Where would the characters from Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, and The Adventures of Pete & Pete be 25-ish years later? One of them is doing sound at a dive bar, and another might be a serial killer.
That sounds a little dark, but at ATX Television Festival panel From SNICK to Splat: Where Kids Are King, the cast and writers of three classic Nickelodeon shows gathered to remember the good (and weird) times and talk about why the shows have endured. Those shows envisioned a world where kids had problems to work through but they also had agency.
Michael Maronna, who played Big Pete Wrigley on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, said that the show’s “aesthetic was always about crazy things happening in an otherwise real world,” and indeed the series deftly explored the surreality of childhood and suburban life. Show creator Chris Viscardi offered up an anecdote about Iggy Pop’s cameo on the show. The singer “only had four or five lines, but he had such a good time” he asked if there were any more.
“I think he was talking about dialogue,” Viscardi cracked.
Graham Yost, writer for Hey Dude and showrunner for Sneaky Pete and Justified said Nickelodeon had a “transgressive attitude” about how to depict kids. Moderator Leanne Aguilera asked Yost if Justified was really just an early version of Hey Dude.
“Mr. Ernst was Raylan Givens,” he conceded.
Salute Your Shorts writer Steve Slavkin elaborated on one of the darker elements of the beloved show: Zeke the Plumber was based on a real maintenance man at a summer camp, and he didn’t know how terrifying the character actually was until later on.
Danny Tamberelli, who played Little Pete Wrigley on Pete & Pete, opened up about it: “He gave me nightmares.”
Tamberelli went on to talk about how kids who watched the show are now showing it to their kids. In an interview with Tamberelli and Maronna after the panel, they talked about that cycle, and Tamberelli said he thinks the show has endured because parents want shows for their kids that aren’t “cookie-cuttery.”
“I was playing a gig in Ohio this past April,” he said, “and this guy came with his 7-year-old son, who was super stoked to meet me and was like, ‘My dad has shown me all of Pete & Pete. I love it so much. We sit and we watch it together.’ It’s the cycle repeating itself… when we were on SNICK, you’d have parents watching with kids because Pete & Pete was definitely not directly for children. And I think that was part of the appeal.”
“Is this the time when I get to say today’s kids have it easy?” Maronna asked. “Because they can just click on a button on the computer and get Pete & Pete sent right to their houses. Whereas, when we were young—”
“We had to take the dupe tapes,” Tamberelli said. “I have a box full of VHS [tapes]—”
“Oh, are you selling those too?” Maronna quipped.
“No, I’m not selling them,” Tamberelli laughed.
“But people would collect these tapes,” Maronna said, “fans of the show would tape the show off the TV and send these tapes around, and that’s how the show built up in people’s home video collections before Nickelodeon released it. It’s a testament to our fans’ dedication, this act of unearthing an old TV treasure.”
And it will be unearthed even further June 17 and 18, when NickSplat airs The Adventures of Pete & Pete and the “strongest reunion in the world.”
Stay tuned for a full interview with the Petes on the Upstream podcast.