Thursday, November 29, 2018

'Rocko’s Modern Life' Creator Joe Murray Reflects on Working at Nickelodeon in the '90s

Nickelodeon’s early days were ‘loose and crazy,’ says Rocko’s Modern Life creator

The cartoon belonged to a very different version of the channel

Nickelodeon’s constant programming shifts, from the home of game shows and sketch comedies, to a cartoon innovator, to a teen-star factory and beyond, have been essential to the kids’ cable channel throughout its history. And Joe Murray, creator of classic '90s Nicktoons series Rocko’s Modern Life, was there during one of the most interesting steps in the network’s evolution.

It’s easier than ever to compare “Nickelodeon then” and “Nickelodeon now,” in part thanks to the newly released complete-series DVD box set of Rocko’s Modern Life. (An upcoming TV movie, "Static Cling" based on the series will also certainly help.) More than 25 years after the surreal animated sitcom premiered, Murray looked back at his work to tell Polygon about this “different,” “loose” time — when adult humor and innuendos could slip into cartoons like Rocko with ease, and execs gave the OK with their backs turned.

Polygon: There’s a surprising level of “adult” jokes in Rocko. [Examples: a fast-food chain named “Chokey Chicken”; a gag where Rocko is a sex line operator (Oh baby oh baby oh baby); an episode about assumed infidelity, starring Rocko and his next-door neighbor’s wife.] How did you get those on a children-oriented cable channel like Nickelodeon?

Joe Murray: I had done some independent films, which is what made Nick interested in talking to me into developing a series, and they just said, “Do what you do.” So I did a pilot that was doing what I do.

It was a different time then, looking at Nickelodeon — they were just getting on the map. Ren and Stimpy actually premiered while I was working on the pilot. My stuff was so weird, but then Ren and Stimpy came out, and I was like, “Oh, this might work.” Everything was different [then], and Nickelodeon was kind of going for that they wanted to break out and break the mold of what was going on. There were so many rules that had come down onto kids TV that it was kind of our time to break out of it.

The Ren & Stimpy Show was one of the original Nicktoons — and a bizarre fit alongside the other two, Rugrats and Doug. Credit: Nickelodeon.

A lot of these cartoons were very violent, and nobody ever said anything about the violence. But Rocko was never violent, and the things that we did were hopefully going over kids’ heads. We wanted the parents and the kids to be able to enjoy things together. We did things that we thought were funny, and we tried to be discreet about it. It wasn’t something that was blatant — I wanted people to enjoy it on different levels, and that’s what it sounds like what happened. Audiences got older, and they started to enjoy it on a college level, and as an adult on that level.

The show was about someone coming of age. Rocko was meant to be in his early 20s. I just kept saying to Nickelodeon, “It’s modern life.”

Was it ever a struggle with the network to keep these in, or was the network on board with that sort of humor — especially considering how much fellow Nicktoon Ren and Stimpy pushed the envelope at the same time?

There were elements of Ren and Stimpy that were different from what we were doing. Everything was very story-driven, so we didn’t just throw things out there just for the sake of shock.

There were [some] things — there was a note that we couldn’t say “hell,” so we kind of made a joke about it. We crossed out “hell” and put in “heck.” There were some things [Nickelodeon had problems with], mostly satanic jokes that we weren’t supposed to do. We had a hard time with the devil episode, with Peaches, and we made it really ridiculous — with feathers on his head.

Title credits for Rocko’s Modern Life episode ‘To Heck and Back’. The fifth episode of Rocko’s Modern Life involved Rocko’s best friend, Heffer, dying and going to, uh, “Heck.” Credit: Nickelodeon

[The show] was doing great in the ratings, and we were getting huge household numbers. Nickelodeon was trying to find its own place that was a little different from any other children’s network, and our thing was, we don’t talk down to kids. We treat kids as the intelligent beings that they are. But we also know that there are gonna be aspects of the show that they’re not gonna understand. So Nickelodeon did really, at the beginning — they didn’t come down on us very much about it. They saw the ratings and the breakout that was happening.

I’m sad that the moments that we “got away with” get so much attention. The L.A. Times did a story [on an episode] we did about adoption, where Heffer finds out that he was adopted ["Who's For Dinner?"], and they called it a high-water mark for kids, and it dealt with situations that were kind of groundbreaking at the time. We had a lot of episodes that were really intelligent writing, and we were all just trying to do something that was different. But having innuendos and stuff gets us the most attention.

That’s definitely true — episodes like “Zanzibar,” about recycling and capitalism, still play. But what kinds of things did Nickelodeon offer notes on? Rocko seemed to get away with a lot, but what about those other adult stories about consumerism, etc.?

I had a good relationship with [then-senior vice president of programming] Herb Scannell. They expressed their appreciation of the show and supported what they were doing with it. I’m working on a PBS show now — I created a show that I really care about, and it’s saying a lot of things that are really relevant, but to a younger audience. My stance in entertainment, in doing something that says something, hasn’t changed.

I really wanted to say something. There was a lot of satire in Rocko — “Conglom-o, we own you!” The motto of Conglom-O [in an episode set in the future] is, “We still own you,” and nobody’s ever done anything about it. And the recycle show is needed more now than ever. We were able to attack things that weren’t normally done in kids TV, and for adults too. I think a lot of the satire, things we were saying about lots of different aspects of modern life. was appreciated.

Conglom-o exterior. Credit: Nickelodeon

It wasn’t really until the corporate machine started building up with Nickelodeon — at the time, it was kind of a different mentality of, suddenly we have to be earning the right kind of money with the right kind of sponsors. It started to become that we’re not hitting the 6- to- 11-year-olds as strong as we like, and I was like, “Maybe it’s time to rest up. We’ve done a lot of good stuff here, and maybe we shouldn’t mess with it.” The household numbers were still really good.

What seemed to be the priorities of the channel creatively back then, at such an early stage of its life making cartoons? Did Rocko meet Nickelodeon’s apparent needs and requirements?

Other shows were trying to acclimate to changing needs. Things were changing, as it always does. These networks keep changing and changing, and especially in this new climate of streaming, now you get a 10-episode order, and that’s about it. 52 episodes was the [syndication] number. It’s kind of a thing of the past. It’s always changing. Executives change, things change, the mandate of the corporation always changes. It has to be.

We snuck in there when things were still kinda loose and crazy — I call it the “Wild West” sometimes, because there was a lot of people that we were getting now starting to work in television. There were stories of some execs at Nickelodeon who didn’t see [the show] until it got on the air. It was kind of a crazy time, so it was perfect for what we did.

Were you close with other creators of Nicktoons, like Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats and Doug, and able to share notes or commiserate? Or were most shows siloed off into their own teams?

Creators come from all different areas nowadays. At the beginning, we were all kind of from an animation background, so we all kind of knew each other anyway. John Dilworth [who made Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog] ... a lot of creators who were coming up through the ranks, who were just finally getting to say something and do something in television, since it was kind of closed off. I don’t think any of us saw ourselves in television.

We had things to say in animation, and we were doing it in independent film. And then TV said, “Hey, we want that stuff here,” so we made that leap. [...] It’s all just one big thing — these networks are just like a stream. It’s never the same one twice.

You can’t hold any grudges or hold a personality to a network. I kind of left with a little bit of a bad feeling when I left Rocko, but now I love lots of people at Nickelodeon. They’re trying to find their way in the streaming world. It’s just trying to get something out there, and have something of quality and good energy. We’re all kind of in the same boat, as far as how we approach something.

I always tell people not to approach a network and say, “This is what I should create: something for this network.” It’s always about creating something for yourself, and see which network would like it.

Rocko’s Modern Life poster sold exclusively with the new complete series box set of Rocko’s Modern Life, featuring artwork by Joe Murray. Credit: Nickelodeon

Update (11/29) - From Vanity Fair:

Nickelodeon Asia Rolls Out Some Holiday Fun for Your Kids this December (Singapore Edition)


SINGAPORE, 29 NOVEMBER 2018 – This December, Nickelodeon in Asia has another exciting lineup of fun activities for kids and their families in Singapore - from meet-and-greets with your favorite characters, Christmas special that rounds up all the best festive episodes and a brand new mobile app that will enable your preschool kids to learn and be entertained while on the go!

1. PAW Patrol is on a roll at Takashimaya Shopping Centre (30 November – 9 December)

While the adults get busy with Christmas shopping, kids can sit back, enjoy PAW Patrol episodes on the HDTV at Takashimaya Square B2 level and participate in the Meet and Greet session with Chase, Marshall and Skye who will be making their appearance everyday1 at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm! First 3000 customers get to redeem a PAW Patrol Draw string bag with a minimum spending of $50 on Nickelodeon purchases in a single receipt. In addition, with every $50 spent in a single receipt2 in this period, you get to enter the daily draw of five entry tickets to the Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon at Sunway Lagoon in Malaysia!

More Information:

1 With the exception on 2 December at 1pm and the whole day on 3 December

2 All purchases at Takashimaya Square will be eligible but the purchase has to include at least one Nickelodeon item

2. New Shimmer and Shine Zahramay Festival Stage Show at United Square (7 – 20 December)

Be the first to watch a brand new Shimmer and Shine Stage Show as they embark on an adventure with their best friend, Leah, to find the Snowflake Gem needed for the Frosty Fun Festival in Zahramay Falls. The show is at 2pm and 7pm on weekdays; 2pm, 5pm and 7pm on weekends. You get to meet-and-greet the characters after the show. Have your photos taken at the Shimmer and Shine photo area and participate in the daily photo contest as the person with the best photo will walk away with a Shimmer and Shine goodie bag. No minimum spend is necessary for shows, meet-and-greet and the photo contest.

More Information:

3. Learn and Play on-the-go with the new Nick Jr. Play App

Created for kids two to six years old, the newly launched Nick Jr. Play app is designed to promote discovery and exploration with easy-to-use swiping and tapping. Access full episodes of hit shows, games, music and lots of fun surprises, including content from Nick Jr.’s most popular shows – such as PAW Patrol, Blaze and the Monster Machines, Nella the Princess Knight, Rusty Rivets, Shimmer and Shine and many more.

Nick Jr. Play features the following for all to enjoy:

- Full Episodes

- Educational Clips such as Sing-Alongs and Short Form videos

- Exclusive Casual Games based on favorite Nick Jr. characters

- Interactive Buttons for Educational Experiences

The ever-growing library of Nick Jr.’s award-winning preschool shows are rooted in innovative curriculum that prepares your kids for life, such as creative thinking, social emotional learning, science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and language.

Availability: Free to download on Apple App Store and Google Play. Premium access now available through Singtel CAST Learning Plus pack.

4. SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas Special Episode

What happens when you send a sponge into space? In this holiday special "Goons on the Moon" (aka "SpaceBob MerryPants"), Sandy takes her "Science Scout" troop on a trip to the moon, and SpongeBob becomes the first sponge to walk on the moon! Will the team push themselves into deep space forever or will a Christmas miracle get them out of the mess?

Watch the show: The brand-new SpongeBob SquarePants "Goons on the Moon" episode will air on Friday 7th December at 4pm. Nickelodeon Play app users can watch it first on Thursday 3rd December 2018!

5. Christmas Specials on the Nickelodeon Channel (25 and 26 December)

Ignite your Christmas morning with us, and join Sunny and Rusty as we bring you two brand new shows bright and early! In Sunny Day, Sunny and Doodle are separated when a snowstorm traps Doodle at his cousins’ house! Can Sunny and the gang reach him in time to spend the holidays together? In "Rusty Saves Christmas", Rusty, Ruby and Liam heads to the North Pole to help Santa fix the conveyor belt he uses to load gifts from his workshop into his gigantic toy bag.

Stay glued to the channel as the festive celebration does not stop there. Follow up with Christmas specials for popular shows such as Dora the Explorer, Shimmer and Shine, PAW Patrol, School of Rock, Lip Sync Battle Shorties and so much more!

Watch the show: The Christmas Specials runs from Tuesday 25th December from 9.30am to 6pm and on Wednesday 26th December from 11am to 2.30pm!

6. Catch the brand new Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (now showing)

Nickelodeon’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Pictured: Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and April O'Neil.

The action-comedy follows the Turtles on all-new adventures as they master new powers, encounter absurd mutants and battle bizarre villains, each with their own motivations. Ranging from mystics, mutants and madmen, new creatures and villains emerge to take on Raph, Leo, Donnie and Mikey in battles across New York City. Your kids can also catch up on the missed episodes on the Nickelodeon Play app, available for free download from the app stores. Get the complete Nickelodeon Play experience and unlock premium content via subscription to Learning Plus on Singtel Cast app.

Watch the show: Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now showing every Friday at 5.30pm

Want more Turtle power? Check out Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: City Showdown and help Raph, Donnie, Leo, and Mikey fight off the bad guys and protect Manhattan. Guide the turtles through different quests and challenges. When you land on a green, yellow, or red spot it is time to battle a new mutant in each area of the city created by the villain Baron Daxum. Collect points, stickers or pizza for a high score with each battle.

7. Fun Festive updates to Nickelodeon Game Apps

Get in the festive mood when you update Dora’s Worldwide Adventure to celebrate a very special holiday with Dora and her Friends. Prepare for the festive celebration in Loud House: Ultimate Treehouse.


Download Dora’s Worldwide Adventure for SGD $4.48 on Apple App Store, SGD $3.99 on Google Play

Download Loud House: Ultimate TreeHouse for free on Apple App Store and Google Play

In additional news, Nickelodeon Asia has announced that they plan to launch a new online destination for fans very soon!


Nickelodeon, now in its 39th year, is the number-one entertainment brand for kids. It has built a diverse, global business by putting kids first in everything it does. The company includes television programming and production in the United States and around the world, plus consumer products, digital, recreation, books and feature films. Nickelodeon is one of the most globally recognized and widely distributed multimedia entertainment brands for kids and family, with 1.2 billion cumulative subscriptions in more than 500 million households across 170+ countries and territories, via more than 100+ locally programmed channels and branded blocks. Outside of the United States, Nickelodeon is part of Viacom International Media Networks, a division of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA), one of the world’s leading creators of programming and content across all media platforms. For more information about Nickelodeon in Asia, visit Nickelodeon and all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks of Viacom Inc.

More Nick: Nickelodeon Launches Academic Animation Program in China!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for all the latest Christmas on Nickelodeon Asia News and Highlights!

Snow Day Trivia Challenge ⛄ Ft. SpongeBob, Henry Danger & More! | #KnowYourNick | Nickelodeon

Are you a snow day expert? ⛄ Find out how well you know these Nick wintery scenes! Catch more of your favorite shows on Nickelodeon!

How many did YOU get right? Let me know in the comments below! 💯

More Nick: Nickelodeon USA's December 2018 Premiere Highlights | Nickmas | Holidays!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Holidays on Nickelodeon News and Highlights!

Nick Stars Take on the Musical Dice 🎲Challenge Ft. Owen Joyner, Daniella Perkins & More!🎤| Nickelodeon

Knight Squad’s Owen Joyner & Daniella Perkins, Henry Danger’s Cooper Barnes, and more take on the ultimate singing challenge!🎤Can they sing the SpongeBob theme in a Broadway way? How does a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opera sound? Who do you think knocked this challenge out of the park? Let me know in the comments below! Catch more on Nickelodeon!

Tag the timecode of YOUR favorite performance in the comments below! 🎶🎲

More Nick: Nickelodeon USA's December 2018 Premiere Highlights | Nickmas | Holidays!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Nickelodeon News and Highlights!

Nursery Rhyme Sing Along Music Videos | Playlist #2 | Nick Jr. Canticos

Canticos “Arroz con Leche” Music Video w/ Lyrics | Spanish & English | Nick Jr.

Looking for a catchy tune to bop along to? Watch this Canticos lyric video and sing along to this dance party song, in Spanish and English! To find more bilingual music videos from Canticos, and full episodes, games, and a collection of kids’ songs from your favorite animated TV shows, visit the FREE Nick Jr. App.

Sammy knows something very special. Any time can be fiesta time! You can sing, boogie, and shake your tails along with Sammy, while learning this celebratory song in English and Spanish. This video includes lyrics on screen, making it a convenient learning tool. In addition to learning words in a different language, you will have fun moving, grooving, and having a dance party along with a cast of cute animated Canticos cartoon characters!

LYRICS (Español/English)

Kally's Mashup | Estreia Segunda Temporada | Nickelodeon Brasil

Não perca a estreia da nova temporada de Kally's Mashup! Dia 22/10 às 19h, só na Nickelodeon Brasil!


Mais Nick: 'Kally's Mashup', 'SpongeBob SquarePants', Ariana Grande and More Win Big at 'Meus Prêmios Nick 2018'!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Nickelodeon Brazil and Kally's MashUp News and Highlights!

'SpongeBob SquarePants' Fan Launches Petition to Turn the Empire State Building Yellow to Honor Stephen Hillenburg

A fan of the Nickelodeon's beloved animated series SpongeBob SquarePants has started an online petition asking that the Empire State Building in New York City be lit up in yellow to remember and honor series creator Stephen Hillenburg, who passed away on Monday, November 26 following a battle with ALS.

The former marine biology teacher and cartoonist died aged 57, leading to a mass outpouring of grief from fans.

“As Nickelodeon Studios is based in New York, I felt it fitting to ask the Big Apple to show its love for Stephen by embracing SpongeBob's classic yellow glow,” fan Alison P. said in her e-petition on the Care2 website, which aims to get Hillenburg honored on a massive scale by lighting Manhattan's famous skyscraper in the worlds most famous sponge's iconic color.

Most recently, Nickelodeon's iconic SpongeBob SquarePants balloon floated its way through the city as part of Macy’s 2018 Thanksgiving Day Parade.

She said she started the petition as a way to honor Hillenburg and also to drive awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon

In part, the petition reads: "SpongeBob SquarePants has taught his audience not only about friendship but helped to drive awareness around the importance of ocean conservation.

"It was Stephen's genius that was able to invent a character who could connect with kids and adults to deliver such an important message in a fun and charming way."

The Empire State Building was previously lit up in Nickelodeon Orange in September 2013 to commemorate the network's 10th annual Worldwide Day of Play.

Nickelodeon will be honoring Stephen on-air with a special SpongeBob SquarePants marathon dedicated to his memory on Sunday, December 2 between 12:00pm - 8:30pm ET/PT.

Let's do this!: Light Up The Empire State Building Yellow To Honor SpongeBob Squarepants Creator Stephen Hillenburg!

Sources: LADbible, The Los Angeles Times.

Nickelodeon USA to Honor Stephen Hillenburg with Special 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Marathon on Sunday, December 2

To honor Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the beloved Nickelodeon animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, who sadly passed away on Monday, November 26 aged 57 following a battle with ALS, Nickelodeon USA will host a eight and a half hour SpongeBob SquarePants marathon commemorating the life and work of the animator and ocean conservationist on Sunday, December 2 between 12:00pm - 8:30pm ET/PT.

Below are the currently scheduled SpongeBob SquarePants episodes for Nick's marathon:

12:00pm - Help Wanted / Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome: SpongeBob applies for a job; SpongeBob has fun with a reef blower, much to the annoyance of Squidward; SpongeBob meets Sandy Cheeks. (first episode)

12:30pm - Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy / Pickles: SpongeBob and Patrick visit a retirement home; SpongeBob loses his confidence.

1:00pm - Pizza Delivery / Home Sweet Pineapple: SpongeBob and Squidward become stranded in the desert while delivering a pizza; SpongeBob loses his pineapple home.

1:30pm - Sandy's Rocket / Squeaky Boots: Sandy Cheeks takes a rocket ship into space; Mr. Krabs gives SpongeBob a pair of squeaky boots.

2:00pm - The Secret Box / Band Geeks: Not knowing the contents of Pat's secret box drives SpongeBob crazy; Squidward lies to an old rival about having a band.

2:30pm - The Sponge Who Could Fly (aka "The Lost Episode"): SpongeBob realizes he wants to fly with the jellyfish; Patchy uncovers a brand new episode of SpongeBob and then loses it.

3:00pm - Hall Monitor / Jellyfish Jam: SpongeBob takes his turn as hall monitor; SpongeBob brings home a wild jellyfish.

3:30pm - Culture Shock / F.U.N.: Squidward and SpongeBob plan a talent show; SpongeBob thinks Plankton is lonely.

4:00pm - Ugh (SpongeBob B.C. (Before Comedy)): In prehistoric Bikini Bottom, SpongeGar, Patar, and Squog discover fire.

4:30pm - The Nasty Patty / The Idiot Box: Mr. Krabs and SpongeBob hide the health inspector's body; SpongeBob and Patrick throw out their new TV and keep the box.

5:00pm - Unreal Estate / Code Yellow: When SpongeBob thinks he has an allergy to his pineapple, Squidward offers to help find him a new home; Squidward gets a nose job at the local hospital and SpongeBob tags along as moral support.

5:30pm - Have You Seen This Snail?: Gary runs away from home when SpongeBob forgets to feed him.

6:00pm - Ghoul Fools: SpongeBob and Patrick get caught in the feud between a crew of ghost pirates and the Flying Dutchman.

6:30pm - Club SpongeBob / My Pretty Seahorse: SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward squeeze inside a tiny treehouse; SpongeBob adopts a stray sea horse.

7:00pm - Squidward's School for Grown-Ups / Oral Report: Patrick decides to act like a grown-up when he grows a beard; SpongeBob realizes that he has stage fright while preparing to give an oral report for boating school.

7:30pm - Sold! / Lame and Fortune: Spongebob and Patrick think their homes have been sold and move away, pleasing Squidward; fortune cookies predict the future so Plankton uses them for his schemes.

8:00pm - Goons of the Moon (SpaceBob MerryPants): Sandy leads the scouts through space for scientific exploration, where SpongeBob finds life exists in the form of a krabby patty, Sandy studies the moon's gravitational effect on nuts, and Squidward goes to the dark side. (Holiday special)

Source: Nickandmore! (II); H/T: Anime Superhero Forum @SweetShop209; Additional sources: Zap2it TV Listings, Wikipedia.