[10 October 2013]
Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein promises to be an “oral history of Nickelodeon… created from a series of original one-on-one interviews” with the casts and crews of “the first network for kids’” classic era. This would make this green-covered tome a must for fans who first heard about the kids’ channel when they were they still fit in the target demographic for shows like You Can’t Do That On Television.
This would be the case, except for the fact that Slimed! isn’t exactly a coherent read. To be sure, Klickstein’s book does tell a series of stories about Nickelodeon from the varied points of view of many of the casts and crew of Nick’s shows, from the aforementioned You Can’t Do That On Television to Clarissa Explains It All to Are You Afraid of the Dark? to The Adventures of Pete & Pete. The problem is that these stories are told in disjointed, largely unconnected one-off quotes from these Nick folks, each credited like lines from a stage play.
Slimed! also seems to be aimed at absolute experts on Nickelodeon’s history, considering the fact that none of the credited quotables are actually identified prior to their appearances in the book. The foreword is clearly credited to “Marc Summers, host of Double Dare and What Would You Do? and sets forth the promise of an informative and witty read. Yet when the book proper kicks off, a reasonable reaction to the proceeding quotes might be “Who the hell are Christine Taylor, Danny Tamberelli, Elizabeth Hess and Judy Grafe?” There is a “Cast of Characters” section at the end of the book, just before the Index, which identifies all of the quoted kids and what they’re known for. The question I kept asking was… why not identify these speakers with their first quotes to alleviate the confusion?
The book is broken into seven chapters, each covering a single topic, such as growing up on Nickelodeon, what the infamous titular green slime was made of, the design, fashion, music, sound and diversity of Nickelodeon, why Ren & Stimpy‘s creator was fired from the show he created and how Nickelodeon has changed over the years. All of these are interesting topics, especially for true fans. However, one of the more striking things about the content of these chapters is that while the book covers the first network for kids, the book itself is generally not.
One credit to Klickstein and his interviewees is that no punches are pulled in these fragmented quotes and the fact that the aforementioned original demographic for You Can’t Do That On Television has fully matured by now. To this end we are given occasionally profane (or, at least, PG-13) and very frank talk about such things as maturing on set… and how to hide that before an audience of millions expecting and demanding a little kid, not a young woman.
Slimed! also includes eight pages of glossy photographs from various sets, actors hanging around backstage and at the White House (with Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less) and, of course, getting… Slimed! Incongruously for a book about one of the most colorful networks on television (there is an entire chapter devoted to the “look of Nickelodeon”), these glossy photos are all, strangely, in black and white.
There’s quite a bit of prerequisite knowledge required for reading Slimed!, such as intimate knowledge of each member of each show’s cast and crew to the point that the reader can discern what each person means when they refer to “the show”. For those Nickelodeon experts out there, this string of mostly random quotes provides an extra level of behind-the-scenes consciousness.
Once the tome gets going, it can be an insightful and occasionally funny read with a near Rashomon-like telling of the same events from different points of view. However, this is in the more connected and coherent moments, which do not comprise the majority of Slimed!. The book reads like a transcript from an interview show, but at least a documentary of that kind would have captions under the stars’ faces to identify them.