Hey Nickelodeon! Whatever Happened to Arnold, Zim, and Duckula?

If you have kids, maybe even if you don’t have kids, Nickelodeon is one of the constants on your television. Home to the Rugrats, SpongeBob and Jimmy Neutron, Nickelodeon gained respect for its ability to recognize cartoon projects that could appeal to both kids and adults. Until recently, that is.

The dark storms appeared on the horizon a few years ago when lesser-class shows like Wild Thornberries and Rocket Power showed up on the schedule. The latter was clearly a cynical attempt to cash in on the extreme sports subculture without actually realizing that the show, while capturing the homogenous conformity that is any subculture, failed to create any real humor from that subculture. In other words, Rocket Power managed to make extreme sports incredibly boring. Especially to parents and teenagers. The Wild Thornberries was just simply a bad idea all around.

Even so, looking back on those days, one can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when one looks at what Nickelodeon has degenerated into. The network that used to feature such classic cross-generational cartoons as Count Duckula, Dangermouse, Aaaah Real Monsters, Invader Zim and Hey Arnold is now firmly in the business of pursuing the road most traveled.

Instead of creating interesting characters, Nickelodeon is now content with shows that put uninteresting characters in bizarre situations like Fairly Oddparents and Danny Phantom. And the outlandishness of the situations is the only thing that makes one episode differ from another. Certainly you can’t distinguish one episode from another by plot since every episode of both of these shows feature the same plot.

One of the more recent entries in the bizarre situation gambit is My Father Is A Rock Star. This oh-so-original concept follows the, well, not terribly interesting tales of a family headed by a dad who’s aâÂ?¦well, you know. Since the show was “created” by Gene Simmons of KISS, you can well imagine what kind of rock star the dad is. One who kids of today would have no interest in. Unfortunately, he’s also too boring a character for parents who might have been fans of KISS. (I wasn’t, but that’s another story.)

The most unfortunate effects of the popularity of anime can also be felt on Nickelodeon. Avatar The Last Airbender certainly has captured the interest of my kids. As for me, well, you know you’re in trouble when you long for reruns of Pokemon to be on another channel. At least Pokemon featured humorous villains in Jesse, James and Meowth. Those on Avatar, much like Yu-Gi-Oh, are merely instruments to move the repetitive plot along. No one on any Nickelodeon cartoon created in the past five years are nearly as memorable as Chuckie, Tommy or Angelica.

Except, ironically, for Dil on Rugrats All Grown Up. Once again, the makers of Rugrats have shown that full-bodied characters who make us laugh are able to follow any plot and make us tune in. The most striking difference between something like All Grown Up and something like ChalkZone is that the characters on the former don’t have to interact with magical or fantasy characters. They are real and their real adventures, no matter how off the wall, are what will cause All Grown Up to last as long as the original Rugrats while ChalkZone and many others similar in nature have fallen by the wayside.

With the shocking drop in quality in the most recent original Spongebob episodes (following the equally awful feature film), the only bright spots on Nickelodeon’s lineup are Jimmy Neutron and All Grown Up. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that these two shows are the only ones left in which the parents and children actually seem to like each other and have a good relationship. I’m not sure who is responsible for the parent/child relationship on Fairly Oddparents, but clearly whoever it is has deep-seated psychological problems that should be dealt with in therapy and not on a kids’ cartoon.

Here is my advice for Nickelodeon before they go the way of Cartoon Network, a network that now features only one truly great original show, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends. Drop everything but Jimmy Neutron and All Grown Up and immediately order new episodes of Hey Arnold!, Count Duckula and Invader Zim and then commission new series from the creators of those shows. While it’s true that many of these shows can now be found in reruns on Nicktoons, most cable companies only provide Nicktoons with their digital packages that cost extra.

Failing a return to what put them on the map, the only way Nickelodeon is going to be able to keep the interest of parents is to bring back Nick at Night for the entire prime time block.

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