Author Mathew Klickstein looks back on Nickelodeon’s ‘Golden Age’

Budnick (Danny Cooksey), Donkey Lips (Michael Bower) and Dina (Heidi Lucas) pal around on "Salute Your Shorts," a show that almost never was. Courtesy Heidi Lucas
Budnick (Danny Cooksey), Donkey Lips (Michael Bower) and Dina (Heidi Lucas) pal around on “Salute Your Shorts,” a show that almost never was.
Courtesy Heidi Lucas

Most kids watch Nickelodeon strictly for entertainment. But Mathew Klickstein wasn’t most kids.

“I was just always very engaged in what was going on behind the scenes,” says the author of the new SLIMED: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age. “I was almost custom made to do this book.”

Growing up, Klickstein was glued to his TV for now-cult-classics like “Hey Dude” and “Salute Your Shorts.” His passion for what he calls the “golden age of Nickelodeon” — roughly 1983-1995 — inspired him to “jump through a lot of hoops” to score interviews with some of his favorite TV stars of yore. Now, he even counts many of them, like Marc Summers, friends.

Ironically, Klickstein doesn’t watch any television these days, as he thinks the quality has gone downhill since his favorite Nick shows were on.

“You could tell immediately that you were watching Nick,” he says. “[Their shows] looked different. They were doing something they just can’t do now.”

But not all of his feelings about TV have changed.

“I’ve given up in trying to pretend: My favorite shows were ‘Pete and Pete’ and ‘Ren and Stimpy’ then, and they’re ‘Pete and Pete’ and ‘Ren and Stimpy’ now.”

 

5 things you didn’t know about your favorite Nick shows

 

There wasn’t much hooking up behind the scenes

“At the end of the day,” Klickstein says, “A: They were just kids who were all being very monitored, and B: Most of these shows were only on for a couple seasons — they were just rerun over and over again in syndication. The Midnight Society [from “Are You Afraid of the Dark”] did all those intros in a couple weeks, and then they were done. They weren’t with each other long enough and they were always being broken up by adults.”

Kenan & Kel no longer speak

“Kel was originally Kenan,” Klickstein says, in the sense that Kel was originally the more successful of the duo. “Kel sort of shot forward and became a bit of a diva, and suddenly Kenan gets in with Bill Cosby and does ‘Fat Albert,’ now he’s on ‘SNL,’ so he’s the successful one. Kel’s doing gospel Christian music now.”

Melissa Joan Hart has a stage mom

“Melissa Joan Hart was great — she has the sexiest laugh of anybody I’ve ever talked to in my life,” Klickstein muses. “She and her mom are also very smart in that they own the property to ‘Sabrina [the Teenage Witch’] so when they sold that they got ‘Seinfeld’-type money. That’s why she’s doing well — she’s able to keep producing because she and mom have a lot of money. Everyone across the board had stories about Melissa Joan Hart’s mom Paula — terrible stories. Her name came up so often, she just was a handful for everyone, and a very strange character.”

There almost wasn’t a ‘Salute Your Shorts’

The camp show was deemed “cookie cutter” and “stereotypical” when the first pilot was written. “The original script was so bad that the VP of production, Geoffrey Darby, held it in front of the producer at the time, and said, ‘You know what I think about this?’ And threw it in the trash. … And basically they were like ‘Please give us another shot.’ And so Geoffrey Darby worked with them to completely rework the script.”

No one really liked ‘Hey Dude’

“[Geoffrey Darby] claimed that the only reason ‘Hey Dude’ got sold was because the person running Viacom at the time just really liked the title. A lot of people had a lot of complaints. People just didn’t think that the acting was that great, except for Christine Taylor. The people who developed it and created it completely forgot to bring in a level of diversity, and they were like, ‘oh, obviously we need to have a Native American kid because it’s out on the ranch.’ So they basically created the character of Danny and they went out to all these reservations to try to find a kid who could play that role, and the best they could do was find, like, a Mexican-American kid. He was pretty much the only person I couldn’t get in touch with. No one knows where he is.”


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