Nickelodeon is hoping viewers are still longing for 1990s nostalgia.
On Saturday, Nickelodeon will bring back “All That,” its popular sketch comedy from the mid-1990s that launched the careers of Kenan Thompson, Amanda Bynes and Nick Cannon, among others. Thompson is executive producing the new version alongside fellow original cast member Kel Mitchell.
Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins said the decision to bring back “All That” was done in part to reinvigorate the talent pipeline that he argues had dried up. “We needed to develop more talent, live-action talent,” Robbins told TheWrap. “The well was dry. ‘All That’ had always been this amazing pipeline of talent for Nickelodeon, not only in front of the camera but behind the camera.”
Robbins, who was named Nickelodeon president in October, would know. He co-created the original “All That,” which ran from 1994 to 2000 (it was retooled in 2002 and ran for another three seasons). And much like NBC’s venerable sketch comedy series “Saturday Night Live” — which original “All That” cast member Kenan Thompson has been on for a record-breaking 16 seasons — “All That” spawned a slew of series including “Kenan & Kel,” “The Amanda Show,” “Drake & Josh,” “iCarly,” and, of course, the “Good Burger” film.
“When we first created the show, that was the idea: To have this great lab,” Robbins continued. “You couldn’t have the lab without the good show. I’m not discounting that, but I kinda felt like if we could recapture the magic comedically and the zeitgeist of ‘All That,’ and find great kids again, then it would be a win-win for the network.”
But recapturing what was in the zeitgeist from the mid-1990s is a far cry from 2019.
“There was no cell phones, there was no social media,” Robbins said. “Today, younger kids are so much more pop culture savvy because of the internet and social media that I was just amazed at how skilled these kids are… We have a kid that does Trump. He’s 13 years old.” But Mitchell points out that there are still universal themes that no matter the time period, kids can all agree on. “Kids still laugh at the same stuff,” he said, “There’s still puberty, there’s still things that kids go through as a teen.”
Robbins is hoping for more win-wins from the Nickelodeon’s vault. “All That” isn’t the only series that the network is bringing back from the 1990s.
The game show “Double Dare” returned last summer, and reboots of “Rugrats,” “Blues Clues” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” are all on the horizon. Though Robbins describes these as “just a tiny bit of development,” he admits that “in the world that we live in, pre-awareness is really important.”
Under Robbins, Nickelodeon has made co-viewing — parents and their kids watching the same shows together — a major part of its strategy.
“What better way to get co-viewing than have a parent introduce a show that they used to watch,” Robbins said. “In the case of ‘Blues Clues’ as a parent who probably has young children today, who was around when the show first launched, that’s probably going to have a nice nostalgia play, you’re going to probably want to introduce that to your kid.”
He added that “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” — which will come back with a three-episode run this fall with a brand-new Midnight Society — had a strong enough brand enough to warrant a revival: “[It] has such a loyal fanbase and it’s beloved and it’s also a great format. It just felt like a no-brainer to bring it back.”
As for any further reboots, perhaps a new “Doug” or “Hey Arnold,” Robbins says never say never. “I think you’ll see some of that, and I think you’ll see a lot of new stuff. Hopefully, it’s the right mix.”
Mitchell, who is an executive producer with Thompson on the new “All That,” was uniquely qualified to serve as a mentor to the new cast — after all, he was once in their shoes, having been on the show for first five seasons. He’s thrilled to be helping usher in the new generation.
“It’s cool that we get to give advice because we lived it,” he told TheWrap. “I wanted them to understand that this is a job and there’s going to be other great opportunities that are going to come up. Enjoy the moment now.”
Server, Denberg, Mitchell will all appear on Saturday’s premiere, reviving some of their classic characters like Mitchell’s Ed and Denberg’s Loud Librarian (though Mitchell says “she changed her hair a little bit”). “You’ll see a lot of the characters that you love in the ’90s coming back,” Mitchell promises. “The sets look the same, so it’s very surreal walking on the set.”
The new “All That” premieres Saturday, June 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nickelodeon