It is perhaps the Number one kids’ network in the world, ruling the airwaves with some of the best TV shows of the last thirty years. But if anyone thinks Nicktoons are all Nickelodeon’s got, think again. Nick has created some of the best live-action shows for kids out there, all of whom discuss the trials and tribulations of being a kid or teen in an adult’s world.
They range from being goofy and exaggerated to grounded and relatable. Their characters have remained in the public’s minds for many years after they’ve stopped airing, and are embedded in those who grew up with them.
Big Time Rush (2009-2013)
This one could be one of the channel’s more underrated series. Still, it has a strong cult following that makes it worth a look for any Nickelodeon fan. 4 hockey players from Minnesota are chosen by loudmouth mega-producer Gustavo Roque to become his next big boy band.
Together they navigate fame, friendship and wacky hijinks as they become the hottest new boy band in LA. The band Big Time Rush already had pretty good music, while the show Big Time Rush had a very offbeat sense of humor and memorable characters.
The series that crossed Fame with Saved by the Bell, Victorious is set in Hollywood Arts High School in LA. The series follows teen singer Tori Vega navigating Hollywood Arts with the help of her talented friends; musician Andre, ventriloquist Robbie, snarky Jade, childish Cat, mellow Beck and her bratty sister Trina.
What separated Tori from the typical Nick protagonist was that she was more willing to break a few rules to get what she wanted – whether her friends liked it. Still, she found a way to make it shine more often than not.
Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide (2004-2007)
Having trouble going through middle school? Bullies, evil teachers, and gross food getting you down? Afraid there’s no way to survive it all? Well, fear no more, as Ned Bigby is creating the ultimate school survival guide. Every episode revolved around a specific theme covered in Ned’s book, such as detention, career week, bad hair days, etc.
These topics were tied together and demonstrated with not only Ned’s experiences but also his best friends – tomboyish Moze and nerdy Cookie. With dumb janitor Gordy and intense Vice-Principal Crubbs, middle school has never been this crazy.
Zoey 101 (2005-2008)
This has become one of Nickelodeon’s most notorious shows with a star-studded cast and memorable romantic plot lines. Zoey Brooks and her younger brother Dustin attend Pacific Coast Academy and manage life with their large assortment of friends; Athlete and flutist Michael, ditzy but kind Nicole, egocentric Logan, eccentric intellectual Quinn, wannabe movie star Lola and of course, Zoey’s best friend and secret admirer, Chase.
This series navigated boarding school living with teenage drama and romance as these characters became more than just friends to each other.
Drake and Josh (2004-2007)
2 step-brothers and their wacky misadventures surviving the world around them and each other. Drake Parker is a cool, guitar-playing womanizer, with an easy-going, calm demeanor. Josh Nichols is awkward, anxious and unlucky, often becoming hyperactive when faced with pressure.
They live in San Diego with their loving but gullible parents and evil step-sister Megan, while hanging out with their friends Crazy Steve, Gavin, and nerdy duo Craig and Eric. Not all episodes ended with the two succeeding in their goals, but they’ve grown closer as brothers at the end of the day.
All That (1994-2000)
A kids’ comedy classic that can be seen as Nickelodeon’s answer to Saturday Night Live – a series of sketches performed by a talented, interchanged ensemble of kids, including such names as Amanda Bynes, Gabriel Iglesias, and Kenan Thompson. Some of the best characters included the mercilessly loud librarian, delusional Detective Dan, and its most popular character – Ed, the incompetent food attendant at Good Burger.
The series was so popular that it eventually got a revival starting in 2019, proving that genuinely great sketch comedy isn’t just for adults anymore.
While the Paramount+ revival proved to be a surprise hit, the original is the true gem. Operating out of an apartment building in Seattle, Carly Shay and her delinquent best friend Sam Puckett decide to create a web show called iCarly. They devote said show to any random subject, from bras that tell ghost stories to cooking hot dogs on burning shoes.
With the help of tech guru Freddie, Carly’s sculpture enthusiast brother Spencer, and weird classmate Gibby, they navigate the web show and the typical teenage troubles like boys, teachers, and the wrath of the occasional psychotic villains like Nevel and Nora.
Kenan and Kel (1996-2000)
Following their success on All That, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were paired together in this delightful sitcom. The two play two teenagers named after themselves surviving high school in suburban Chicago.
Kenan is mischievous, intelligent, and irresponsible, always looking to avoid trials and tribulations with his parents, boss, and other adults in his life. Kel is happy-go-lucky but rather dim-witted, accident-prone, and often unintentionally foils his best friend’s schemes. Before Drake and Josh, these two caused hijinks to spare as Nickelodeon’s first dynamic duo.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1992-1996)
Submitted for the approval of Nickelodeon is this classic horror anthology. Are You Afraid of the Dark was a spooky show in the same vein as Goosebumps and The Twilight Zone, and their influence is felt throughout. It often went to surprisingly dark places for a kids’ series, becoming very creative and genuinely scary, even for many grown-ups.
All held together by a group of kids around a campfire calling themselves the midnight society, each member telling spooky stories of werewolves, pool zombies, ghosts, monstrous clowns, and more.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1991-1996)
Two brothers with the same name. The strongest man in the world. A tattoo named Petunia. And a mom with a plate in her head. Put them together, and you’ve got a true 90s classic.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete combined bittersweet nostalgia with a heightened sense of childlike reality. Ice-cream truck drivers are harbingers of the changing seasons, entire cars can be buried in the sand at the beach, and bullies might just be literal demons. A vision of childhood all too real but far too silly to be.
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