For those of us growing up as kids in the 80’s and 90’s, the mention of Nickelodeon brings back a flood of nostalgic memories, from tuning in past our bedtimes to gleefully indulge in SNICK’s late night shows, to having Clarissa explain life’s daily and confusing intricacies to immersing ourselves in Rocko and Heffer’s surreal world. But how did the rise and triumph of this network come to be? For a network that succeeded in touching so many generations and individuals, filmmakers’ Adam Sweeney and Scott Barber aim to explore and dig deep into the heart of Nickelodeon with interviews and stories straight from the mouths of those who brought the classic shows to us as children in their upcoming documentary, The Orange Years.
Sweeney and Barber initially met in elementary school while bonding over their mutual love of Nickelodeon shows, calling each other up on the phone and impatiently waiting for class to start the next day to talk about their favorite scenes from newly aired episodes on the network. The two stayed in touch long after their adolescent years and both wound up together in the film industry. “I think the documentary, in a way, is a chance to go behind the scenes of all the shows that shaped us, and millions of other kids, and really unpack a program that grew with us. It’s not an overstatement to say this channel changed our lives”, says Sweeney of their budding project. Both Sweeney’s and Barber’s appreciation for Nickelodeon shows over two decades later goes to show how ahead of their time the network was, unraveling stories and complex issues in a way that was both mature and relateable. Rather than staying hush-hush about seemingly taboo topics and themes, Nickelodeon set themselves apart from other networks at the time by genuinely listening and paying respect to the very audience that cared about them the most: the kids. The network was led by Geraldine Laybourne, a visionary who was largely responsible for Nickelodeon’s success, pulling the network out of a ten million dollar loss to becoming one of the top rated networks in the history of cable television. “[I]magine a female programmer in the 80’s (because let’s be real, sexism in the work place and at-large was and still is a very real thing) putting the fate of a company into the hands of children. I am sure some of her peers were skeptical but she was so ahead of the game that all they could do was catch up once they realized how brilliant the idea was,” states Sweeney. Laybourne and her crew continued to push television’s rigid boundaries by discussing topics such as AIDS and alcoholism through their shows as well as including a variety of programs on their lineup, from original game shows like Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, animated shows like Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy and a host of other favorites such as later night’s SNICK’s The Secret World of Alex Mack, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and All That. “The show that has probably stayed with me the most was Pete and Pete. That show holds up so well in my opinion. The episode, “Farewell My Little Viking” sums up growing up, for me”, recalls Barber.
The Orange Years doesn’t wish to present a simple history lesson about the network, but rather offer a fresh and new perspective spanning from its initial origins to deep into the SNICK years with the cast and crew of all your favorite Nickelodeon shows eager to jump on board to tell their story. Sweeney reminds us that “[s]o many wonderful creators, programmers, and performers gave hundreds, if not thousands of hours of their lives, to give us a piece of pop culture gold, and we want to dig deep to find out how it happened and why it captivated multiple generations. If we can have a viewer walk away after seeing the movie looking at Nickelodeon from a new perspective, and maybe even their own lives for a second, then I will feel like our message has come across.” Barber and Sweeney are in the midst of their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help raise their funds for travel, copyright and marketing costs to help shape their dreams into a reality. With perks like digital downloads to the film prior to its release date, limited edition posters and the potential to star in the film, this is a cause entirely worth supporting and rooting for. Find out more about their campaign and how you can donate here.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. She may have a tad obsession with comics and Corgies, but she keeps it under control. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.