As weird as it sounds, TV played a pretty big role in my childhood. I grew up as an only child, and when I couldn’t go outside or play with my friends, I would sometimes turn to TV to keep me occupied. I believe that a good part of my ability to communicate with others and deal with particular social situations stems from the shows that I watched when I was young. I didn’t think much of the impact that TV had on me when I was a child until I was around my niece and nephew when they were growing up. I would watch their shows with them, usually on Nickelodeon, and it was then that I realized the network had fallen and its fall was impacting my niece and nephew’s personalities. The content of the shows were being reflected in their social and communication skills. I could only imagine the influence that the changes in shows were affecting children everywhere.
I’m not sure if the change in Nickelodeon came as a result of a change in our overall society or if it was just something that happened. The first thing that comes to mind when comparing shows from the late 90s and early 2000s is the lack of sexual undertone that now exists in current programming, particularly in the live action shows. I have re-watched some of the classics, including All That, The Amanda Show, and Kenan & Kel, and then watched some of the new shows like iCarly, Big Time Rush, and Victorious. The jokes have gone from mostly innocent comedy to jokes that are almost always related to something sexual. I just don’t think that it’s right for us to be exposing our children to sexual comedy so young. It makes for kids who become uneducated about sexuality and unsure how to respect themselves.
Even when the newer shows make jokes that I don’t find sexual, they aren’t even that funny. I still laugh so hard when I watch Kel Mitchell make a fool out of himself as dim-witted yet charming Ed from the Good Burger skit in All That. It just goes to show that regardless of the age of the audience, characters can still be funny without being cheesy and unrealistic.
In my opinion, cartoons should always be the top priority for a children’s network. Cartoons are playful and appealing to children of any age, and can serve as a tool to nurture children’s imaginations and how they communicate. Nickelodeon’s big thing when I was growing up were Nicktoons. They still call the animated shows that are aired Nicktoons, but they are not even close to being worthy of the title. Original Nicktoons like Rugrats and Doug addressed some heavy issues that children could face, such as encountering others who have different religions and how to deal with having a first crush. The shows confronted important things that kids need to understand while making them entertaining and engaging. Then there were other animated shows that were just plain creative and fun, like Catdog and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. The cartoons that they show currently are actually stupid. Even the shows that started off in the late nineties and early 2000s have changed their comedy style. I was really disappointed when I watched a newer episode of Spongebob Squarepants. There is no real storyline; things just happen and they’re supposed to be funny.
Maybe I’m overly critical or biased, but I can’t bring myself to enjoy anything that Nickelodeon produces anymore. Maybe it’s the way that children are being raised in today’s society and Nickelodeon is just accommodating their audience. I’m disappointed and feel sorry that kids today can’t enjoy TV and actually gain some life lessons and social skills like I did.
Know when I say this, that I truly mean it. I love old Nickelodeon. I don’t just mean early Spongebob Squarepants, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, or other late nineties–early 2000s cartoons. While I do enjoy those, I consider myself a bit of a snob when it comes to Nickelodeon shows. I used to borrow my cousin’s dvd of the entirety of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, watch reruns of The Ren & Stimpy Show, and tune in after school for old episodes of Legends of the Hidden Temple (go team green monkeys). At the beginning of the nineties, Nickelodeon hit a gold mine with a trove of amazing shows, and with this momentum, they put out some incredibly memorable shows. I try to think of myself as a child at heart, and also in body, since I still get carded at movie theatres, but recently, I was scared that maybe I am becoming a jaded adult when I watch new Nickelodeon cartoons, because I just don’t like them. Even Spongebob, one of the flagship series for the channel, has lost its sheen. I thought I was alone on this, but after having a serious talk with an eight-year-old on the issue, my feelings were assuaged, he too thought Nickelodeon, as he put it, sucked.
So, what makes these new shows so bad? In all honesty, the programming is similar to what we used to enjoy, a blend of animated and live dramas. However, I think that might be part of the problem. Their programming is just so unoriginal. Their animated shows, Penguins of Madagascar, Legend of Korra, and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness are all spin-offs of successful intellectual properties. Even their newest live action drama, Sam & Cat, is a spin-off of both iCarly and Victorious. Their original and long lasting animated series, Spongebob and The Fairly OddParents, have also seemed to lose their steam after more than 15 seasons. I’ve just found the programs to be so dry and trite, it’s a chore to even sit through an episode of a show on Nickelodeon. The shows are too safe, too unwilling to push a button or, heaven forbid, challenge the young viewers.
One thing everyone can agree on when it comes to earlier Nickelodeon shows, they weren’t your normal children’s shows. Rocket Power featured young kids doing action sports, Catdog had an unlikely pair of animals set as siamese twins, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? had horror stories. None of these would be shown today on Nickelodeon. Rocket Power inspired me to get active, but wouldn’t it be terrible if a child got hurt trying to imitate the cartoon stunts? Catdog deepened my appreciation for my brother, but wouldn’t it fracture the audience who dislike the stereotypes of cats and dogs in the show? And Are You Afraid of the Dark? made me love horror, but couldn’t a child get too scared of the characters? Each of these shows played an important role in shaping the person I am now, but unfortunately, their content isn’t foam padded like every toy a child today should be playing with. But that isn’t right. We need to be pushed out of our comfort zone, especially in places like entertainment where the main role should be social teaching. I stepped on a few Legos during my childhood, but that didn’t provoke me to get rid of them; instead, I learned to put my Legos away when I wasn’t using them. We learn a lot from a little discomfort, and it’s unfair that children today don’t get this from Nickelodeon.
But that doesn’t mean these shows don’t exist. I think in many ways, Cartoon Network with two of their newer shows, Adventure Time and Regular Show, continue this tradition. The eight-year-old mentioned previously, my little cousin, would sit and watch these two shows for hours. And, guess what, I did too. These shows bring back the dark and creepy that shows like Aaahh!!! Real Monsters had while also delivering the light hearted and strange humor that The Ren & Stimpy Show was known for. They picked up the mantle where Nickelodeon left off, delivering the shows children really need, and want. You see, kids don’t want to watch safe television, they want something that challenges them; that’s what we wanted and what we still want today through more mature programs. Until Nickelodeon realizes they need to step up their game, we’ll just keep changing the channel.