“Hello out there from TV Land!” Among people who spent the 1990s parked in front of their televisions, gaping slack-jawed at hour after hour of basic cable programming, those words are likely to provoke more than just a twinge of nostalgia. Like its arguably cooler corporate brother, MTV, Nickelodeon excelled at the art of self-promotion, creating punchy promos that were arguably just as memorable and entertaining as the shows they were touting. The channel’s offbeat, irreverent approach to advertising, which extended to its Nick At Nite programming block and its Nick Jr. spin-off channel, helped to create considerable viewer interest in such original offerings as Eureeka’s Castle and Fred Penner’s Place, as well as cobwebbed reruns like Dennis The Menace and The Patty Duke Show. How to get people excited about 30-year-old My Three Sons repeats? Simple. Just add lyrics to the instrumental theme song: “Oh, My Three Sons / Yes, My Three Sons / It’s My Three Sons / On Nick at Nite!” Problem solved. For anyone interested in reliving the halcyon days of Nickelodeon, MetaFilter has curated a whole mess of links to vintage Nick promos. From Mr. Wizard to “How To Be Swell,” it’s all in there somewhere. Just dig around a little.
Reviewing said material, it soon becomes clear that Nickelodeon had an almost supernatural talent for coming up with advertising gimmicks that would ignite the imaginations of young viewers and their parents, too. After all, who wouldn’t want to win the chance to be “slimed” on the venerable You Can’t Do That On Television? Even with material which should virtually sell itself, such as vintage Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny and his ilk, Nick’s marketing wizards worked overtime. In one memorable spot, a German-accented psychiatrist attempts to psychoanalyze the famous Warner Bros. characters: “Speedy Gonzalez, what was he running from? Perhaps himself?” And then there were truly berserk campaigns like The Adventures Of Milkman (“Delivering milk and hope to a world gone sour!”), which combined Eisenhower-era wholesomeness with newfangled irony and surrealism. Spots like these existed not so much to promote any particular show but rather to showcase the network’s basic comedic sensibility. An unusual and potentially risky approach, to be sure, but these commercials showed that it often worked liked gangbusters.