In news that might make you feel significantly older, or make you say, “Is that still on?” Nickelodeon’s late-night programming block, Nick-at-Nite, is officially 36 years old today. That’s right, the channel that originally showed black and white classics and would later keep the same 120 episodes of “The George Lopez” show running for 13 years, is entering the back end of its third decade of life. And even though 36 might not be a big number to traditionally celebrate, we thought it would be fun to take a quick look back at Nick-at-Nite and its history.
When Nickelodeon first started airing in 1979, it branded itself as the first cable network for children. For some time during its early days, when Nick ended its broadcasting day, A&E would broadcast programming on its channel. Eventually, A&E’s parent company decided to spin-off into its own channel, leaving Nickelodeon with a block of programming they needed to fill. This led to the idea of a classic television programming block that would being at 8:00 PM.
And so, on July 1st, 1985, Nick-at-Nite was launched with programs including, “The Donna Reed Show,” “Route 66,” “Dennis the Menace,” and “National Geographic Explorer.” From there, it would go on to broadcast a number of beloved classics like “Get Smart,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Lassie,” “Bewitched,” “Green Acres,” and so many others. As the 90’s would continue, the line-up would change to include more “modern” classics so to say, adding shows like “Cheers,” “Happy Days,” and “Newhart.”
Nick-at-Nite also had to compete against the idea that kids were watching more TV and that 8:00 wasn’t exactly the right time to shut-off programming aimed at them. Back in 1996, Nickelodeon pushed their regular programming into 8:30 with a promotion they called, “The Dot,” where on most weekdays, Nick would air a specific program from their regular line-up so that kids could spend more time watching the network. This would later expand to where Nick-at-Nite’s official website currently lists its schedule as starting at 9:00 PM.
There is a mildly terrifying element to the channel though, which is watching shows you used to watch as a kid or teenager being added to the line-up. Though in fairness, Nick-at-Nite has tried to shed that image of “old” television shows and shunted those programs to the spin-off channel, TV Land which premiered in 1996. This would account for why Nick-at-Nite now shows episodes of “Friends,” “Mom” and “Young Sheldon.” The latter of those is literally still on the air, and “Mom” just ended its final season in May of 2021.
Maybe its just personal bias from growing up with the early days of the network, but when we think of Nick-at-Nite, we think of those episodes of “Mr. Ed” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” that helped to keep those shows culturally relevant for a new generation. Even if we didn’t watch them all the time, we knew of them because of Nick-at-Nite keeping them alive. So here’s to you on your 36th Nick-at-Nite, thanks for reminding us of days past!