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15 Surprising Nicktoons Facts You Might Not Have Known

The lives of ’90s kids were changed tremendously when they were introduced to the concept of “Nicktoons.” These were, of course, animated cartoons made for kids by the then-fledgling Nickelodeon network. It made Nickelodeon synonymous with animated programming, and helped turn the channel into a staple of kids of the era. Unsurprisingly, many of the children who grew up on those Nicktoons, though they are now adults, remember those shows fondly. While you likely remember the basics about those shows, the city where Doug lived, Tommy Pickles’ parents’ names, here are some facts that may be new to you. Enjoy this dive into the world of Nicktoons.

1. Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy all premiered on the same exact day

August 11, 1991 was a huge day for kids the nation over. That’s the day the first Nicktoon debuted. In fact, the first three Nicktoons debuted that day. The shows in question? The powerhouse trio of Doug, Rugrats, and Ren and Stimpy. It’s sort of mindblowing to think that a trinity of great but vastly different cartoons all premiered within minutes of each other and went on to define childhoods forever.

2. Doug got his start in an unpublished book (and then a commercial)

Doug Funnie was one of the first Nicktoon character we ever saw, but he didn’t get his start on TV. Doug’s first appearance actually came in a children’s book called Doug Got a New Pair of Shoes. The book itself was never published, but the drawings did help creator Jim Jinkins get Doug started on Nickelodeon.

But for his first appeance on TV, Doug got some of that sweet advertising money.

This ad for Florida Grapefruit Growers actually broadcast in 1988, years before the first episode of Doug would air. Sometimes it pays to sell out.

3. Arnold and Helga’s secret names

Helga G. Pataki doesn’t have the most mellifluous name, but it gets even less elegant when you know what her middle initial stands for. That would be Geraldine, which was chosen in honor of former Nickelodeon executive Geraldine Laybourne.

Many have speculated about Arnold’s last name, but as it turns out, it’s been in front of us the whole time:

“Short Man” isn’t just a cute nickname that Grandpa has for Arnold — “Shortman” is Arnold’s last name. I know it’s hard, but you can take some time picking up the shattered pieces of your life off the floor before we move onto the next entry.

4. No one can find the first episode of Aah! Real Monsters

For most Nicktoons, and most any show in general, you can usually dig back into the past and find the original pilot episode. In many cases, these proof-of-concept anomalies serve as series premieres, and are a regular part of the rerun schedule. That’s not the case with Aah! Real Monsters, because the pilot episode was completely reworked for broadcast — and the original footage is lost to time.

Seriously, all we have from the weird prototype of the already-weird show is a handful of super-grainy images.

With the rediscovery of the pilot seeming unlikely, we’ll probably just have to do with the 100+ other episodes of unsettling character designs.

5. If you look close enough, you can tell where Nicktoons are set

While it’s not as clear as on other shows, it would seem that Arnold and the Hey Arnold! gang live in a city called Hillwood. Regardless of the city’s name, it was based on a combination of Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn. This may very well may Hillwood the ultimate hipster city. It gets even more specific at the end of the episode “Road Trip,” where Helga and her mother are seen driving back into what appears to be Washington state.

Speaking of cities, while we all know that Doug and company lived in Bluffington, did you know that Angry Beavers took place in Wayouttatown, Oregon? They actually label it as such really quick in the episode “Omega Beaver.”

While it is never explicitly mentioned, Rugrats took place in California. In addition to Cali license plates being visible on Grandpa’s car, there was a familiar flag bearing a uh, bear at the Post Office. 

Seems like the West Coast is the place to be if you’re an angsty preteen, plucky infant or uh, irritable semiaquatic rodent.

 

6. You might have seen Patti Mayonnaise recently

Patti may have been the ketchup on Doug’s fries, but the actress who voiced her is so much more. Constance Shuman has continued to work in television, and you can actually see her as Yoga Jones on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. It’s one of those things that you might not have realized at the time, but it makes so much sense you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it earlier.

7. Arnold’s teacher was secretly one of Nickelodeon’s first gay characters

Do you remember Arnold’s teacher Mr. Simmons? Unbeknownst to many of the kids watching at the time, he’s a quietly important figure in children’s programming. According to the show’s creators, Mr. Simmons is gay. This makes a lot of sense, and puts a lot of the episode “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” into a new context, since it’s implied there that Mr. Simmon’s “friend” Peter is more than a friend. Funnily enough, he was voiced by Dan Butler, who is probably better known for playing the lecherous womanizer Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe on Frasier.

8. Rocko’s Modern Life was almost going to look much different

You likely remember Rocko, he of the modern life, as a beige wallaby, but that almost wasn’t the case. Originally, he was supposed to be yellow, but this brought Nickelodeon into conflict with a partnered toy company, who already had a figure with the same bright tint. Not wanting to piss off a valuable source of revenue, Nick altered Rocko’s pigment to the now to now-familiar gray-ish color. The only real relic we have of the distinctly more Simpsons-y Rocko is the prototype episode.

Of course, after the pilot aired Nickelodeon dropped the toy idea, making the change irrelevant but permanent. Considering how risqué Rocko’s Modern Life would end up being, maybe ditching the toys was a wise move.

9. Spongebob Squarepants is the most enduring Nicktoon ever

SpongeBob Squarepants will never die. Of all the Nicktoons to begin airing in the ’90s, it’s the only one still making new episodes, and the longest running show of the bunch, surviving almost 18 years(!) as of this writing. That’s pretty impressive for a show about a talking sponge.

10. The mindbending finale for Angry Beavers never made it to air

Angry Beavers is not the most beloved Nicktoon, but had its intended final episode aired, it would probably have been more memorable. The episode was entitled “Bye, Bye Beavers” and the plot included Dagwood and Norbert breaking the fourth wall to discuss their cancellation, and the fact their show could be rerun with essentially no cost to the network. We’ll never get to see the episode, as it wasn’t animated, but the voicework was finished and you can listen to it on YouTube.

11. Rugrats got a lot of complaints about its stereotyping

We often saw Stu’s dad on Rugrats, but Didi’s parents weren’t quite as prominent. There was a specific reason why Boris and Minka saw their appearances dwindle. After the Anti-Defamation League categorized them as offensive Jewish caricatures, the show decided to cut back on them. At least we still got a Rugrats Hanukkah episode.

12. Spongebob’s creator had an unorthodox way of pitching the show

Perhaps SpongeBob owes its long shelf life to the memorable, unusual way the show got off the ground. Show creator Stephen Hillenburg, who was a marine biologist in another life, brought a fish tank into his meeting with Nickelodeon. After discussing the aquatic life in the tank, he dropped a picture of SpongeBob in the tank, and said, “This is SpongeBob, the star of your new show.” Thankfully, this odd ploy worked wonders.

13. The two origin stories behind The Fairly Oddparents’ pink hat

Timmy Turner of The Fairly Oddparents is often lampooned for his “silly pink hat,” but that was a bit of a happy accident. When Butch Hartman was designing the character, his blue marker dried up, so he used pink instead. To explain this away in the show’s canon, it was established in the time-travel episode “The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker!” that the parents were expecting a girl, and had already bought the hat (and a bunch of other pink stuff) before Timmy was born.

Maybe this played a bit better in 2002 when the episode first aired, but in 2017 it’s sort of odd that the show had to have an entire origin story around a boy’s pink hat.

14. Aah! Real Monster’s last appearance was a crossover episode

It may not be super surprising to find out that the characters from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters ended up making an appearance in an episode of Rugrats. After all, both shows were made by the production company Klasky Csupo. However, what makes the crossover between these two shows so interesting is that only one of them was still a show when it happened. The monsters of Real Monsters popped up in the Rugrats episode “Ghost Story,” which first aired March 27, 1999. The last episode of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, “Rookie Monsters,” aired December 6, 1997. Yes, that means the final appearance of Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm came in an episode of Rugrats — as long as you don’t include your nightmares every week since.

15. Hey Arnold! got its start as claymation shorts that aired on Sesame Street

You remember Arnold, but do you remember Penny? No, not the one from Inspector Gadget. Before Arnold was the star of his own cartoon on Nickelodeon, creator Craig Bartlett used him in a handful of Claymation shorts that he made for cutaways while working on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. One of Bartlett’s Arnold shorts even aired as filler on Sesame Street. 

As a fun bonus, you can even see what’s clearly Helga playing with the band in “The Arnold Waltz.”

When Bartlett was working with some writers from Rugrats to create a new Nick show, they hit a wall. Frustrated, Bartlett showed them the Penny and Arnold shorts, planning to showcase Penny, but it turned out to be Arnold’s big break. They changed from Claymation to traditional animation, and the rest is Hey Arnold!and Nicktoons — history.

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