Look Upon this 1983 Nickelodeon Contest Poster and Despair!!

(Oliver Lyons is back today with a unique take on a Nickelodeon poster from 1983 -Ed.

Oh, I’m sorry. Were you trying to sleep tonight? Was the last thing you wanted to see the frozen visage of a mime, its eyes looking not at you but IN you? 

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How about Reggie Jackson being brutally killed by a bird dressed as Napoleon? 

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How about Clint Howard after he snapped and started wearing bits of Ron’s face around town? 

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Or how about a lovingly detailed rendering of a child’s crotch? Congrats, you’re now on a list somewhere. 

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What if I told you this Hieronymus Bosch assemblage of nightmare fuel came packaged in an issue of Parent magazine and was aimed directly at children? Welcome to the wild west of early 80s basic cable. 

Nickelodeon was launched in 1979 and its humble beginnings were about as far away from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Doug, Rugrats, and Spongebob that we all grew up with in the late 80s to 90s as possible. Being the first ever cable network dedicated entirely to children’s programming, they had eighteen hours (remember when stations would go off the air at midnight? Adorable) to fill. And because back then kids weren’t really seen as the lucrative market that they are today (that’s because they’re broke as shit) so in order to find enough shows to fill up the channel, Nickelodeon’s early years were a mash-up of repackaged British and Canadian shows, PBS cast-offs, and a few low-budget in-house offerings. It wasn’t until 1984 when their parent company, Viacom, decided to give a shit about this channel they didn’t really want but that was part of the package deal if they wanted to buy MTV and go all-in on kids programming and their parent’s wallets, that we start to get the Nickelodeon we all fondly remember today. If you’re interested, there’s a crappy oral history of the channel you can purchase but I really wouldn’t. 

Back to the altar of madness that is this poster. I can’t find the number of subscribers Nickelodeon had in the early 80s but all signs point to “not a hell of a lot.” Not to brag, but our family had the channel from the jump. This is because my father was a graphic designer who worked with several children’s entertainment companies and need to keep somewhat abreast of what was going on with the youth. Plus, then cable became a tax write off. As a side-note, I may ask the management of this site if they’d be interested in me writing about what it was like when your father takes you to the 1986 New York Toy Expo at the height of the He-Man craze but says you cannot buy nor even touch any of the toys that wouldn’t be widely available for another year or so. I don’t know if it’s possible to have blue balls at six years old but I had the next closest thing. 

Still, Nickelodeon had enough subscribers to warrant a contest and in 1983 they launched the “Name the Stars” sweepstakes. The basic premise was: you’d read over the twenty clues that correspond to characters on the poster and if you could answer at least five, you’d have a chance to win a variety of timeless prizes like a Betamax video recorder, an Atari home computer, or a 27” x 41” version of that horrible poster to hang in your bedroom whose only value would be in providing a solid evidence for why you grew up into a serial killer that resembles Slim Goodbody. 

Like Dante escaping hell, the only way out is through, so let’s attempt to solve this contest and make sense of this collage of horrors.

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  1. You can find them every day at ______________ house

Holy shit! That man is choking that..um…whatever the fuck that purple thing is! And I also have no clue what those things are in the second and third picture but they look very, very anti-Semitic. And then that fucking mime!! AHHHHHHHHH!!

Right off the jump, Nickelodeon leads with its most horrible creation. I mean, most beloved show at the time, Pinwheel. Some public access bullshit created in Columbus, Ohio, then picked up by PBS and filled with the cast of The Electric Company, Nickelodeon bought all 260 episodes of this series about humans and..uh…I guess you might generously call them “muppets” living in a boarding house together (think Sesame Street if all the characters had been abandoned by their families for being too terrible to look at) and aired those sons of bitches on repeat well into the early 90s, Stockholm Syndrome-ing every child into eventually loving their tormentors! Again, in the early 80s, the 0-12 year old demographic was not seen as lucrative so no one knew how to create for that audience. So what you have here is Lidsville rejects alongside bargain-basement clowns because, hell, kids love clowns and puppets, right? Who cares that they both look like they were designed by someone that chased their acid with sewage runoff? Or someone who really, really, really hated children?! I still have the theme song playing in my head ‘til this very day.

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  1. The next step in human evolution. They are The _______________ People.

Why, why did Nickelodeon hire the shittiest painter they could instead of just making this poster a photo collage!? This will become more of a problem later on when you’re asked to identify allegedly “famous” individuals in the poster that look like the artist smashed his paint into the shapes of the person using only his fists and tears. I also already had to start using Google at this point as I had no idea what the hell these kids could be aside from “definitely kidnapped.”  The Tomorrow People was a 70s British tv-series. It’s actually been remade twice, once in 1992 for Nickelodeon (again) and once in 2013 on The CW and I will give all my money to anyone who actually watched any version of this series.  The show was about a group of kids who develop superhuman abilities in their teenage years (like the X-Men!) only they can’t kill people for some reason (very much UNLIKE the X-Men)? Apparently, David Bowie had some input on the original series because, in the late 70s in England, David Bowie was so famous he could do anything he wanted including having face-sex with your mother and you’d still call it “visionary genius.”  It was Dr. Who for babies. Never watched it. Hard Pass. 

  1. Her name is Christine McGlade. But her nickname is_____________
  2. Their show is a crazy comedy for kids. It’s called__________________

I’m putting 3 and 4 together because they’re talking about the same show. The woman having what I pray is an ice cream bar forcefully shoved in her mouth by the gentleman with the headset is Christine McGlade aka Moose from You Can’t Do That on Television.  Arguably, aside from Pinwheel, YCDTOT is the one Nickelodeon show that made it out of their early 80s morass to still be fondly remembered by us olds today. YCDTOT was a Canadian sketch-comedy show for kids that ran from 1979-1990. It’s most famously remembered for two things: 1.) Alanis Morissette (who was already a teen dance sensation in Canada at the time) was on it for five episodes and 2.) this is the show that introduced sliming people, something that Nickelodeon would eventually run with and make its channel-wide trademark and, later on, something that weirdo fetishists on YouTube would also run with, but let’s focus on one nightmare at a time. YCDTOT is a shining example of not exactly knowing how to write for young kids. The writers were obviously all pot-smoking adults who thought scenarios like firing squads, torture dungeons, and sinister grownups intent on hurting children was fucking funny as shit, forgetting that young children kinda look to adults to protect them as they are unable to fend for themselves. Presenting unstable and downright sadistic adults as comedy made a young Oliver less likely to laugh than fret as to why these kids don’t run away from these maniacs?! But that was sort of the secret appeal of kids programming back then, the humor mixed with the horror: the creeping suspicion that the people in control of the show you’re watching may not be “fully there.” No wonder everyone my age turned out fine! Despite being terrified from the Terry Gilliam factory produced animated nightmare intro through sketch after sketch featuring murderous adults, I think I probably watched every episode of this show. 

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  1. They perform letters sent in by kids on______________________

Jesus Christ! Again with the freak faces!! The show is Kids’ Writes. Yeah, I never watched it either. It took until question 5 for Nickelodeon to ask about one of their in-house shows and after watching some episodes on Youtube it’s honestly no wonder. The creatively named Kids’ Writes featured a theater troupe that all look like pedophiles that were accidentally let go on work release who would act out stories sent in by kids. The budget on the show appeared to be zero dollars as their set looked like a child’s gymnasium in the process of closing down because there were too many spiders. It’s no surprise this show only lasted one season, yet Nickelodeon apparently re-ran the 17 episodes well into 1987. This bad idea would later be re-packaged into a slightly better show on MTV called You Wrote It, You Watch It hosted by John Stewart. Slightly better.

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  1. They are all part of the new spine-chilling mysteries on_________

Oh good, kid crotch already. If the painter of this poster has never been investigated in regards to the disappearance of local children I just solved a whole mess of cold cases.  I was pretty stumped as to what this show was since To Catch a Predator didn’t exist yet but then I enlarged the poster and saw the fucking freak child on the bottom left and guessed it had to be The Third Eye. Do yourself a favor and watch that link. Ha ha! Your pants are now full of fear shit. The Third Eye was a bunch of old horror serials from the UK and New Zealand repackaged under a new name. This is another example of network brass not realizing that just because a show FEATURES children, does not necessarily mean it is FOR children. Apparently Nick was able to grab these serials for dirt cheap because they sucked so much, looked like shit, and no one could understand what anyone was saying. Five episodes were shown then quietly tossed in the trash before Nickelodeon started to get its act together in 1984. According to Internet comments, these five episodes gave kids across the globe nightmares for years afterwards so…good job?

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  1. They all work at a department store on_______________

I assume the answer is not “the darkest depths of your soul where your unforgiveable sins are forever judged and punished” so the only other answer that makes sense is Today’s Special. This was another Canadian import but was probably the Nickelodeon show from this time period that I was most fond of. Today’s Special was about a woman who worked in a department store where, after hours, she would bring a mannequin to life to f-

-un around with! Predating the Kim Cattrall movie, Mannequin, by several years, Today’s Special was just like that movie only less horny and more focused on learning lessons. Yes it also featured a horrifying mime. Yes it also featured a horrifying sentient computer. However, the genuine relationship between the leads as well as the titillation of screwing around in a department store when you weren’t supposed to be there overshadowed those other horrors that they insisted on shoving into a kid’s show. You also never saw a lot of customers in Today’s Special’s department store? Probably because they clearly had a huge fucking rat problem. 

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  1. These kids have wonderful adventures with their horse____________

Oh, WITH their horse, not on. Gotcha, gotcha. The show is The Adventures of Black Beauty. No shit. Another early 70s British serial bought for pennies and then milked via reruns for several years afterwards through the 80s. Do you sense a trend here? Do you perhaps wonder why this channel struggled early on? Young kids are dumb as rocks but still know when they’re being foisted garbage that no one else wanted.  Still, I probably ended up watching at least a few episodes.

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  1. He takes you behind the scenes of the movies. He’s____________

Fuck if I know? He looks like everyone ever to be on the FBI’s most wanted posters at the post office. You really have to go by the clue here because there’s no way you’d ever guess that’s supposed to be Leonard Nimoy, host of the Nickelodeon show, Standby…Lights! Camera! Action!  The asshole artist actually painted a headshot of him from his Mission: Impossible days in the early 70s! This is a contest for six year olds, you shit heap! He didn’t even look like this on the show you’re asking about!!! What a dick!! Standby… sounds super cool but I don’t recall having ever watched it as a youngin’? Nickelodeon filmed 20 episodes that were shown between 1982-1987.  There’s a few up on YouTube that I wish I was watching now instead of writing about this horrible poster contest but, here we are. 

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10.)He tells you about famous people who did it, “Against the Odds.” His name is_________

Oh, fuck right off again! Another person we’re supposed to deduce from the portrait painted by an artist who was clearly also drinking whatever he used to clean his brushes. The contest writers also thought this was unfair so they give you the name of the show in the clue. Against the Odds was a 26 episode show about notable historical figures like Einstein, Joan of Arc, and..um..D.W. Griffith?!?! Okay!? It ran from 1982 to 1984 and was hosted by…Bill Bixby. Wow! The Incredible Hulk himself! The Magician! This drawing is like looking at a photo! Actually…shit…it is kind of like looking at a photo!! Man, the 80’s were NOT kind to Bill Bixby.

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11.)______________and his friends can be found in their treehouse. 

Imagine finding these guys in your treehouse? Did every adult male between the ages of 25 and 55 in the 1980s HAVE to look like a pederast? I mean, Rob Lowe was around back then and he didn’t? Or were these panty droppers all that was available with Nickelodeon’s casting budget at the time?  Also, if I told you the name you were looking for was Dusty, would you really be that surprised? Dusty’s Treehouse was another public access pickup from the 70s that Nickelodeon bought and then commissioned four more seasons of to pad out their early years. Apparently 200+ episodes were filmed in all and it won eight (regional) Emmys?!  Do you remember Dusty’s Treehouse? I know my doctor says I exhibit signs of “problem drinking” but I don’t recall this show at all?! And you think I would have given that, to quote Stu Rosen’s Wikipedia page, “One episode involved Dusty himself learning a life lesson about how eating heavy food before bedtime (Maxine warns) causes nightmares; Dusty goes on a blacklight theatre journey through Nightmare Land and is chased by the menacing Mister Stomach Ache. But a new friend is made in the form of Sonja the gypsy fortune teller, a character who would reappear frequently in the show not by way of Nightmare Land.” Yep, that’s about par for the course of “teaching through fear” that was wayyyyy big in the 80s. 

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12.) “Livewire” is his game ___________________is his name.

Hey! Can we maybe stop asking preschoolers to name the fucking hosts of these shows?!?! Who gives a shit?! Was Johnny Blowdried up there really the selling point!? God, I bet if you sniffed this poster you’d get a residual coke buzz? Anyway, Livewire was Nickelodeon’s own talk show for kids. It ran for five years and was hosted by Fred Newman (who could forget that name ((eye roll emoji)). The show discussed current events, interviewed the occasional celebrity, but what it is really remembered for is being the first ever television exposure for a lot of bands that would go on to be really big. The best part of being a no-budget show is that you can get bands that are on the come up and who don’t yet have managers to tell them not to do nickel and dime bullshit like Livewire. REM, Psychedelic Furs, Sugar Hill Gang, and Ramones were just some of the groups that made their earliest television appearances on Livewire. Did I mention that the studio audience for this show was all children? For instance, here’s an adorable clip of The Lords of the New Church (the goth/ deathrock supergroup featuring Stiv Bators from The Dead Boys, Brian James from The Dammed, and Dave Tregunna from Sham-69. They actually kind of sucked, which is unfortunate) performing on Livewire and then patiently answering questions from kids about dreams and lyrical inspiration. Who would have thought that the guy who wrote, “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth” could be so nice?

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13.)____________is in “Tip Top” shape

I’m straight up stumped here. The illustration is no help and the clue is somehow even less helpful!? There was no 80’s movie called “Tip Top” nor was there a tv show with that name?! There wasn’t even an exercise themed show on Nickelodeon on the channel in this time period?! Because we’re dealing with only four years of programming at this point in 1983, I legit Googled every show on the network in that timespan and my best guess is that she’s either Kerrie Keane, the second host of What Will They Think of Next! Aka Science International, or Andrea Helman from By the Way.  Kerrie Keane’s 1980s face looks more like the drawing but Andrea Helman’s character, Josie, spent all of her By the Way segments hiking through the woods which, in theory, gets you in “Tip Top shape.”  Considering we’re 12/12 for answers right now, I’m taking a mulligan on this one but, damn poster, you beat Google. Respect.

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14.) _____________ wants you to care for your own good body

The contest writers must have known that at least a few Kindergarteners were going to kill themselves trying to figure out the answer to the last question so they lobbed a softball for #14. Slim Goodbody was motherfucking everywhere in the 80’s! (and I’m going to write a piece on him eventually because we watched a ton of him in 1st grade -Ed.) This guy had a bunch of different body suits and tracksuits. He had a rocketship. He had a robot. He was even occasionally an animated cartoon! What I don’t recall him ever doing was wearing a cowboy hat like the dickhead artist painted him doing here but that doesn’t distract from the fact that this motherfucker is 100% Slim Goodbody. But here’s the craziest thing – Slim Goodbody never had his own show on Nickelodeon! You know him primarily from Captain Kangaroo but he mainly filmed shorts that could be chopped up and used as interstitials on any show that needed one-minute educational clips, which was conveniently every other kids show in the 1980s. The other craziest thing is that parents were mad cool with a guy wearing an anatomically correct bodysuit just kicking it with their kids!  Millennials, if someone approached you dressed like Slim up there would you A.) Run B.) Throw your Juul pod at him and then run or C.) Go hang out with him because you’ll probably learn an important lesson about nutrition?  Yeah, I’d pick C too. 

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15.) Take a “Wild Ride” with teen idol___________

Ok, this is fucked up. You not only have to had seen the show they’re talking about to answer this question – Special Delivery – but the specific episode of that show called “Wild Rides” featuring Matt Dillon. Again, the “artist’s” rendering isn’t going to help you here. Special Delivery was literally a block of animation, unsold pilots, or made for TV movies from Canada that Nickelodeon bought to fill up airtime as it worked to develop their own shows. The “Wild Rides” episode is just Matt Dillon talking about rollercoasters. I’m not going to clown Matt Dillon for doing this because he’s cool as fuck and I wish he was in more stuff. Instead, here’s a clip of The Replacements playing at some award show and, at the end, the camera cuts to very excited Matt Dillon. Dude knows what’s up. 

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16.) Famous home run hitter_________________ has his own sports show on Nickelodeon

I don’t know much about sports but I sure as shit know how to do a Google search which tells me this offensive illustration is supposed to be Reggie Jackson, star of Reggie Jackson’s World of Sports. Again, I don’t know much about sports but I’ve definitely heard the name Reggie Jackson before so I have to assume this was Nickelodeon’s biggest get at the time? He hosted this sports show for about a year from 1981-1982 during which Wikipedia tells me he was entering his final MLB run with the California Angels. No disrespect to Mr. Jackson but the only Nickelodeon sports show I ever cared about was Skate TV hosted by my spiritual twin (in looks, not money), Matthew Lillard. 

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17.) Star of “My Bodyguard” _________________is coming to Nickelodeon on “Going Great.” 

Kirk Cameron! No, uh….”Bodyguard”…oh, Whitney Houston! Man this artist is FUCKED! Wait…My Bodyguard? Oh, you mean the classic Matt Dillon movie that no one ever saw? Hold on, Matt Dillon was already an answer on this poster for some insane reason? Well, because I’m in the future, I can Google Going Great and learn that the individual they are talking about is Chris Makepeace. (also starring Adam Baldwin, who shares Stephen’s politics and last name but not his blood -Ed.) Going Great was another documentary series about kids who performed “great feats.” Cool. According to Wikipedia, this and Against All Odds were Nickelodeon’s lowest rated shows at the time. Like, no shit, idiots!  Kids want to see puppets and cartoons, not educational films. They already have to sit through that in science class! Nickelodeon quickly figured that out so in late 1983 they decided to premiere…

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18.) Famous TV star________________will bring his scientific experiments and magic to Nickelodeon this fall.

This question assumes that every seven year old either has a subscription to Variety or were glued to Nickelodeon so much that they paid attention to the promos for upcoming shows. Y’all know who Mr. Wizard is. Nickelodeon quickly sussed that if they had to show educational science programs, no kid wanted to be lectured. They wanted to see shit blow up! Mr. Wizard aka Don Herbert had been doing his shtick since the 1950s!?!  I had no clue about that? I was confused why the question said “famous tv star?”  But literally, by the time Mr. Wizard got on Nickelodeon in the 80s, he was like Reggie Jackson in that this was his retirement gig. Mr. Wizard ran on Nickelodeon from 1983 until 1990. Nickelodeon also showed reruns of his show through the year 2000. That’s goddamn half a century that Mr. Wizard was on the air! I don’t know if it was secret shade that Mr. Wizard is literally setting Chris Makepeace and by proxy his boring-ass science show, on fire here? 

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19.) You can learn magic tricks on Nickelodeon’s______________

Shit, this might also be Mr. Wizard? Mr. Wizard did a lot. Respect that.

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20.) This silver ball flies around on________________your favorite cable channel

I had no idea that early Nickelodeon was such a Phantasm fan? But before the Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick song and the slime and the orange splat logo, Nickelodeon decided their brand was going to be – a silver ball. Yeah, as we’ve seen, they made a lot of bad decisions pre-1985.

So there we go. We got 18 or 19 out of 20. We effectively won this contest 3.5 times over.  And, more to the point, we conquered the chaotic madness that was this 1983 poster. We stared into the abyss and determined that the abyss is largely made up of Canadian programming. Pre-Spongebob, pre-iCarly, pre-Kids Choice Awards, pre-Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios Orlando, pre-Nickelodeon Toy Run at Toys ‘R’ Us, pre-Snick – there was just an afterthought of a channel trying to stay afloat on what was considered a laughable premise that children were worth marketing to. Armed with only poorly constructed puppets and a shitload of mimes, Nick persevered. Looked at through that lens, this poster becomes less of a horror show and more of a badge of honor. Nickelodeon flying its war wounds proudly. Given that, I may just hang it on my wall after all.

Nah, it’s still terrifying. And what the fuck is that robot in the “O”?! 

Oliver Lyons spent valuable work hours researching obscure Nickelodeon shows from the early 80s. Let his employer know @JokesforJohnnyB

I know Oliver said not to bother with the Nickelodeon oral history but should you decide to bother, you can get it at the link below. 80s Baby may receive a commission.

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