Did you know that people write books about TV? Crazy right? Well I’m enough of a TV nerd to have actually read a few.
Here’s one of my favorites, you know for when your TV shows go on hiatus or the power goes out or something.
Nickelodeon Nation: The History, Politics, and Economics of America’s Only TV Channel For Kids – Edited by Heather Hendershot
I don’t know about you but I grew up on Nickelodeon. Disney was alright, I mean I remember how excited I would be when we got to watch the free preview of the Toon Disney channel, but for me Nickelodeon was where it was at for cartoons, live action TV, and everything in between. (Seriously, how do you categorize Wild & Crazy Kids, KaBlam!, or Weinerville?)
Given how much I loved the network’s many shows and resident Popsicle stick – Stick Stickly, I was pretty excited to get my hands on this book. Broken up into four sections – ‘Economics & Marketing’, ‘The Production Process’, ‘Programs and Politics’, and ‘Viewers’ – there’s a little something for everyone.
Interested in marketing or the television industry in general? Several of the early chapters provide insight into Nickelodeon’s carefully crafted orange logo, programming decisions, and general show development.
Growing up it always seemed that Nickelodeon was made just for me, but of course that perception was the result of many, very deliberate, decisions regarding the branding message of the network. Contributing authors helpfully provide the context needed to understand how Nickelodeon’s core principles differed from other children’s television shows and programming blocks of the time.
In the ‘Production Process’ section, I especially enjoyed “Diversifying Representation in Children’s TV: Nickelodeon Model” by Ellen Seiter and Vicki Mayer. Portrayals of gender and ethnicity are the main focus in this chapter, but for me the main takeaway was that Nickelodeon figured out pretty early on that girls and boys alike were willing to watch TV shows with girls in lead roles. Which is what led to Clarissa Explains It All, The Secret World of Alex Mack and later more ‘dramatic’ shows like The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and Caitlin’s Way.
Strong female characters are probably one of the few unifying themes found throughout the many TV shows I watch, and Clarissa Darling and Alex Mack are partially to blame for that. Both characters were so cool yet completely relatable, that is if you exclude the little GC-161 accident.
If you’re thinking that’s really nice and all, but I only care about the shows, then hold your horses. The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rugrats, Spongebob SquarePants, and Blues Clues all get their own chapters too. As does Nick News, but let’s be real, did any kid really watch Linda Ellerbee on their own volition?
In a particularly engaging chapter, Linda Simensky, Nickelodeon’s former Director of the Animation department recounts the early days of Nicktoons, which includes Rugrats, Doug, and Ren & Stimpy.
In addition, Nick At Nite and TV Land have their own chapter, because kids can’t have all the fun and there’s also an in-depth and insightful interview with Geraldine Laybourne, Nickelodeon’s Network President from 1989 to 1996.
As with any anthology book, some sections will be more captivating than others, but overall Nickelodeon Nation offers an interesting glimpse into the origins of a network that so many kids grew up on.
If you like reading and love Nickelodeon, then here’s a few other books that might be of interest:
Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship by Sarah Banet-Weiser
Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons! by Jerry Beck
Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein (Available on 9/24/2013)