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Cartoon Graveyard: The Decline and Fall of Nickelodeon

June 11, 2009

First off, a Happy Birthday to my good friend and colleague Sarah.

Now, to business. Here’s a linguistic quirk to chew on: in America, we refer to corporations in the singular: “Coca-Cola did this, General Electric is building a new that.” In Britain they’re referred to in the plural: “McDonald’s are suing so-and-so, Starbucks are closing stores in wherever.” It’s been suggested that referring to corporations as individuals in speech might have been a factor in the legal rules treating them as such, rules which are not looked upon kindly by those not in charge of corporations.  But can companies really be thought of as individuals?  Does the much-derided groupthink of corporate boards really translate into a unifying personality?

TV critics seem to think so, and they have a habit of characterizing networks’ “personalities” based on their programming.  CBS is the prudish old man of the group, churning out Nielsen-friendly detective shows and lame sitcoms like a well-oiled, incredibly boring machine.  FOX, as ever, is the crass class clown, hollering from the back of the room about boogers and boobs and desperately hoping someone is shocked.  So what do we make of it when a network suffers a mood swing?  Usually, it means a change in ownership, such as when AMC got sold and went from being the poor man’s Turner Classic Movies to being the stupid man’s Turner Classic Movies, then suddenly picking up two critically-acclaimed series and exposing my framing device for the tenuous fiction that it is.

Fuck you, Draper, you screwed up my conceit.

Fuck you, Draper, you screwed up my conceit.

Other times, it means the top brass have decided the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and made a full-on assault on another channel’s turf.  Such is the sad fate of Nickelodeon.  People around my age are wont to wax rhapsodic about the golden age of Nickelodeon, by which they usually mean the nineties.  That’s when the channel billed itself as “the first kids’ network,” and with that came the requirement to fill nearly 24 hours a day of programming with kids’ shows.  To fill the void, Nick borrowed shows from broadcast channels and archives, but also commissioned a flood of new cartoons, from the relatively conventional (Rugrats, Doug) to the out-and-out surrealistic (Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life).  As it turned out, kids responded equally well to all ends of the spectrum, and good times were had by all.  You have just entered the Nostalgia Zone.

Hey, remember things from your childhood? I do too!

Hey, remember things from your childhood? I do too!

Alas, somewhere along the way a serpent was introduced to this animated Eden, and its name was The Disney Channel.  It is well-known by now that Disney is where innovation goes to die, and the new channel quickly settled down to formula: sitcoms about attractive “teenagers” who have low-key, brightly colored adventures and inexplicable side jobs in show business.  The protagonists are usually girls with odd names that are the same as animals or states.  One such has become rather famous recently, with a recent movie release and tons of merchandise related to her stage name, Indiana Jones.

And that’s the model Nickelodeon decided to follow, ditching nearly all their prime-time cartoons for a host of virtually identical live-action sitcoms.  Now, a cynical man might think the reason is simply a boldfaced attempt to capture the preteen girl audience with hypermaterialism and relationship drama.  But since I am a bright-eyed naif, I will assume that Nick’s executives were simply wowed by the artistic daring and intricate storylines of a show whose idea of a television event is a guest spot by an annoying vlogger.

Episode title: imeet Fred. Alternate title: idesperate.

Episode title: imeet Fred. Alternate title: idesperate.

And so was the kingdom corrupted.  Next week: why there’s hope.

Final Judgment: Where have you gone, Nickelodeon?  A generation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Woo woo woo.

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3 comments

  1. A caveat: turns out I’ll be sans internet next Thursday, so that last line should be “Two weeks from now: why there’s hope.”


  2. oh whoa i should have thanked you for the birthday message but don draper kept making me forget what i was doing <3 gorgeous man


  3. […] on the network and it seems that that is the reason why they are so loved. Brett Hallahan wrote on The Sqlog about Nickelodeon’s cartoons’ demise. He believes the reason for their downfall was […]



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