In the 1970s, the term “couch potato” had become a popular buzzword when describing kids zoning out in front of the TV. According to Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the prevailing thought was that kids were turning their minds off and being sucked into “a really effective kaleidoscope.” Over the next decade, however, Anderson pushed back against that general theory, studying the way preschoolers up through preteens watched and interacted with television. “When you get to older kids watching Nickelodeon game shows, if there was another kid in the room, they’d be constantly discussing what was going on,” Anderson says. “In ways that are not unlike adults, they’d be talking about the content and speculating about characters and so on.”
Along the same lines, Nickelodeon’s aesthetic proved to be catnip for children so used to seeing the muted colors of adult programming. As Anderson observed, when kids decided what to watch, Nick’s enhanced realities and brighter colors naturally drew them in. “The very top of the chart as you make your decision on whether I’m going to stay with [a show] is, ‘How does it look?’” says Anderson, who later advised the network on Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer.
Long before shows like American Ninja Warrior and Wipeout, Nickelodeon made sure the answer to that question was: unlike anything else. And though “kids’ game shows have dried up” today, Darby acknowledges, the stratified streaming world, with its endless options for children’s content, has only cast Nickelodeon’s nostalgic, neon era into sharper relief. Its decades-long staying power, Anderson suggests, is a credit to the network’s commitment to bold colors and interactive elements, but even more so in the way Nickelodeon highlighted its youthful faces. Whether it was a nervous game show contestant or a dorky sitcom star, Nickelodeon knew the power of showing fun, relatable kids doing fun, relatable things.
Read full article from The Ringer