. While it was pretty huge that Nick got Nimoy on the staff at that time, his one stipulation was that they couldn’t refer to him as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock during the series. He was reportedly paid a very small salary to do the show but took the gig because he believed in the show and the network as a whole.
‘Mr. Wizard’s World’ (1983-2000)
Ah, the moment when the TV rolled in and you knew your lesson for the day would be taught by Bill Nye instead of your boring science teacher. Before Bill Nye taught kids the wonder of science, it was Mr. Wizard’s World. Mr. Wizard was actually a WWII Air Force veteran named Don Herbert, who started playing the character back in 1951. He showcased science experiments in a way that was both easy to understand and entertaining for kids.
‘Double Dare’ (1986-1993)
Double Dare was a game show hosted by Marc Summers that saw two teams compete in both trivia and physical challenges to win cash and prizes and avoid the messy green slime that became synonymous with the Nickelodeon network. Double Dare was the first program to be created and produced in-house at Nickelodeon and was sponsored by Reebok, in case you were wondering why everyone was wearing Reeboks all the time.
‘Hey Dude’ (1989-1991)
The sitcom Hey Dude was set on a dude ranch in Arizona and gave us teen drama loosely inspired by the classic series Petticoat Junction and Hee Haw. The show centers around Ben Ernst, who moves his son from the big city to the ranch, much to his dismay. While the series ended in 1991, Nick showed reruns often which secured the show a spot in ’90s kids’ memories. It was also one of Christine Taylor‘s very first roles.
‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ (1990-2000)
You probably still have nightmares about this one. I’ll admit, I was definitely too chicken to ever watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? back in the day. The series centered around a group of teens who called themselves “The Midnight Society.” They met at a secret location in the woods at nightfall and would tell a scary story, usually revolving around demons, aliens, witches, vampires, werewolves, and other frightening urban legends. It was truly a different type of programming for kids at the time and attracted new viewers to Nickelodeon in the ’90s. If you watched this one without hiding under a blanket at one point, I commend you. The series was revived in 2019 and currently airs on Paramount+.
‘Clarissa Explains It All’ (1991-1994)
Before Melissa Joan Hart became a teenage witch, she played Clarissa, a curious teen who aimed to solve all of her problems with the help of her bumbling friend Sam and her pet alligator named Elvis. Clarissa Explains It All was the very first Nick show to feature a female lead and led to the success of other similar shows such as The Secret World of Alex Mack. Unfortunately for Millennials, Joan Hart has recently shot down rumors of a reboot but a sequel novel was released in 2015 called “Things I Can’t Explain,” which follows Clarissa as she navigates her 20s.
“Dear Journal, hi, it’s me, Doug.” It truly doesn’t get any more ’90s than Doug. While Doug only aired on Nick for the first four seasons (it later moved on to Disney), it became a true animated classic. The series followed Doug Funnie, a middle school boy, as he navigated life with his best friend Skeeter and crush Patti, avoided his snarky sister Judy and bully Roger, with his dog Porkchop by his side. The show taught kids how to love their unique selves, how to be more confident (remember Quailman?), and shared the importance of journaling your feelings.
Rugrats is truly synonymous with ’90s Nickelodeon. The show focused on toddler friends Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, and twins Phil and Lil, and shared their daily life with their parents as supporting characters. The show was celebrated and sometimes criticized for its portrayal of Jewish faith and culture. However, many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious groups have praised the show for its holiday episodes, teaching kids about the various religions. The show was so popular that it led to many spin-offs, sequels, and films.
‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ (1991-1995)
The animation, best known for its dark humor that delighted kids and adults alike, followed chihuahua Ren Höek and cat Stimpy on their adventures. Ren was more anxious and emotional while Stimpy was sweet but not the brightest. The two together often got into trouble and the show delivered some shock value, which caused controversy as it was supposed to be a kid’s show. Overall, it received good reviews from critics and had a cult following which led to other similar shows such as Rocko’s Modern Life.
‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ (1993-1996)
The animated classic is a perfect example of the creation of an unconventional lead character and truly had lots of adult humor so even parents could find interest in the series. Rocko, an Australian wallaby, originally appeared in a comic that never got published. Its creator, Joe Murray, wanted to match the personalities of his anthropomorphic animals to their real-life counterparts. Nickelodeon reportedly gave Joe and the team a lot of creative freedom to add an edgier cartoon into the mix. The success of Rocko’s Modern Life was thanks to the other often controversial and satirical animated classic The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995).
‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ (1993-1995)
“The choices are yours and yours alone,” the giant stone head named Olmec would say during each episode. Kids teamed up as Blue Barracudas or Silver Snakes to complete mental and physical challenges, all while hoping they wouldn’t get caught by the temple guards. The Legends of the Hidden Temple game show was exciting and educational and honestly still takes up space rent-free in my head because I watched it so often.
‘All That’ (1994-2000)
Another series inspired by Saturday Night Live but featuring teens, All That showcased each character’s unique abilities during sketches and inspired later shows such as Kenan & Kel and The Amanda Show. It featured short comedy sketches and musical guests, geared toward a young audience. This was the start for several celebrities including Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson, and Jamie Lynn Spears.
‘Hey Arnold!’ (1996-2004)
Oh, Arnold and his football-shaped head. Hey Arnold! was an important series at the time, known for its diversity, challenging authority, and teaching kids to stand up for things they believe in. Arnold was inspired by another nostalgic pop culture icon, Pee Wee Herman. The creator, Craig Bartlett, was influenced to create Arnold based on a minor character he created while working on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He also drew inspiration from growing up in several cities including Seattle and Portland.
Which was your favorite (and least favorite) Nickelodeon show on this list? Let us know in the comments!