If you have to ask, then you’ll never understand how big and important Nickelodeon was, once upon a time. For many, “The Orange Years” from Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney might feel like yet another bit of 90’s nostalgia for Millennials, but the documentary is a look at television, its history and how Nickelodeon blazed a trail for a massive industry, and set a precedent that many studios would aspire to topple.
Back in the early eighties, there wasn’t really much entertainment for kids beyond Saturday morning cartoons, and nine times out of ten these cartoons were basically glorified toy ads. Anxious to connect to children and touch in to a then untapped market, “The Orange Years” explores in length how Geraldine Laybourne turned a niche channel in to a full fledged kids network. What was important to Laybourne and her colleagues was that the channel they invented didn’t just appeal to kids, but also connected with kids. This set it apart from literally everything else on television.
Laybourne and her colleagues took time to understand the child’s point of view, and this led them to hit all the right notes when they introduced Nickelodeon to children around the world. “The Orange Years” interviews an exhaustive roster of past Nickelodeon stars and contributors, and covers the conception, evolution and genesis of the channel. What began as a basic cable network that imported series as a means of filling its schedule, eventually took the creative reins, allowing for an immense dynasty. Nickelodeon didn’t just take the nineties by storm, but it also changed the industry completely. It touched a part of its child audience that no one else could, and aspired to hit Disney level heights.
Barber and Sweeney have nothing but love for Nickelodeon and they make certain to always circle around to why Nickelodeon was so special. Whether it was the popularity of “You Can’t Do that on Television,” and the meteoric success of “Double Dare,” to the booming popularity of “Rugrats,” and an especially somber Nick News moment involving Magic Johnson, where a young audience member, no older than six, breaks down in tears about living a life HIV+. That said “The Orange Years” takes great pains not to criticize the model of the network as “Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon” did. There’s no mention of why Nickelodeon eventually lost footing as top kids network, their fall out with the creator of “Doug” and Melissa Joan Hart, and little to nothing is discussed about the rift between Kenan and Kel so many years ago.
As a side note, there’s no mention of “Roundhouse.” Yuck. “The Orange Years” is a great injection of 90’s nostalgia with a heavy emphasis on the historic significance of Nickelodeon. It’s a must watch for anyone that spent their childhood or adolescence in front of the TV hoping they can be slimed one day.
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