May 2, 2010

Nickelodeon has lost its identity

Watch this montage of old Nickelodeon bumpers and promos from the late '80s and early '90s. These little clips are funny, strange, inventive, colorful, sometimes messy, sometimes just plain weird. But they are always fun and creative. They are always offbeat and interesting. They always manage to capture what it means to be a kid. And they were pretty much unlike anything else on television at the time. No other channel had promos like these (except Nick at Nite, 'natch).

You watch these promos and you "get" what Nickelodeon is: A wacky, weird, messy, unpredictable, strange, funny, silly, imaginative place. It's not just a TV channel for kids to call their own, it's like the very mind of a child come to life. There's nothing "cool" or glamorous or slick about it; this is a channel that embraces the geekier, weirder side of life and it works because most kids aren't the popular, good-looking kings and queens of their school and playground -- most kids are the dorks and the geeks, awkward and strange and average, just trying to have fun and be silly and be... kids. No little mini rock stars or glamor girls here.

Contrast with these new Nickelodeon bumpers:

I could only find one clip of a current-day Nick promo advertising the channel itself:

This is very different from old school Nick, which often had SEVERAL 30 second bits that just promoted the channel itself and not any specific show. For current-day Nick, all I could find is this one promo.

This is evidence in my mind that Nickelodeon as a brand and a unique identity is no more. The channel can't do a variety of little 30 second promos to promote the network identity because the network no longer has a unique identity. They tried to make this new promo seem old school with the slime, but really, even the slime is now slick and bland. It's all a pale comparison to the vibrant promotionals that Nickelodeon used to run.

I know I'm late to the party in noticing it, but Nickelodeon is now just "Disney Channel, Part 2" -- a channel filled with tween sitcoms starring glammed-out, gorgeous teen idols whom the network executives hope to turn into the next Hannah Montanas (complete with merchandising, record albums, music videos, and concerts).

All of these shows are heavy on the romance/relationship stuff as well as issues of popularity and status within the shows' settings (i.e.: high school, the fashion industry, the music industry, etc.). Implicitly they suggest that girls must dress in the latest fashion trends, style themselves with lots of makeup, and be overly concerned with fame and celebrity (i.e.: the characters on iCARLY have a web show; VICTORIOUS revolves around a young woman who wants to become a famous singer; TRUE JACKSON VP is focused on the fashion industry and clothing as image; BIG TIME RUSH is about a boy band that wants to make it big).

From watching these shows, one would think the life of a kid today should revolve around Internet celebrity, fashion, and the music industry (specifically the "teen idol" industry). These shows are often funny and entertaining but they don't reflect what it's like to be an ordinary kid. They give kids a superficial and image-obsessed fantasy version of adolescence that is probably very intoxicating for the kids watching these shows, but at what cost?

Now, speaking to my fellow twentysomething nostalgics, let's not kid ourselves: Old School Nick had some terrible, vapid shows too (FIFTEEN, WELCOME FRESHMAN, and ROUNDHOUSE come most quickly to mind). I'm not arguing that everything on Nick was perfect in the early '90s and everything on Nick now is crap. There have always been crappy shows on Nickelodeon, there will always be crappy shows on Nickelodeon.

What I am saying, though, is that Nick as a channel used to have an identity that was more free spirited and fun. The channel itself had an overall spirit of weirdness and messiness and creativity that was stronger than its individual shows. Nickelodeon the channel was as varied and unpredictable as the kids who watched it. There was something for everyone. And it was a place where nerds and ordinary kids could come for television that spoke to them. THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE, REN AND STIMPY, SALUTE YOUR SHORTS, CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL, ROCKO'S MODERN LIFE, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, DOUBLE DARE, LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE, GUTS -- the list goes on and on.

Once upon a time, Nickelodeon was for real, ordinary kids. Now it's for glamor girls and high-gloss celebrities. Compare and contrast the Nickelodeon kids of the golden age versus the "stars" of today:



Unfortunately, in chasing those Hannah Montana/Disney Channel dollars, Nick has ceded its unique identity for the love of the filthy lucre. In a way, Nick's success as a television channel has been its own undoing. As the channel has become more successful, more money is at stake, and with more money at stake, executives want to take fewer chances. Seeing the success of the teen idol formula on Disney, the Nick execs counter with their own teenybopper stars and soon all of the inventive, unusual, and offbeat stuff that Nickelodeon was known for falls by the wayside in favor of safe, bland, marketable teenage commodities.

Now without an unique brand identity of its own to carry the channel forward, the success of Nickelodeon the channel depends entirely on the success of its tween/teen stars. The channel doesn't have brand loyalty anymore; it has only star loyalty. Kids don't love Nickelodeon, they love Miranda Cosgrove or Victoria Justice. Nickelodeon doesn't mean anything as a brand or as a channel except as the channel that shows iCARLY and SPONGEBOB. Nick doesn't even have The Splat anymore, that iconic, shapeshifting logo that symbolized everything it meant to be a kid to a generation who grew up in the '80s and '90s. Now Nickelodeon is as generic as all the other kids channels out there, one in a sea of many, no different than the rest.

Nick may be trying to hang on to the slime and the faint sense that they are the messier, more rebellious channel, but one need only look at the promos airing on the channel today and compare them to the promos from the '80s and '90s to see how far the channel has fallen. Nick might still have the slime, but it's lost the spirit of messiness and fun that made the slime great.


  1. You should have started the article "Back in my day ..."

  2. Heh, yeah, I know right? I should have thrown in a "get off my lawn" while I was at it too.

  3. I agree Nickelodeon is a shell of what it used to be. I'm so tired of hearing about icarly, victorious, and any other teen based show on the network has to offer. Nickelodeon was a true pioneer of what children's television should be and the fact that that it has sacrificed it's integrity for the teen idol market is a slap in the face the motto it stood by for years "Nick is Kids"

  4. Thanks for the comment, Sean. I'm intrigued by the new midnight block airing on TeenNick, "The 90s Are All That." It's obviously geared towards twentysomethings who loved the 90s Nick shows of their youth, and it's heartening that Nick executives have finally listened to the fan outcry to bring these shows back.

    But I wonder if today's kids, when they are in their twenties and thirties, will have the same loyalty and love for VICTORIOUS or iCARLY as my own generation has for ALL THAT or SALUTE YOUR SHORTS. Will there be facebook groups and online petitions and twitter campaigns to bring back "Nick of the 2000s"? Somehow, I doubt it.

  5. I found this great article from following a link on IMDB, and I'm so glad I did. I usually don't comment on things, but I just had to say that I agree with everything you've said here. '80s-'90s Nick was about underdogs and regular kids, while the shows now are about being "cool" and "popular." The older shows had more heart, and more wit and creativity, as well. The underlying message then was "It's okay to be who you are," and now it's more like "you need to dress a certain way and have the latest technology to be cool." It's pretty sad, actually. Thank God I was a '80s baby.