Truth be told, there wasn’t a better time to grow up than in the 90s’, and if like me were lucky enough to be born in the early 80s’, experiencing both decades coherently before the big tech boom is one hell of a privilege that you’re proud to have been apart of. As a little kid, we had the pleasure of experiencing Saturday Morning cartoons, drinking from the water hose with no regrets or fear, and many of the other now cliche tropes you see on the interwebs of 80s kids’ lives. However, in this little sliver of an era that we lived in throughout humanity’s existence, how privileged are we to have experienced an afternoon block of what was to our generation, our very own Mona Lisa of television shows that spoke to OUR generation only.
The golden age of Nickelodeon started something that we, the older kids and young teens, wanted to see and tackled real issues in both a humorous and slick way that we could understand and relate to. Before 1990 hit, the Canadian slime-bastic show “You Can’t Do That On Television” which was one of the channel’s first syndicated programs that ran up until 1990, really paved the way and ushered in the rest of the Nick legacy after picking the show up and becoming production partners in 1982. It also introduced to us to that green slime that became the channel’s iconic callback.
Why green slime? Hell, I don’t know…
ANYWAYS. I HAVE NO CLUE, but who cares? It was gloriously disgusting and we were here for it.
There was so much great content that Nickelodeon put out throughout the decade that honestly, it was hard to cipher it down to just ten; but for everyone’s sake of their sanity and eyeballs, I gotta keep it tight here. Worth noting also that I’m just giving my own opinions here on a few live-action programs that not only stuck out of the nostalgic deep well of the 90s Nick era programming but ones that also I have a major soft spot for that truly spoke to us adolescents of a time when the internet was only something rich people could afford.
So, let’s dive deep into the 90s nostalgia of live-action Nick shows that ruled. But first…
10. Nick Arcade
I friggin’LOVED Nick Arcade and when video games were as hot as ever, Nickelodeon hopped on that train with a game show where kids played video game trivia and challenges to win prizes. Holy balls I wanted to be on this show so bad.
The challenges were comprised of the “Four P’s”, if that jolts your memory, of points, puzzles, pop quizzes, and prizes, and moving the video game mascot Mikey around different areas in a variety of worlds that would rotate in every episode landing on one of these four P’s depending on which direction the player wanted to go. But let’s face it-everyone was just waiting for those video game challenges and the Video Zone that led up to the Wizard Level for the winning team to face. That show was our muse to step up our game in Battletoads if we ever ended up in Orlando and wanted a shot at being a contestant.
Now to double those nostalgic senses, here’s a full episode featuring the Salute Your Shorts cast!
9. Hey Dude!
Hey Dude just barely inches in as the series started in 1989 and only lasted until 1991 but made an impactful memory to all those who caught it during its two-season run. Though it wasn’t because it wasn’t popular or anything, but because Nickelodeon studios opened up in Orlando and just didn’t want to shell out the extra cash of filming in Arizona.
Hey Dude set itself apart from the teenage Summer camp tropes and moved into a Dude Ranch in the Southwest which was interesting and different, to say the least. It involves real teenage problems including friendships, love interests, and even taking on topics of sexism in the workplace. Unlike a lot of kid-focused tv shows, this one had some terrific acting; cue Christine Taylor anyone? It was a fun show to relax and unwind with after a long day at school and the theme song was pretty catchy.
Bet you get this stuck in your head for at least 4 days.
8. Wild and Crazy Kids
Hosted by Omar Gooding, Annette Chavez ( Jessica Gaynes for the second season), and Donnie Jeffcoat, Wild and Crazy Kids was another popular game show that was bonkers as shit but would we really want it any other way?! The chaotic game consisted of three large groups of kids battling against each other via simple recess games like tug of war or Simon Says and then traveling into really fun challenges like Slime by Numbers where kids basically got to slime their own parents. That was definitely my favorite by far. I’m just really proud we lived in a time when green slime was all the rage and it was perfectly acceptable to do this to anyone in your family.
7. Legends Of The Hidden Temple
BLUE BARRACUDAS FOR LIFE. Legends of the Hidden Temple was a mix of Jeopardy and Indiana Jones game of mental and physical challenges for kids and it was an absolute blast to watch mostly because production really went balls to the wall with set designs for this. The arena is a giant fictitious Mayan temple with an animatronic stone head named Olmec who “knows the secrets behind each of the treasures in his temple. Teams of two separated by cool names and colors compete to snag a historical artifact by doing physical challenges and answering questions asked by the giant head on history, geography, and mythology. So you not only needed to fit as fuck, but hopefully, you paid attention in school or the shrine of the silver monkey was out of reach for you bud. Legends was a pretty big deal and talked about daily in the schoolyards around here because there really was nothing quite like it. I suppose it was a product of its time though as the 2021 revival didn’t catch that same magic. But then again, when you replace the kids with adults, it really does lose a lot of its appeal.
6. Clarissa Explains It All
Clarissa not only explained it, but had IT all and was pre-teen goals for all girls that watched this show. Her outfits were on point, her room was a teenage dream, and she just seemed to have like the perfect damn life with the exception of a few basic bumps along the way. Some of which yield positive learning experiences with wholesome morals about friendship, trust, and honesty. The show was an anomaly during its original run because it cast a close boy/girl friendship that wasn’t hampered by sexual attraction, which offered society the opportunity to talk about social dynamics between platonic friendships and dating. It also made Sam’s ladder seem a little less creepy and sort of adorable as he was the one friend Clarissa could always count on. It really was groundbreaking for its time and although it seems a bit dated now, this show was affluent with resonation for us kids in the 90s.
5. All That
The groundbreaking kid-starring sketch comedy show All That premiered in April of 1994 and was an instant hit with us. Part SNL, and Mad TV for a PG audience, the show tackled real-time topics with hilarious sketches along with musical guests performing in-between segments. Not to mention, the show birthed the infamous Good Burger skit with cast members Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. The tidbit of burger employees and faux burger joint became a popular segment and launched their own movie in 1997. I mean, if you weren’t quoting Good Burger at least once a day in the 90s, who the hell even were you?
4. Double Dare
Marc Summers making kids pick giant noses on Double Dare for a walkman radio might just be one of most ingenious and insane things Nickolean put out and by the gods of giant bowls of dog food, we bought into it and were all in for this game show. With a team of two kids competing for a chance at the Double Dare obstacle course with both trivia questions and usually messy challenges, it was a joy to watch these kids get douched with whip cream, slime, and mud. Even better was Super Sloppy Double Dare if you remember that spin-off that was basically the same show but even messier. Double Dare is the reason a lot of these other game shows came into existence and why a lot of kids tuned in to the network and discovered a lot of these other shows. As stated before, I’m just really hyped we were a kid during this glorious golden age of excellent nose-picking programming.
3. Salute Your Shorts
Salute Your Shorts was the ultimate kids’ live-action show full of campy (ironically) farts, humor, and witty insults, with a sprinkle of kids facing everyday problems. In between the group torturing the head camp counselor Ug and then him getting revenge on the little farts as Zeke the Plumber, Salute Your Shorts became something really special for our generation. At only 26 episodes, the series feels like so much more thanks to the creative writing built around each character on the show. Each kid had identifiable personalities we could all resonate with. We all knew a Donkeylips or a Dina in our neighborhoods and thanks to Budnick, we had a healthy new prank or insult to pull every week on other friends. Or at the very least, we screamed sang this song when we really wanted to annoy everyone around us. That, did indeed, make me want to fart to really bring that song to another level of irksomeness.
2. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
Hey smiling strange, you’re looking happily deranged! Pete and Pete were PEAK 90s material and embodies everything that is nostalgic of the decade. The essence of the grudge era is felt beautifully in the story about these two brothers named Pete Wrigley. It’s never really explained why siblings share the same name, but it might have something to do with Mom’s metal plate in her head. The oddball show wasn’t really about anything other than their random misadventures with really cool recurring characters like Artie, the world’s strongest man, and the ice cream man Mr. Tastee who never showed his real face behind his mascot costume. And we can’t forget little Pete’s tattoo which was beyond taboo at the time but somehow, made it seem so wholesome, which also got its own cast credit in the intro. This show was just pure 90s bonkers with a fire intro that I still sing randomly in 2023. Long live Petunia!
1. Are You Afraid Of The Dark
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, this sits at the top as the greatest Nick show of the 90s. Serving as sort of a Twilight Zone for 90s kids, Are You Afraid of the Dark‘s ghost stories told around a campfire dared us to venture out of our comfort zone into a true gateway of horror with nightmare fuel icons of childhood horror like the Ghastly Grinner and Zeebo the Clown. These kids were the young horror fans that we were growing up and it was nice to see other horror nerds like us on TV taking their horror duties very seriously. They didn’t fuck around with rules and membership. You could only join if everyone voted that your tales were worthy enough.
Thus, kids were both the tellers and subjects of the stories, uniquely grounding Are You Afraid of the Dark in teen perspectives at an important time in their young lives. It’s had such a lasting impact on our generation that almost anyone who lived through the 90s knows about this show. This Canadian-born program gave the power of storytelling to kids, helping them confront the real horrors of teen life with its ghost tale plots, villains, and moral resolutions. At its heart, Are You Afraid of the Dark was about the Midnight Society gathering around a campfire to collectively hash out the nightmares of watching childhood fade away into something more uncertain and sinister. There’s always that truly one-of-a-kind show you only get to see once in a generation and AYAOTD was it. Because there ain’t nothing scarier than having to grow up and pay a mortgage fellas.
What was YOUR favorite live-action Nick show? Sound off in the comments, and remember…
2 thoughts on “10 Essential Live-Action Nickelododeon Shows From The 90s That Shaped Our Generation”
Do you remember “Think Fast?” It was one of the earlier Nick game shows and I think it really set the tone for the quirky games that came later. I remember at the end they ran through a series of rooms looking for specific objects. There was also a game where you had to match up different peoples’ belches!