On August 11, 1991, Nickelodeon aired its first three original Nicktoons: Doug, Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy kicking off a revolution in Saturday morning cartoons.
Up until then the high cost of quality animation had discouraged Nickelodeon from developing weekly animated programing. But at the beginning of the 90s, Nickelodeon was ready to create a unique library of original content that would pay for itself for years.
Lets take a look at each of the three OG Nicktoons:
The cartoon about a very average middle-school kid with a big imagination was the creation of Jim Jinkins who said it was essential that each and every installment of Doug taught a moral without preaching.
Accompanied by his band of misfit friends, Doug Funnie muddles through tough childhood experiences like getting a bad haircut or learning to dance which he writes down carefully in his diary each night.
Doug also had some pretty adorable alter egos.
A big part of Doug was the music, including the catchy theme song and the regular appearance of a fictional band called The Beets who were modeled after the Beatles and had a hit song called Killer Tofu.
Doug ran on Nickelodeon for 52 episodes before it was snapped up by Disney in 1993 going on to become a $100 million franchise with a movie and tons of merch.
The second original animated show released by Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991 was a show about a group of funny (i.e. ugly) looking toddlers who go on great adventures with their 1-year-old leader Tommy Pickles.
Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo, the original producers of The Simpsons, created Rugrats which features a gaggle of exceptionally savvy kids: Tommy Pickles, a sweet 1-year-old who doesn’t seem to own pants; Chuckie, his 2-year-old neurotic friend; 1-year-old twins, Phil and Lil; and a 3-year-old bully named Angelica.
The show with it’s distinct animation and adult level jokes became one of the most popular kids cartoons in North America, winning four Daytime Emmy Awards over the 15 years it ran.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. As heard on episode #48 of History of the 90s the original run of Rugrats went until 1994 before going on hiatus because of some behind the scenes drama.
Show runner Paul Germain, along with the rest of the writing staff walked out over issues with Klasky and Csupo that to this day have not been revealed.
During the hiatus Rugrats went into syndication and exploded in popularity. The show went back into production in 1997 and became the tentpole of Nickelodeon for the rest of the 90s spinning off three films, video games, comics and toys.
It finally went off the air in 2014 but in May 2021 a reboot of the series launched on Paramount Plus. And all the babies are alive and well, despite a recent fan theory that they were all dead and just figments of Angelica’s troubled mind thanks to her neglectful parents.
REN & STIMPY
The third original show launched in 1991 as part of the first block of original Nicktoons can best be described as animated chaos.
Ren and Stimpy, a cartoon about a rage-filled Chihuahua and a dumb but empathetic cat was the creation of John Kricfalusi.
He pitched Nickelodeon executive Vanessa Coffey a show called Your Gang, which included Ren and Stimpy. Coffey, who was known for liking weird, out-of-the-box creations, passed on the show Kricfalusi was pitching but told him she was interested in the dog and cat.
From there The Ren and Stimpy Show was born. The show, with its scathing parody, gross-out humour and violence seemed out of place on Nickelodeon.
But its meticulous art style earned it critical acclaim. The New York Times called it “perhaps the most innovative, maybe even subversive, animated program in decades.”
The show was also a major hit with viewers immediately scoring big ratings. It appealed to kids as kind of a forbidden fruit and also to adults. In fact 35 per cent of its viewers were over the age of 18.
Ren and Stimpy fan clubs and viewing parties sprung up on college campuses around the country where the show had a cult like following and fans turned to internet bulletin boards to share their obsession.
But the success was short lived thanks to problems behind the scenes — more specifically Kricfalusi’s temper.
Following Season 2 of Ren and Stimpy Kricfalusi was fired. The show continued on Nickelodeon with new writers and the animation was done in house but in the eyes of diehard fans it was never the same. Ren and Stimpy was cancelled in 1995.
In 2003 Spike TV revived the show with Kricfalusi back at the helm but it was soon cancelled.
In August 2020 Comedy Central announced that it has ordered an adult oriented revival of Ren and Stimpy. But Variety reports the new version will not involve creator John Kricfalusi, who in 2018 was accused of sexually exploiting teenage girls.
For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.