The ’90s Are All That: E-Petitions, Nickelodeon, and the Effects of the Internet on Pop Culture

Social activism has easily evolved into one of the most conventional forms of protest in the modern age. Its latest campaign targeted Nickelodeon, and successfully got the network to bring back classic 90s programs in a two-hour daily block.

“The ’90s Are All That” harkens back to the glory days of the network when most of its shows utilized absurdist & surreal humor, and highlighted a strong cultural divide between children and their parents. So perhaps it was no surprise that the Facebook generation spearheaded a campaign to bring back the iconic shows of their generation.

Facebook groups complaining about the declining quality of children’s television are nothing new. Over 800,000 people have liked the page “When I was your age we had the Amanda Show. Not iCarly.” Over half a million have liked “When I was your age, we had Lizzle McGuire, not Hannah Montana.” And over 2.5 million have liked “When I was your age, we had Kenan and Kel. Not Drake and Josh.” But what’s unique about this particular situation is that a TV network actually listened to these claims and decided to give the fans what they wanted.

According to The New York Times, Nickelodeon executives were convinced to bring back the block thanks to “demands of former viewers who joined Facebook groups about the shows – and to the suggestions of some of its interns, who pulled together a presentation last summer to pitch the programming block.” That’s right, interns can actually contribute to society! We’re not all office drones!

The Times article also mentions that the shows they include in the programming block will depend on “Facebook feedback.”

There is no question that Nickelodeon made a truly brilliant marketing decision. First of all, the ratings for the block’s premiere were the best ever for the TeenNick timeslot. From Nickelodeon’s official press release:

Reaching its highest late-night viewership levels ever, TeenNick had four of the top ten programs-every show in the block-from 12a-2a across all basic cable with A12-24: Kenan & Kel (from 1995) at 12:30 a.m. reached #3; All That (1996) at 12a.m. hit #4; the very first episode of Doug (1991) at 1:30 a.m. was #6; and Clarissa Explains It All (1992) was #8…

The first night of “The ’90s are All That” also bested the most recent weekly averages for broadcast and basic cable late-night talk shows among young adults. Each show in the block’s July 25 debut garnered bigger A12-24 audiences than The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Lopez Tonight and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Also, among A12-34s, All That out-delivered Leno, Letterman, Fallon, Lopez and Kimmel.

Granted, not many people in the 12-34 demographic are watching late night talk shows anyway, but that’s still an impressive feat. But even more impressive was the impact the block’s premiere had on social media worldwide.

During the block’s premiere, the Nickelodeon brand had a total of 20 worldwide trending topics on Twitter–owning 8 of 9 trending topics worldwide and all 9 organic trending topics locally in New York City. Both Nickelodeon Twitter handle and ’90s Facebook page are still growing rapidly. The Nick ’90s Facebook page ( doubled in fans overnight by 100,000, and the search volume for the series Doug reached the volcanic level on Google. According to, a social television chart ranking television’s daily social activities, 4 of the top 10 cable shows on Monday, July 25, were part of “The ’90s Are All That” block.

Nickelodeon has also set up a Tumblr page where people can combine their love of old shows and modern memes. But what these shows truly represent is a time before the internet made everyone a celebrity way beyond their allotted fifteen minutes. Kenan & Kel didn’t get their own show because someone noticed their stupid YouTube video or thought their tweets were funny cough*ShitMyDadSays*cough. Most kids’ shows nowadays indulge in fame. Fame is more appealing to children than learning because the shows they watch prioritize fame. Let me show you what I mean.

  • Nick: iCarly is about a group of miscreants with a webcam. Theme: internet fame
  • Nick: True Jackson, VP is about a girl with dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer. Theme: fame
  • Nick: VicTORious is about a girl with dreams of becoming a famous singer. Theme: fame
  • Disney Channel: Shake It Up is about girls starring as background dancers on a local TV show. Theme: fame
  • And let’s not forget Disney’s easy selection of shows about people who are already famous: Hannah Montana, Sonny with a Chance, JONAS L.A., etc.

This generation’s celebration of fame has made a lot of Gen Y-ers somewhat resentful of 21st-century internet culture, and as a result have turned to the classics for some kind of comic salvation.

But in case you think I’m making all this up out of my own resentment for today’s poor kids’ programs, I present to you a study released last month from UCLA, where they found that fame was the most important value taught by TV shows in the past decade.

On a list of 16 values, fame jumped from the 15th spot, where it was in both 1987 and 1997, to the first spot in 2007. From 1997 to 2007, benevolence (being kind and helping others) fell from second to 13th, and tradition dropped from fourth to 15th.

Now, I’m sure your wondering exactly what this has to do with technology. I give you the primary analysis of the study:

“The biggest change occurred from 1997 to 2007, when YouTube, Facebook and Twitter exploded in popularity,” Uhls said. “Their growth parallels the rise in narcissism and the drop in empathy among college students in the United States, as other research has shown. We don’t think this is a coincidence. Changes we have seen in narcissism and empathy are being reflected on television. In the past, children had their home, community and school; now they have thousands of ‘friends’ who look at their photos and their posts and comment on them. The growth of social media gives children access to an audience beyond the school grounds.”

“If you have 400 or more Facebook friends, which many high school and college students do, you are on stage,” Greenfield said. “It’s intrinsically narcissistic.”

That’s right: the internet is making children fame whores. How positively delightful.

Oh, well. At least we still have Spongebob.