Mathew Klickstein and Caseen Gaines | Decider (New York Post) | June 4, 2016
"The Oral History of ‘Nicktoons’, Part I: How The Storied Animation Block Came To Be"
Of all the impassioned deliberations, pragmatic contradictions and anarchic chaos that erupted from the battery of interviews I conducted in preparation for my book SLIMED!, this was the one clear consensus.
In speaking with nearly every individual involved in these sui generis television programs allegedly “for kids,” it became as clear that these folks are not simply prime case studies for Alice in Wonderland’s suggestion that the best people are bonkers. All of them – even to this day, on the doorstep of Nicktoons’ 25th Anniversary (August 11, 1991) – erupt too with an animated fire that keeps them as brilliantly bright as ever.
I’ve been lucky enough to remain friendly with a good many of these outlandish characters, some of whom still recall their first days in the audio booth or at the drawing board with the same vividness as what they ate for breakfast this morning. It’s remarkable (and a little peculiar) that their anecdotes of those madcap days rarely change one iota from the eerily exact words of the interviews we conducted some three or four years ago.
Which is why I feel as lucky now that on this auspicious occasion, we can at long last release some of the never-before-seen bonus materials from SLIMED! that together (and in some cases for the first time) tell the story of Nicktoons’ origins from those who made it all happen.
*Please note: Executive roles of those interviewed (“Network President,” etc.) are in reference to the period this oral history specifically describes. For the purpose of editorial clarity, we have in some cases used concisions of parenthetical descriptions for many of the interviewees who contributed to the Nicktoons block and/or network in more numerous ways.
Here now is Part I of our four-part series on the Birth of Nicktoons. Enjoy the mess.
PART I: THE BIRTH OF NICKTOONS
JERRY BECK (Vice President of Animation, Nick Movies): As movie theater shorts died out in the 1960s, TV animation emerged. Bob Clampett went into TV and did Beany and Cecil. Chuck Jones did specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Hanna-Barbera, who had won Oscars for Tom and Jerry, pioneered TV animation through shortcuts and unfortunately it was so popular, they developed patterns and formulas. Twenty years later, they were making the same stuff over and over again. By the 1970s, the TV networks were actually dictating to animators what they wanted and how to do it to stay running another year. By the ’70s and ’80s, animators were beaten down. Animation was at its worst period. That was the state of things when Nicktoons started. No wonder it exploded at the time.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): Everything in the ’80s was toy-driven. The toy companies were paying for the shows. They were commercials. When I was at Marvel, we were doing GI Joe, Transformers … All paid for by Hasbro.
BILL WRAY (Development/Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): Everyone wanted to make sure nothing offended a group of mothers someplace. There was this feeling by all the old pros that the great stuff they once did was junk. It was like they decided that they were going to do this shit, and everyone just said, “If you want to eat and get paid to draw, this is what you’ve got to work on.”
JIM GOMEZ (Writer/Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): We couldn’t understand why animation was so bad at the time. It was one of those moments when cable needed something and the audience needed something, and it happened to be this.
JOHN KRICFALUSI (Creator, The Ren & Stimpy Show): I was intense about reviving cartoons. Period.
MITCHELL KRIEGMAN (Story Editor, Nicktoons; Creator, Clarissa Explains It All): Studios and broadcasters had moved to have things more and more written and less driven by artists themselves. John K. was right: Artists should be making animation.
THOMAS MINTON (Writer, Christmas in Tattertown): The first original Nick animated program was a special called Christmas in Tattertown in December 1988. I co-wrote it with Jim Reardon, and Ralph Bakshi produced.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): I don’t believe it was made as an original for Nick, but for a license fee.
GEOFFREY DARBY (President of Production, Nickelodeon): Ralph Bakshi came to us as a good animator and pitched a good story. Where do old toys go? They go to Tattertown. Unfortunately, we just didn’t give him enough money to do it right. He made that one cartoon: “We’re not X-Rated for nothin’, honey”? Yeah, Fritz the Cat. But we went with him because he pitched us a unique world that had really heartstring human qualities. All the things a good story needs. It was really the story that got us. Not just him. And it was too bad because the story and the idea were better than the execution.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): After working at Marvel Productions and on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I decided to move to New York City. I didn’t want to do animation anymore because it was basically toy-driven properties, and that’s not what I wanted to do. I had never even heard of Nick. I was without work and somebody mentioned Nick to me and I said, “I don’t do animation any more.” But I went in anyway and met with Debby Beece and told her of my experience. I had quite a bit of it. She said, “We’re kind of interested in getting into some animation.” I met with Herb Scannell who said, “We really can’t afford to do animation right now, but why don’t you do a special for us while we’re figuring this out?” So I did the Thanksgiving Special in 1988 as an independent producer at the time.
GEOFFREY DARBY (President of Production, Nickelodeon): The Thanksgiving Special was our first foray into original animation. Debby Beece found Vanessa Coffey and brought her in to do that.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): It was a big thing for them to do the Thanksgiving Special after Tattertown, because they told me at the time that it was the most amount of money they’d spent on anything!
FRED SEIBERT (Producer/Development, Nickelodeon): Cosgrove-Hall had made the most successful animation on Nick up to that day.
GERRY LAYBOURNE (President, Nickelodeon): Danger Mouse, made by Cosgrove-Hall, was a great cartoon. Count Duckula, which was the first animation we ever commissioned, was not. Somebody was Danger Mouse. That was a character living inside somebody. Count Duckula was a fabrication. It just didn’t read right. I don’t know why we brought it in. It was a way for us to learn about animation. We could afford it: it was a co-production. But I never liked it as much as Danger Mouse.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): As time went on and we talked more, Nick was on the cusp of buying Hanna-Barbera. I said, “What about original animation?” Everybody was kind of scared of the idea.
JIM JINKINS (Creator, Doug): Vanessa Coffey came up with the idea of doing a block of animation based on original ideas. Not spin-offs, not toys being expanded into series. But something that was original and creator-driven.
JACK SPILLUM (Supervising Producer, Doug): Some of it had to do with syndication laws. The FCC’s new guidelines – I think it was 1987 – changed a lot of things. That made it harder for toy companies to invest in animation because those cartoons were deemed as “commercials.”
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): Also at the time, a network would license shows. They couldn’t have ownership. Once that changed, networks could own their own shows.
SCOTT WEBB (Creative Director, Nickelodeon): We began exploring the Nickelodeon attitude in original animation. That was the work Will McRobb and I did together. We created three experiments. One was “Inside-Out Boy,” one was something called “Nick Auditions” and the other was “Boogerman.”
WILL McROBB (Story Editor, Nicktoons; Creator, The Adventures of Pete & Pete): “Boogerman” was about a booger who lived in a nose. It was as disgusting as anything I’ve ever worked on, but it was claymation, so it was tolerable. The whole campaign was kyboshed by [network president] Gerry [Laybourne] for being too gross. It never aired.
JACK SPILLUM (Supervising Producer, Doug): The fact that the first foray into Nicktoons was based off of a careful selection of competing proposals that were all original, as opposed to a bunch of executives deciding what from their library could be exploited further, and that Nick invested the kind of money they did was certainly the first time I’d heard of this kind of thing. The process would later become very popular throughout the industry.
MIKE KLINGHOFFER (Vice President of Production, Nickelodeon): The whole reason that Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy came about was because we acquired Looney Tunes in the mid-’80s. Which no one wanted and no one wanted to air. And because of brilliant promotion – which, I feel, in large part goes to Scott Webb – they turned Looney Tunes hot again … So hot that when it came time to license them again from Warner Bros., Warner Bros. wanted to triple the price. What we had bought for three million dollars they now wanted for nine million dollars. And we knew the next time we’d go back there in three years, they were gonna want seventeen million dollars. We should start producing our own shows that we can eventually control and own the library and syndicate ourselves. And it’s because of that that those three cartoon shows and Nicktoons are born.
GERRY LAYBOURNE (President, Nickelodeon): Everybody else was doing toy-driven stuff and it was garbage. It’s hard to create a character out of a toy for a lot of reasons. You have limited time to produce because you have to get the thing out when the product hits the market … How about, instead, we do this radical thing of looking around the country for animators who have great characters living inside them? We had Vanessa Coffey head out and, sure enough, there were animators who had characters that had just been put in their bottom drawer because the “Saturday Morning” networks only wanted these pre-sold characters. Ren and Stimpy were living inside John K. The Rugrats were living inside Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo. And Jim Jinkins was Doug. These were very heartfelt, passionate people making cartoons for kids, which was a breath of fresh air in the cacophony of factory production.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): So they hired me as a consultant and independent producer, and said, “Go see what you can find.” I rented a room in LA and put out the word – to artists only – that I wanted some pitches. I started taking pitches every hour.
JOEY AHLBUM (Creator, animated dinosaur interstitials; Creator, Thunder Lizards): I wanted to do something inspired by my dino IDs, but with different characters. A talented writer friend of mine, Marc Catapano, and I would meet for coffee and go over ideas, eventually coming up with the framework for our show, Thunder Lizards. We worked closely with Vanessa Coffey who was a fan of the show from the beginning and encouraged us to do our best work.
MIKE KLINGHOFFER (Vice President of Production, Nickelodeon): I saw Joey’s pilot and thought, “Oh, this has a good chance.”
JOEY AHLBUM (Creator, animated dinosaur interstitials; Creator, Thunder Lizards): When we brought in our first storyboard, Vanessa said we could do better and sent us back to the drawing board. I really appreciated that. We set up shop in an old loft building in NoHo [North Hollywood] and, despite our best efforts, the roof leaked like a sieve, so we rigged up a system of plastic tarps that collected rain into a single rain barrel. Of course, whenever Vanessa would come for a visit, it would end up pouring!
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): I only had the option to do three series. I loved Joey and worked on the Thunder Lizards pilot with him, but it wasn’t on the same level as the other three.
GERRY LAYBOURNE (President, Nickelodeon): Of the eight pilots, three of them were Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, and Doug, and those were all homeruns. Thunder Lizards, I felt, was gorgeous but the character development just wasn’t there.
LINDA SIMENSKY (Manager of Animation, Nickelodeon): It looked good, but it wasn’t really funny to kids. They were doo-wop dinosaurs, which seemed real funny to adults, but the kids in the focus groups were saying things like, “That’s our parents’ music.” I think executives thought it was funny but kids didn’t.
GEORGE EVELYN (Creator, animated doo-wop interstitials; Creator, Big Beast Quintet): The pilot I worked on – this was 1988, I think – was based on characters who were in that marching doo-wop broadcast ID. It was called Big Beast Quintet. They were five “animal-guys” who went through various incarnations as we rooted about looking for a show to put them in. The Nickelodeon team let us try all kinds of different approaches and writer teams, and provided enough money to produce a decent-looking pilot. In the end, it all came to naught, kind of ran out of steam readily and I moved on to other equally fun things.
NORTON VIRGIEN (Director, Rugrats): I had been involved with Vanessa Coffey in the making of a potential show that was tested for the first round of Nicktoons called The Weasel Patrol at a small studio in New York City. I was working with animator John Dilworth who later created Courage the Cowardly Dog. We were making a very unique looking show … until our producer got nervous and sent me and the show out of town to a more established animation house, which gave the show a strong Looney Tunes look. Sure enough, word came back that the finished pilot looked “too familiar” and that the Nicktoons were all meant to look like nothing that had been done before.
GEORGE EVELYN (Creator, animated doo-wop interstitials; Creator, Big Beast Quintet): Our little pilot for Beast Quintet had some excellent attributes, but I think maybe our pilot was emblematic of a previous generation of animation, in some ways too classical – talking animals in a cartoon version of our world – for its own good.
DOUG COMPTON (Artist, Doug): I animated the introduction to Nicktoons itself, which was this artist guy coming out and throwing up a canvas and then shooting it with a cannon full of paint that said NICKTOONS. They called him “Art Man” and he was this weird-looking character with a big nose and googly eyes and crazy hair. And that introduced Nicktoons every week.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): We did all the pilots simultaneously and went into production simultaneously. And launched them all on the same day on August 11, 1991.
FRED SEIBERT (Producer/Development, Nickelodeon): I don’t know if I was the one who came up with the name Nicktoons. It’s possible it was Scott Webb. But I insisted upon using it. Vanessa didn’t want to use it. Nobody wanted to use it. It goes back to selling the network over selling the shows. We were making a statement. In this case, in the world of cartoons.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): I met Fred and [production partner] Alan [Goodman], but they weren’t involved with me creating this block of animation at all. I don’t even know when they saw it. The week it launched? I spent more time with Geoffrey Darby, because of the level of budget. But Herb Scannell was my direct report. Even though he didn’t know anything about animation. It’s not like he looked at any of my animation.
HERB SCANNELL (Development, Nickelodeon; President [after Gerry Laybourne], Nickelodeon): Vanessa was the driver. But she reported to me. I got more involved with the first round of shows that she championed and oversaw. Then I got involved with every animated show afterward. She was always on a mission. We championed her drive. There were some ups and downs along the way.
FRED SEIBERT (Producer/Development, Nickelodeon): They started the new golden age of kids’ animation. Let’s give it to all five of them: Gerry, Debby, Herb, Vanessa, [Supervising Producer] Mary [Harrington]. If you accept the fact that when things go wrong, it’s the superiors’ fault, you have to accept the fact that when things go right, it’s the superiors’ fault.
LINDA SIMENSKY (Manager of Animation, Nickelodeon): It was really a group thing, so I don’t think any one person could take the credit. With the exception of Gerry.
GERRY LAYBOURNE (President, Nickelodeon): There was a [parent company Viacom] company meeting where all the divisions were asked to come prepared for what we would say if we were given $100MM. Most of the divisions thought this was a BS exercise. The radio division and Nickelodeon went for it and we made a full-blown presentation and we had a very compelling argument for what we would do with $100MM. So we had this meeting, we had our pitch, radio made their pitch, everybody else made their pitches, we got voted Number One with radio, and we left the meeting. The radio guy got on a plane and bought two radio stations. I came back and green-lit eight pilots. And I get a call the next day: “You know that was just a hypothetical exercise.” But at that point, you know, it was great that we did that. And so eventually they spent $100MM. The first tranche was $40MM.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): It was the most money Viacom had ever spent. This was specifically original programming with no toys attached. We had to make sure it was going to work.
FRED SEIBERT (Producer/Development, Nickelodeon): In the beginning of Nicktoons, I lost a really big battle that to this day – as a cartoon producer – I’m really pissed off about that I didn’t fight harder. Vanessa insisted that the cartoon stories be eleven minutes long. I am, in a certain way, a traditionalist. In the record industry, hit songs are three minutes and have always been three minutes long. All of the greatest cartoons of all time were seven minutes long. But I got into the fight too late.
CRAIG BARTLETT (Story Editor, Rugrats; Creator, Hey Arnold!): I always thought eleven was a good minimum to be able to do a three-act story. I like to have a “B” story, something else that’s going on underneath. As someone who was more about a written show than a drawn show, I was always an advocate for the eleven and fought the seven.
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): Looney Tunes and all that stuff was seven minutes. But after working with all these Hasbro shows and Turtles that had such shitty, lazy writing, I thought, “Let’s do eleven minute segments. They’ll have to be really good stories.” That’s what we decided to do. I’m sure a lot of people take credit for that.
JERRY BECK (Vice President of Animation, Nick Movies): The eleven-minute cartoons were created by halving the twenty-two minute time slots that a half-hour show – minus commercials – established. Nick wanted one commercial break instead of two in the middle of the show.
FRED SEIBERT (Producer/Development, Nickelodeon): Vanessa is responsible for all cartoons now being eleven minutes long, which I continue to find depressing. But it might just be sour grapes.
DOUG COMPTON (Artist, Doug): I’d say the animation renaissance came when Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out in 1988 and suddenly Disney was interested in doing features again. It kind of changed back and everyone went back to the Fifties, Tex Avery style. And, of course, when John Kricfalusi came out with Ren & Stimpy, he started a whole new trend toward that type of thing where adults could enjoy it as well as kids.
BILL WRAY (Development/Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): Here’s all these people who haven’t been able to express their art their whole lives. They’re all in their thirties, approaching forty, having spent fifteen years in the business, hating what they were doing, bursting at the seams … It was like a rock star who finally has a really great first album. You’re pouring everything into this cartoon.
PAUL GERMAIN (Co-creator/Director, Rugrats): I had gone to film school at UCLA and got a
job in 1983 with James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films. I was there when, needing some interstitial animation for his Tracey Ullman Show, Brooks pointed to this cartoon strip he had on his wall from the LA Reader called Life in Hell and said, “Why don’t we get that guy?” That’s how The Simpsons came to be. Brooks told me I was in charge and when I told him I didn’t know anything about animation, he said, “You’d better learn.” I called every animation company I could find in LA. They’d send me their reels, and it was a lot of stuff that wasn’t very interesting. Jolly Green Giant commercials. But this one little company called Klasky-Csupo – I couldn’t even pronounce the name – sent me this really cool reel. Back then, Gabor Csupo – a Hungarian immigrant – was married to Arlene Klasky – an American – and they ran this company together. They knew this would be a big opportunity for them, so they really pushed for it. Their bid was really good. When The Simpsons became a series in 1989, a lot of big shots came in and I was relegated to a role I didn’t like. Being disillusioned by the film business, I decided to move on and was going to be a teacher. But when Gabor found out I was leaving Gracie Films, he asked me if I would like to do development for him. I took the job and started coming up with ideas for shows.
LINDA SIMENSKY (Manager of Animation, Nickelodeon): I went after Klasky-Csupo because they made The Simpsons when it was still little shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show and I had read an ad for them saying to call them for their reel. I called them, even though I was just a scheduler at the time. I thought it would be cool to see their reel. Their head of sales called me back because he’d gotten this message someone from Nick was calling for their reel. I brought them in, gave them a tour of the office – which at that time was like half a floor – and introduced them to everybody. Though I couldn’t really do anything for them then, when I moved into the animation department, they were the first people that I called.
CRAIG BARTLETT (Story Editor, Rugrats; Creator, Hey Arnold!): Klasky-Csupo was a great place to work. The building was called the Annex. It was right next to where The Simpsons was, on the corner of Highland and Fountain. Our building was really a fun space because it had a big open interior where the storyboarders worked, then you’d go up some stairs and there was a mezzanine and Paul had an office, and there was an office next to that that I shared with Arlene. I’d sit there on one side of this tiny room and type, and Arlene would sit on the other, talking on the phone. We were called “the Baby Show” by the Simpsons show artists who thought they were better than us.
JACK SPILLUM (Supervising Producer, Doug): I’m a little more interested in Rugrats because Klasky-Csupo eventually became the studio to beat. For us and for indie producers. They set the bar for us.
ALAN SILBERBERG (Writer, Doug): Of the three shows that came out for Nicktoons, Doug was the one that spoke to me the most, even though I know it has its own audience. You can’t compete with Ren & Stimpy for the weird, and Rugrats had its own sort of viewership. But Doug to me was the sweet, sweet stuff of human stories and that felt a little less big.
CHERYL CHASE (Angelica, Rugrats; various voices, The Ren & Stimpy Show): I liked Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy, but Doug I never took to. It seemed boring to me.
THOMAS MINTON (Writer, Christmas in Tattertown): Ren & Stimpy starred lead characters who were alive. Those other shows, especially Doug, were lacking in energy and loaded with kid cartoon clichés, talking down to their audience like crazy.
EDDIE FITZGERALD (Layout Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): I couldn’t bear to watch the other shows. We thought we were miles ahead. The other stuff was nice and the latest thing, but they were just an updating of the studio product. We were trying to tinker with the very nuts and bolts of our craft.
KEN SCARBOROUGH (Head Writer, Doug): I certainly had a lot of things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t do at Nickelodeon. I’d always wanted to have an episode where Douganswered viewer mail, where he talked to the camera and established some rapport with the kids at home. That was outside of the style of the show, but I was able to do that on Arthur. There was a lot of learning we did on Doug, but on the other hand, there were endless possibilities that couldn’t be contained by one show.
RICHARD PURSEL (Writer/Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): Most of [Ren & Stimpy’s original production studio] Spumco called the drawing style for the other two Nick shows “Wiggle-mation.”
DAVID CAMPBELL (Executive Producer, Doug): Doug has real issues of an eleven-year-old and deals with them the way an eleven-year-old would. And in comedic, tragic and boring ways. It wasn’t necessarily ha-ha slapstick drop-dead funny like SpongeBob or Ren & Stimpy, but I think it shot an arrow in their heart, in their emotional life and they responded. Especially certain types of kids. Maybe the jerks or the “hard guys” or the deeply cynical artists might not respond to it, but Doug was an “every kid.” He was all the kids who were insecure. Above-average, but not necessarily top of the line.
BOB CAMP(Director/Development/Artist/Writer, The Ren & Stimpy Show): You know, we were very critical of everything in those days. We were the bad boys of animation. I regret a lot from those days. We were assholes a lot of the time. But we were funny assholes!
VANESSA COFFEY (Vice President of Animation, Nickelodeon): My idea of creating this block was like creating a meal. Your broccoli was Doug. Rugrats was Spaghetti-O’s. And then dessert was Ren & Stimpy.
LINDA SIMENSKY (Manager of Animation, Nickelodeon): Back in the office, a lot of people didn’t really get Ren & Stimpy at first. But then when it became popular, those same people maintained that they knew it was gonna be a hit and that they’d always liked it.
JOHN KRICFALUSI (Creator, The Ren & Stimpy Show): There were all kinds of talented artists in animation in the 1980s that were not allowed to use their talent and had no way to learn real skills and grow. We would work on Saturday Morning cartoons and then be too ashamed to watch them when they aired. After Ren and Stimpy came out, I remember getting calls from old friends and cartoonists who were amazed. “John! You did it!” was what one really funny animator told me long after he had left the business in disgust.
MARY HARRINGTON (Supervising Producer of Animation, Nickelodeon): The audience couldn’t get enough of Ren & Stimpy. We had no clue how big it would get. We knew we were dealing with something special, but after it hit, it was huge. We used to say, “Ren and Stimpy are rock stars!” We had crew jackets and stuff, and you could not walk around New York City wearing a Ren & Stimpy t-shirt without somebody trying to rip it off your back.
EDDIE FITZGERALD (Layout Artist, The Ren & Stimpy Show): It was like what had happened in Westerns with Sergio Leone. “There’s nothing more you can do with Westerns.” Then A Fistful of Dollars came out. Holy cow! Overnight, Westerns became a big deal again. John did that for animation.
JIM BALLANTINE (Associate Producer, The Ren & Stimpy Show): It is impossible to look at any cartoon produced after Ren & Stimpy without thinking of Ren & Stimpy. Angry Beavers, Yo Gabba Gabba!, SpongeBob. It all comes from John.
CRAIG BARTLETT (Story Editor, Rugrats; Creator, Hey Arnold!): I went down on a Friday night to go visit a friend at Spumco, and they were having a big party watching “Stimpy’s Invention.” I was standing there, beer in hand next to all these guys. I was watching it and thinking, “I’m standing here with these people. I’m part of animation history! This episode will go down in history! And some day they’ll talk about the crazy days when somehow in Hollywood they made this episode.” I looked at John – who was just sitting there with a little smile on his face. The whole half-hour included the “Log” song. I was laughing and laughing. It was cool to be doing what we were doing at the same time these other productions were going on. They were as different as they could be. And that, if anything, speaks to how experimental and fresh and new Nick was in those days.
JERRY BECK (Vice President of Animation, Nick Movies): Spumco would be packed and everybody had a beer. The laughter was of success. “We got ‘em!” Honestly, the reason it was such a creative renaissance with Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats was there was an ignorance on the part of the executives. They didn’t understand them, but they trusted them. Now they’re hiring based on temperament and safety. Execs want to control the circumstance. In the ’90s, things were out of control. But out of that came such great stuff.
JIM JINKINS (Creator, Doug): You’re talking about Nick in a very formative, young stage. Execs like Vanessa were willing to take chances and were looking for something a little different. Instead of just a hit, just copying. They were actually trying to be original. That way of thinking is not very corporate. I certainly haven’t seen it very much since.
NORTON VIRGIEN (Director, Rugrats): Where would animation be without Vanessa Coffey and Gerry Laybourne who got the Nicktoons ball rolling? Some place less interesting.
CLIFF JOHNSON (Animator, Out of Control): When it comes to Nicktoons, I do have an opinion. Which no one cares about. You have to set the Way-Back Machine to the early ’80s. Disney was falling to the wayside. Warner Bros. wasn’t making anything. Computer animation hadn’t arrived yet. “God, isn’t it a shame this is all going down the drain?” And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nickelodeon helped pioneer the reinvention of animation by saying, “It doesn’t have to look like this! It doesn’t have to look like Warner Bros. It can look any way it wants to!”
Caseen Gaines is the author of We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. His grandmother unsuccessfully tried to stop him from watching The Ren & Stimpy Showwhen he was a child. Follow him on social media: @caseengaines.
Mathew Klickstein lost his mind interviewing more than 250 VIPs from the early days of the First Kids Network for SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age. Fortunately, he was able to salvage a few last neurons for the forthcoming Marc Summers documentary, On Your Marc, and the new podcast, NERTZ. Find out more about Klickstein’s shenanigans here.