By Jason F.C Clarke
Long before it became the juggernaut of kids? entertainment that it is today, Nickelodeon was a tiny Ohio-based cable station airing an odd assortment of children?s shows. And while many kids remember classics like You Can?t Do That on Television, Double Dare and Danger Mouse, the young Nick had to fill more than just two hours of daytime programming before Nick at Nite kicked in. Here are a few of the shows that paved the way for hits like Ren and Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants.
10) Maya the Bee
In its early days, Nickelodeon filled half their daytime programming schedule with redubbed child-oriented Japanese anime. These cartoons often had some sort of European connection or flavor, either in its origins or in its production. Maya the Bee was based on a German book first published in 1912. The eponymous bee is extraordinarily adventurous for her species and earns her keep by seeking out pollen. The cloying theme song is probably the most memorable aspect of the show.
9) Eureeka?s Castle
?Picnic time!? Eureeka?s Castle was a puppet show about Eureeka, a young sorceress who lives in a wind-up music box owned by a giant (it?s unclear whether Eureeka and her friends were prisoners or just renting, but I digress). Eureeka hung out with Magellan, a friendly dragon, and other puppet creatures, and hilarity generally ensued.
8) Finders Keepers
Nickelodeon had a lot of game shows that involved kids wearing colorful protective gear. Everyone remembers Double Dare, but another popular show was Finders Keepers. The beginning of the game involved something about figuring out clues hidden in a cartoon drawing, but you really watched it to see the part where the kids got to tear apart rooms in the ?house? on stage, looking for random objects. Nickelodeon got a lot of mileage out of shows that inverted traditional childhood rules?instead of cleaning their room, they were trashing it! The irony was palpable.
7) Salute Your Shorts
By the early ?90s, Nick was producing its own live-action shows as well as cartoons. One of the first was Salute Your Shorts. Based on a kid?s book, SYS followed the antics of a group of kids at a summer camp for what was apparently the longest summer ever in history. The gaggle of teens and pre-teens were herded by Ug, the bumbling camp counselor. Plots usually served as platters for an unending stream of burp and fart jokes.
6) Hey Dude
If you remember this show at all?about a dude ranch in Arizona?I guarantee it?s because of Christine Taylor, probably the most famous person to come out of a show on this list. She played girl-next door Melody, and she was really, really cute. There was another girl on the show, rich spoiled Brad, but most young male viewers only had eyes for Melody.
A sketch comedy series developed by a former In Living Color writer, Roundhouse was sort of like a kids? version of The State (which debuted on MTV the following year). It ran from 1992 to 1996 and yet, I can remember hardly anything about it. Can you?
4) The Wonderful World of David the Gnome
Long before it was a creepy Travelocity spokestatue, the classic blue-and-red gnome could be found weekdays on Nickelodeon?s Wonderful World of David the Gnome. The show was a Spanish creation based on books by a Dutch author, animated in Canada and then dubbed into English (which I think averages out, geographically, to a Welsh production). Voiced by Happy Days? Tom Bosley, David and his fellow gnomes were vegetarians who spent most of their time helping animals and fighting to save the environment from a group of idiotic trolls, who in no way were intended to represent us stupid destructive humans.
Nickelodeon?s answer to Sesame Street, Pinwheel featured a hybrid cast of humans and puppets, as well as cartoon shorts from just about any country willing to sell them. Memorable characters included Ebeenezer T. Squint, a green-skinned miser who was totally not a rip-off of Oscar the Grouch, and Plus and Minus, two puppet kids who never stopped playing ?Gotcha last!? The show was odd but endearing, except maybe for Coco, the creepy mime (which is redundant, really). Be warned: once you watch the YouTube video, it?ll be days before you get the theme song out of your head. [Topless Robot apologizes for getting the Pinwheel theme song stuck in your head for the next three years. -Rob]
2) The Mysterious Cities of Gold
Nickelodeon imported a lot of cartoons in the 1980s, many of them anime that were produced in Japan in association with some other country. One of the most memorable was Mysterious Cities of Gold, a Japanese/French creation about a Spanish orphan in the 1530s who searches for his father in the New World. In the process, he runs into the ancient Mayans, discovers a solar-powered plane and the remnants of the technologically-advanced lost Mu Empire. It also had an awesome theme song.
1) Today?s Special
If you remember anything from Today?s Special, it?s probably the mannequin named Jeff who came to life when a plaid flat cap was placed on his head and the magic words ?Hocus pocus alimagocus!? were uttered. The cast was rounded out by Jodie, the store?s display manager, Muffy, a talking mouse, and Sam Crenshaw, the loveable security guard who, like Muffy, was a puppet. As cute as the show sounds, to a young kid there was something traumatic about the way Jeff would go catatonic whenever his hat fell off. And thus, a generation of American kids were taught to fear plaid flat caps.