Before Suffering: Nickelodeon Nostalgia

8 Dec

4297264_origSince I didn’t really get to anything important in my presentation, I figured I’d make a blog post out of it.

The Teen Nick programming block, “The ’90s Are All That”, runs from midnight to 2am, then repeats until 4am. For rare special events, particularly holidays, the block runs 4 hours of unrepeated content. Since many of the programs selected for the block don’t have enough episodes to air in consistent syndication, the block cycles through the most popular shows (airing All That and Kenan & Kel for a few months, then replacing them with Rugrats and Rocket Power, for example). The site “filters the social data inputs from Twitter, Facebook, GetGlue [what?], Miso [what??], and others by location, influence, sentiment and anticipation to output real-time insights” ( This model is particularly useful for looking at “The ’90s Are All That” because the aforementioned social networking sites generated virtually all of the support for the return of ’90s Nickelodeon. The block also panders to the nostalgic with ’90s Nickelodeon network IDs, cameos of fictional programming “hosts” (like Face and Stick Stickley), and the ability to vote online for which shows will be the next part of the block (the first two aggressively establish a broadcast aesthetic, while the last undermines this work).

Using this block as a case study, but also referencing the network histories of Disney Channel, MTV, and Noggin/Nick Jr., as well as the general history of popular syndication runs, I will look at this new brand of media-exclusive (yet transmedia-enabled) nostalgia that the Millennial generation has revealed—if not engineered—with its incorporation of the Internet as a ubiquitous, everyday medium (rather than a workplace or mail tool) after being raised in a televisual world. The demand for syndication is unprecedented, and complicates the traditional diachronic pacing of nostalgia, a word whose etymology implicates a forgotten time, a time not experienced, or a time that never existed (Ignorance, Kundera). The frequency of cultural digestion, which the internet allows and accelerates, actually relocates nostalgia from a social experience to an individual one. Meme culture defines the psychology behind nostalgia—the yearning for a lack.

There are several economic questions as well. How important is the Internet in determining both volume and quality of viewership? Are Nielsen ratings more or less valuable for shows that are not only highly intertextual, but intertextual across different media? Is a broadcast aesthetic possible on the internet? To what extent does the success of “The ’90s Are All That” depend on this broadcast aesthetic, rather than the actual shows? And of course, do these (we) nostalgic Millennials watch and enjoy the reborn shows as much as we enjoy missing them?

5 Responses to “Before Suffering: Nickelodeon Nostalgia”

  1. Allison Elizabeth December 9, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Having watched some of this programming (DVRed by my sister), I have to admit it is kind of strange. I grew up on 90s Nick, but was very young for most of the programming. This doesn’t mean I don’t remember it or remember it fondly. It just makes me question who they are showing this for. The people who watched it when it was live are now presumably in their 20s and even 30s. The majority of them should be working or going to school, meaning consistently watching tv from 12am to 4am probably isn’t something they can do. That time frame is one that I can only think would be really available for teenagers to watch on a regular basis. So are they then marking the nostalgia of an older generation hoping that people who were too young to see it live will now want to watch and enjoy what their older sister always called superior shows? Or are they marketing to a DVR crowd? This I could not understand mostly because I don’t understand how viewership numbers are taken when the shows are being watched from a DVR.

    • evanharold December 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

      The corresponding data suggests that the online demand for the shows was enabled by Facebook’s late 2006 policy that allowed anyone over 13 to join with a valid email address. The earliest campaigns for bringing back ’90s Nickelodeon I was able to find were from early 2007, and on Facebook for the most part. This, as well as the 12am to 4am slot, suggests that the target audience is now of college age, give or take 3-5 years. As you point out, the programming privileges a demographic of people who can watch TV at 2am, but this doesn’t necessarily rule out people who now in their mid-20s to early-30s.

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