Though excellent shows, programs such as Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Sesame Street, and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" are absent from this list. This isn’t just because they premiered decades ago but also because their target demographic was roughly children six and under, rather than kids aged seven to fifteen, which this countdown represents.
Similarly, this is a countdown shows that were specifically targeted for kids only. As beloved as programs like The Cosby Show and Family Matters were, they won’t be on this countdown as those kinds of shows appealed to a much broader age demographic.
Lastly, though everyone loves a good hero, classic superhero shows (X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man) are absent as well because these characters have been established for years, already have a rich legacy and fan following, and are so universally beloved that they would unfairly skew the countdown. This list also won’t include old favorites such as The Flintsones and Tom and Jerry for similar reasons.
With that long disclaimer behind us, it’s time to get nostalgic!
20) Ren & Stimpy
This was most certainly an atypical kids show. Created in 1991, “Ren & Stimpy” became just the third Nickelodeon cartoon (a.k.a Nicktoon) to ever be aired on the network. This animated series followed a neurotic Chihuahua called Ren Hoek and a dimwitted cat named Stimpson J. Cat (Stimpy). The two were an unlikely pair as they experienced countless wild and bizarre adventures together. What made this show a hit with kids was its off-beat sense of humor. Whether an episode dealt with odd scenarios like Ren using Stimpy’s body fat to enhance his own pectoral muscles in season four, or the series’ concept of faux commercials featuring characters such as the melodramatic superhero and breakfast spokesman Powered Toast Man, the series was no doubt a bold gamble by Nickelodeon. And it worked.
19) Legends of the Hidden Temple
This series aired from 1993 to 1995 on Nickelodeon and was a physical challenge game show for kids. The set resembled Ancient Central American iconographies and included a giant animatronic talking head named Olmec. As kids were split into teams of two and given animal names (silver snakes, green monkeys, etc), Olmec would speak of a particular historical figure and any artifact that he or she used. The six teams would then battle it out for the chance to enter the temple and retrieve the hidden artifact from its chambers. The appeal of the show was that it was a mix of trivia knowledge and physical competition. Taking place in an artificial temple setting, the series allowed kids to be immersed in a world only seen in Indiana Jones films.
18) Hey Dude
Any great kids show must have a catchy theme song, and “Hey Dude” is no exception. People who grew up in the 1990s not only remember this unforgettable tune but can probably still recite it word for word (“Singin' yippee tai aie ay, Yippee tai aie what?!”). Debuting in 1989, this show centered on a fictional Bar None Dude Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It portrayed the lives of a sweet but dim witted ranch owner Mr. Ernest, his often dejected son Buddy, and a staff that included smug Ted, saccharine Melody, privileged Brad and even-tempered Danny. The series ended in 1991 due to Nickelodeon having just put the finishing touches on its Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. The network wanted to keep costs for its shows down by filming them all at their new sunshine state home, and “Hey Dude” was unfortunately filmed on location in Arizona. Still, this show was beloved due to the characters. Whether it was seeing Ted’s undying quest to score a date with Brad or witnessing Mr. Ernest bumble his way through a mid-life crisis, this series deserves a spot in the top 20.
Networks like Nickelodeon were smart to realize early on that what young people wanted to watch was kid versions of adult programming. In “Guts,” the series’ concept was very much like the original television run of “American Gladiators” (1989-1996). “Guts” debuted in 1992 and was an action sports game show that featured three kids competing against each other in four athletic challenges for points. Hosted by the energetic Mike O’Malley (Yes, Dear) and with the help of English referee Moira Quirk, this show had kids competing in baseball, basketball, football, and water events. Oftentimes though, the challenges required kids to wear elastic harnesses, as they were told to jump incredible heights or climb intimidating walls. And who can forget the Aggro Crag? The fifth and final event, this last challenge always decided the winner. Contestants would have to climb an artificial mountain while activating a series of lights on the way to the peak. Along the way, the kids were forced to deal with simulated lightning storms, rock avalanches, and raining confetti that would simulate a snow effect.
16) Tiny Toon Adventures
Produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers Animation, “Tiny Toon Adventures” hit the small screen in 1990 on FOX. It was set in the fictional city of Acme Acres where most of the characters attended Acme Looniversity. The university was founded to teach cartoon characters how to become funny, with graduates receiving a "Diploma of Lunacy," giving them the opportunity to become full-time cartoon characters. The original Looney Tunes characters played a role in this series as they taught the classes that the Tiny Toons attended. Most of the Tiny Toons characters were designed to resemble younger versions of Warner Brothers’ most popular Looney Tunes, as Buster Bunny was a Bugs Bunny clone and Plucky Duck was easily modeled after Daffy Duck. This series did incorporate gross out humor but also was satirical and poked fun at other shows. Though resembling past characters, “Tiny Toon Adventures” certainly had originality. Who can forget Montana Max, the ill-tempered, money hungry tycoon who became the character that viewers loved to hate (and was voiced by Danny Cooksey, best known for his character of Budnick on the Nickelodeon show “Salute Your Shorts”). Or Elmyra Duff, the clueless red-headed animal lover girl whose overexcitement and oblivious nature caused her pets great harm. Whichever character you liked, Warner Brothers was able to take classic Looney Tunes characters and successfully re-tool them for the enjoyment of an entirely new generation of kids.
The series was the second animated show produced by Steven Spielberg in 1993 and it was definitely “Wakko.” Featuring the Warner Brothers siblings (Yakko, Wakko, and Dot) and a host of other characters, this show consisted of two or three cartoon shorts that involved pop culture references, slapstick humor, and cartoon violence similarly found in older shows such as “Tom and Jerry” and “Looney Tunes.” The show, though, would also have educational segments, like when Yakko would rapidly name countries all over the world while attempting to make them rhyme with accompanying up-tempo background music. Who can forget great characters such as “Pinky and the Brain,” two genetically engineered mice who reside in a cage at the Acme Labs research facility. In every episode, the megalomaniac Brain devises a plan for world domination that always ends in failure (Stevie Griffin, anyone?). Pinky is his cockney accented side kick who always just seems happy to be along for the ride. These characters and many more made “Animaniacs” a hit with both children and adults alike. Though the show ended in 1998, it was wildly successful and even won eight Daytime Emmy Awards.
Doug Funnie. Skeeter Valentine. Patti Mayonaise. Roger Klotz. Porkchop. These are the characters of “Doug,” a sweet coming-of-age animated series that premiered on Nickelodeon in 1991. Doug Funnie was a recently relocated sixth grader in the fictional town of Bluffington. Most episodes often started with Doug writing in his journal about recent life events, and then the episode would be a flashback of said events that were narrated by Doug himself. In this sense, the show seemed to have an animated “Wonder Years” vibe to it. Regardless, Doug would tell stories about his affection towards Patti, his great friend Skeeter, and his troubles with rival and bully Roger Klotz. Doug’s faithful companion was his doug, Porkchop. The show not only featured characters with unusual names, but unusual skin tones. Doug’s skin was white, yet his best friend was blue, his love interest was dark brown, his bully was green, and even his mother was purple. Nevertheless, Doug was an endearing character due to his wild imagination. Oftentimes, Doug’s imagination would allow him to become his alter ego, Quail Man (Quail Man was essentially Doug wearing his underwear on the outside and a belt around his head, but he was capable of doing great things). “Doug” was loved by its viewers because the series focused on how one deals with being the new kid in town. Almost every kid can relate to that awkwardness and anxiety, and “Doug” helped kids across America get through those hardships with laughter.
13) Fraggle Rock
A show for kids in the 7-12 demographic, this program was a little more grown up than its “Sesame Street” counterpart. Running from 1983 to 1987 on HBO, this series was a Jim Henson production that utilized a new cast of puppets for the world of “Fraggle Rock.” With every character having a precise personality and yet an undefined visual distinctiveness, “Fraggle Rock” subtly dealt with complex issues such as tolerance and personal identity. Similar to Henson's other productions in “Seasame Street” and “The Muppets,” “Fraggle Rock” became a worldwide hit. The success was due of course to the Muppet characters themselves. Although the Fraggles were an entirely new creation, kids had become familiar with the look and sound of these characters due to previous Henson productions. The appeal of the show, though, was in the peculiar world that the Fraggles inhabited. Living seemingly in an underground world, the “Fraggle Rock” community consisted of the Fraggles themselves, the giant Gorgs, and the Doozers. The show certainly allowed a kid’s imagination to soar to new heights, which was almost certainly Jim Henson’s goal.
12) You Can’t Do That on Television (YCDToTV)
Using unknown child actors, this sketch show debuted in 1979 in Ottawa, Canada. In 1981, Nickelodeon took a chance on this show, and it quickly became one of their highest rated shows. The series slowly started to decline in Canada, but it was so successful in America that Nickelodeon began airing the program five nights a week. In the 1990s, and even today, Nickelodeon is best known for its green slime. The network can thank YCDToTV for this, as the show would dump green slime on the heads of anyone who uttered the phrase “I don’t know.” The show is beloved by many people to this day, and it arguably had one of the biggest impacts in the young network’s lifespan. Kids of all ages eagerly tuned in to see what kind of fun, wacky sketches would be unleashed on the show.
11) Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
No doubt similar to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” premiered in 1993 on FOX. Donning colorful suits and slick helmets, the Power Rangers had the unique ability to morph into powerful warriors drawn from the spirit of dinosaurs, protecting the world from the forces of space witch Rita Repulsa. The Power Rangers themselves were teenagers who grappled with school, relationships, and, well, saving the world. The series has since gone through more than a dozen incarnations and currently airs on Toon Disney. The success of the series is not difficult to understand. The show appealed to kids due to the superhero concept but also the fact that the protagonists on the show were almost of the same generation as the viewers who watched at home. Loaded with action and a diverse cast that included two female rangers, an Asian heroine and a black male hero, the show did a brilliant job of reaching a broad audience. A mix of Ninja Turtles and Transformers, the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” were certainly a new breed of superheroes for a new generation of kids.