Disturbing secrets Nickelodeon hid from us

If you're an '80s or '90s kid who was lucky enough to have access to cable television, then one of your childhood dreams was most certainly to get slimed on national television. Yep,you wanted to be on Nickelodeon and get hazed by the world's first network for kids. Or maybe your dreams were more specific. Perhaps you wanted to run the obstacle course on Double Dare, or attend the Kids Choice' Awards, or zip through a Toys 'R Us (R.I.P.) as the winner of the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run.

While Nickelodeon brought joy and electronic babysitting to you and millions of other kids, it was also the centerpiece of a huge corporate empire. Nickelodeon was a division of MTV, which in turn was owned by communications giant Viacom, and like any business, it's got some skeletons in its closet. Grab your orange blimpies: We're about to wipe the secretive slime off of Nickelodeon's most disturbing secrets.

Gak is whack!

Remember that squishy, slimy, gross ball of mush you begged for as a child because literally everyone had it and you would just die if you didn't have it, too? That stuff was called Gak, and most adults lamented the day in the early '90s when Nickelodeon began selling those cans of delightfully disgusting green mush. Well, they should have been glad that their kids were into Gak instead of "gak."

Lots of Nick shows and events liberally employed the use of green slime, including Double Dare. On that show, both on-screen and behind the scenes, that slime was called "gak," which was a gnarly inside joke, and one that some staffers took straight from the streets. As Double Dare host Marc Summers explained on an episode of the YouTube series Geeking Out, at the time the show was in production, "gak" was a slang term for heroin. Summers says he was well aware of that fact when he called slime "gak" in front of millions of kids, too.

Rocko's far too modern life

Rocko's Modern Life was so infamous for its lewd jokes and crass content that, honestly, we're still a little shocked it aired on a children's television network. (Maybe the censors were thrown off by the Australian accents.) There are numerous examples of adults-only humor on this show, such as how Rocko eats at a place called "Chokey Chicken," or that time he lands a job as a phone operator at a "one-on-one" hotline, where there's a sign in his cubicle reminding him to "be hot" and "be naughty." And yet there was at least one line the network wouldn't allow Rocko to cross. 

On Oct. 23, 1994, an episode titled "Road Rash" aired, although what viewers saw was not the original edit that animators created. What viewers did see: Rocko and Heffer entering a motel suggestively named the No Tell Motel. What viewers did not see: Rocko and Heffer explaining that they want a room for the entire night. The clerk is shocked they need more than the customary "20 minutes."

A truth bomb about SpongeBob SquarePants

Did you ever find it weird that on SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob wore pants, Squidward had a refined palette, Mr. Krabs ran a hamburger joint, or that, you know, they were sea creatures that could talk? One could chalk it up to cartoon logic, or something in the Krabby Patties, that makes life in Bikini Bottom so extraordinary. But as it turns out, the name of the town is a reference to why things are so weird under the sea. 

Bikini Bottom isn't just a mildly salacious underpants joke — it may also refer to the real-life location of Bikini Atoll. While it's famous for inspiring the name of the iconic two-piece bathing suit, it's even more famous for being the remote place in the South Pacific where the United States conducted nuclear testing in the 1940s. This would suggest that SpongeBob and his friends are nuclear-derived mutants. The proof is in the radioactive pudding. How else do you explain Toxic Waste Monthly, a popular periodical on the show?

Some 'Loud' allegations

It began with some shocking and disgusting revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K., and as the effects of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements rippled through every sector of Hollywood, more and more men were called out for inappropriate (if not illegal) sexual conduct toward female colleagues. It even hit kid's television. In October 2017, around a dozen women came forward to Nickelodeon with complaints about Chris Savino, creator and producer of The Loud House, Nick's second-highest-rated show among young viewers at the time. 

Among Savino's reported misdeeds, according to Cartoon Brew: One woman said she didn't accept an offer to work at Nickelodeon because Savino worked there. She alleged that when they both worked for Disney, he sent her sexually explicit text messages (and photos) and once offered her a job in exchange for "inappropriate things." BoJack Horseman director Anne Walker Farrell detailed Savino's alleged harassment in the early 2000s, when both worked at Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon suspended Savino, then fired him.

Scandal 101

Zoey 101, a boarding school-set dramedy, hit Nickelodeon in January 2005. Starring as protagonist Zoey Brooks: Jamie Lynn Spears, recognizable to Nick's young viewers for both her stint on the network's sketch comedy juggernaut All That and because she looked a lot like her older sister, pop superstar Britney Spears. The show consistently performed well for Nickelodeon over its first three seasons, and unlike most of these pleasant-but-forgettable Nickelodeon kid-coms, it landed an Emmy nomination for outstanding children's program. But in December 2007, while the show's third season was still airing, a 16-year-old Jamie Lynn announced that she was pregnant.

Nickelodeon immediately released a statement (via People): "We respect Jamie Lynn's decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn's well being." At the time of the baby news, shooting had wrapped on the fourth season of Zoey 101 – which would turn out to be the last season of Zoey 101. In January 2008, Nickelodeon canceled the series.

'iFell and iHurt myself and it's iCarly's fault'

When you thinks of iCarly, you think of a series that's part sitcom — about a bunch of kids who make a web series — and part fantasy, because it's about a web series that people actually watch. You wouldn't think this hybrid would involve high-risk stunt work, but the show occasionally did take things up a notch. 

According to TMZ, for a scene where one of the show's young characters would be lowered down on wires, the production hired a stuntwoman named Katina Waters.The lowering was supposed to happen slowly, but Waters says the person operating the "descender" was negligent, causing her to slam into the floor at a very high speed. Waters fractured several leg bones and tore a few ligaments. In 2014, she sued Nickelodeon, MTV Networks, and iCarly production company Schneider's Bakery for an undisclosed amount to account for her pain, suffering, and loss of earnings while she was laid up with her injuries.

A Biggs problem

Jason Biggs usually plays affable beta males, such as Jim in the American Pie saga and Larry on Orange is the New Black. In 2012, he landed a gig outside of that wheelhouse, voicing Leonardo in Nickelodeon's animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot. Also contrary to his image, Biggs loves to crack bawdy jokes on Twitter, and that little hobby got him in trouble with Nickelodeon.

During the 2012 Republican National Convention, Biggs tweeted some gross jokes about Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, wives of the men on the GOP presidential ticket. Nicki Swift isn't the kind of website to repeat such things, but let's just say that in one of the jokes, Biggs discussed his desire to explore a part of Ryan that he believes was, uh, cosmetically cleansed.

At about the same time that Biggs was tweeting that stuff, Nickelodeon used a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Twitter account to encourage followers to also check out the feed of one of the show's stars, Jason Biggs. By that time, Biggs had already deleted his GOP tweets, but they'd already gone viral. Nickelodeon had to issue a statement of apology that said, in part: "It was our mistake to link from our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles twitter feed to Jason's personal twitter account, and we quickly corrected our error. We also insisted Jason use better judgment and discretion in public communications while affiliated with our brand."

An Ariana Grande feud that ended in Justice

Most Nickelodeon comedies produce just one star. Clarissa Explains It All gave us Melissa Joan Hart, and Unfabulous introduced Emma Roberts. The 2010-2013 series Victorious propelled two actresses to post-tween-show stardom: Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande (okay, and Elizabeth Gillies). Though they played friends on-screen, things might not have been so chummy when the cameras were off — if the persistent Hollywood rumors are to be believed.

On a 2015 episode of The Meredith Vieira Show, Justice attempts to put all the gossip to rest. Evidently, Grande mentioned in a Seventeen interview that she'd once been bullied on a set, and according to Justice, "the magazine basically alluded to it being me." Justice says Grande knew that would cause some trouble, so before the issue hit newsstands, "she texted me privately, and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. You know how, like, the media twists words. I was not talking about you obviously, like I was talking about someone on Broadway I had worked with.' But once it got out there, like everyone thought that I was this bully and that I was mean to her, which couldn't be further from the truth." 

Oh, so they're not fighting? Boring.

Angry Beavers made for some angry executives

The Angry Beavers debuted on Nickelodeon in 1997. It was the story of two beaver brothers, Dag and Norb, who live in an Oregon forest. By 2001, the show's creators sensed cancellation was inevitable and imminent. "We were significantly over budget, behind schedule, and had generally worn out our welcome" with Nickelodeon, co-creator Keith Kaczorek told Vice. So what did Kaczorek, creator Mitch Schauer, and production staff do? Buckle down and made some whiz-bang episodes company brass enjoyed so much that the show got renewed for five more seasons? Nope. 

Kaczorek and writer Roger Eschbacher knocked out a script for a finale episode called "Bye Bye Beavers," a darkly funny, self-referential extravaganza of nuttiness. The plot: Dag and Norb grow self-aware, realizing that they are cartoons and that their cartoon show is about to be canceled…which means they're essentially about to die. There are also sly digs at Nickelodeon, particularly its penchant for airing endless reruns, as well as references to voice actors' previous roles. Norb, portrayed by Nick Bakay, is called Salem on occasion, a nod to the puppet cat he voiced on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. 

Amazingly, the mucky-mucks at Nickelodeon approved production "every step of the way," Angry Beavers writer Micah Wright told Vice. "Then they saw it all put together and said, 'Wait, this makes us look bad,' so they killed it." The episode was never completed, but an audio recording of the script leaked online in 2006.

An expensive slice of abstinence pie

As the host of Double Dare, Marc Summers' job description was pretty straightforward. He asked easy trivia questions, cheered on kids as they muddled through a zany obstacle course, and he made wearing sneakers with a blazer look cool. He was also the host of Family Double Dare, which was Double Dare with some extra additions, like parents, and throwing pies in parents' faces. Summers went at mom and dad with those creamy confections, but once, he apparently hurt somebody. And when people get hurt, people sue. 

Summers told Mathew Klickstein, author of SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age (via Splitsider) that a few days after such a pie-ing, Summers received a call from a lawyer representing Nick's corporate overlords at Viacom. A contestant had threatened to sue, claiming Summers pied her in the face too hard. "The lady said she can't have sex anymore since you threw a pie in her face," Summers says the lawyer told him. To avoid a courtroom battle, Viacom reportedly wrote the woman a check for $25,000.

All That wasn't all that for Angelique Bates

All That was like Saturday Night Live for kids: sketch comedy that produced a ton of talent, including cast members Kenan Thompson and Taran Killam, who went on to star on Saturday Night Live (which is like All That for adults.) Early cast member Angelique Bates graduated to a steady career as a working actress, appearing on shows such as Boston Public and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Hopefully Bates' experiences on those sets were better than what she said life was like behind the scenes of All That. 

In an interview with The Shade Room, Bates claims that during her two-year tenure on the show, her mother inflicted physical, mental, and emotional abuse on the set and in full view of producers, who apparently weren't all that bothered by it. "Sometimes they could even hear me yelling, but nothing was done to help me," Bates said. She claims her colleagues encouraged her to stay quiet about the disturbing circumstances and not attract any unwanted attention.

The Kids Choice Award for favorite protest goes to...

Nickelodeon's annual Kids Choice Awards marks the biggest night of the year for Hollywood's tween-centric branch, and sadly, it's the only awards show were celebrities get slimed. It's also a great way for Nick to self-publicize, trotting out its big stars on the pre-show "orange carpet," and then giving them awards. That's why it was so weird when Jennette McCurdy skipped the 2014 celebration. 

The star of Sam & Cat was nominated for favorite TV actress, and the show itself was up for favorite TV show, but McCurdy didn't show up. The morning after, the actress explained why, albeit cryptically, on TwitLonger. "I was put in an uncomfortable, compromising, unfair situation (many of you have guessed what it is) and I had to look out for me," she wrote. "I chose to not go because sticking up for what is right and what is fair is what my mom taught me is ALWAYS the most important thing." McCurdy also asserted that her protest had nothing to do with the recent leak of some racy photos of her.

Days later, TMZ supposedly figured it all out. According to its "sources," the sit-out was part of a contract renegotiation ploy. McCurdy was reportedly mad that her Sam & Cat co-star, Ariana Grande, took home a bigger paycheck. 

Jennette McCurdy vs. Gloriana, sorry, Ariana

In June 2014, not long after her Kids Choice Awards boycott, Jennette McCurdy issued another missive on TwitLonger – this one about a toxic friendship. She spoke of a friend she used to have a lot of fun with but also "seemed to be a leech for drama and gossip." McCurdy said the "friendship slowly fizzled out," only to resume and go right back to a bad place. But no more! "I'm standing up for myself. I'm not playing your games, letting you manipulate me, and succumbing to your twisted perception of reality." Rumors swirled that the frenemy was Sam & Cat cohort Ariana Grande.

Things would have been pretty tense when McCurdy and Grande returned to the set, but that never happened. In July 2014, Nickelodeon canceled the show, owing to what The Hollywood Reporter hilariously called "Behind-the-Scenes Drama." Feud over? No way!

A few weeks after the cancellation, McCurdy released a reality-blurring web show called What's Next for Sarah? She wrote, produced, and starred in the series about an actress with a recently canceled hit tween show who isn't sure what to do next. The third episode contains a barely veiled shot at Grande. Sarah (McCurdy) deals with an up-and-coming (but arrogant and not very intelligent) pop star who wears her hair in a severe ponytail…named "Gloriana." Mic drop. 

Dora vs. the D-D-D-D-Defendant

It's as if the phrase "Swiper, no swiping!" didn't mean anything to anyone. Throughout Dora the Explorer's run, Dora had a lot of enchanted talking objects that helped her explore the world, such as Backpack and Map. She apparently also had Accounting Software and Lawyer along for the ride. 

In 2007, 14-year-old voice actor Caitlin Sanchez took on the role of Dora. In 2010, she sued Nickelodeon (and its corporate brethren, including MTV Networks and Viacom) for making her sign what she believed was a terrible contract that conned her out of millions. She specifically cited unpaid work hours as well as a contracted $40 payment for promotional appearances. Sanchez asked for $10 million — and threatened to expose secrets about Nickelodeon — if her demands weren't met. Instead, she settled for $500,000, but then she tried to re-sue because she and her family think her lawyer acted fraudulently and didn't tell her that most of her settlement would be eaten by taxes and lawyer fees. 

Danny Lightfoot has vanished

Yippee-ki-yay: Nickelodeon aired five seasons of the live-action sitcom Hey Dude from 1989 to 1991. The name is a clever reference to how the series takes place on a dude ranch, which was staffed mostly by telegenic teens, among them a Hopi young man named Danny Lightfoot, played by an actor named Joe Torres. 

Several cast members moved on to prominent roles after Hey Dude ended, chiefly David Lascher (Ted), who co-starred on Blossom and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; and Christine Taylor, of The Brady Bunch Movie and Zoolander. Not Torres. He never appeared in another TV show or movie, and in fact, nobody associated with Hey Dude is quite sure what happened to him. He's seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth. When the cast reunited at the 2014 ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, Torres didn't participate because he couldn't be found. The two main (and unsubstantiated) rumors are that he's either working at a Toyota dealership in New Jersey, or he passed away.

You really couldn't do that on television

Nickelodeon began life as an upstart channel in the Wild West that was early cable TV, which meant it scraped together a lineup with lots of shows imported from Europe and Canada. A Canadian series, You Can't Do That on Television, became one of early Nick's biggest hits. Generally free of a didactic moral, YCDTOTV was pure comedy, an anarchic mix of 30 Rock-style "behind the scenes" of a sketch comedy show starring a cast of kids. The program featured gross and even nihilistic comedy sketches. One recurring bit: A kid tries to talk his way out of getting executed by a firing squad. That was apparently fine with Standards & Practices, but an episode that made fun of adopted kids was apparently a bridge too far.

Episodes generally had a theme, and the theme of a 1987 episode was "Adoption." The whole thing is loaded with jokes making fun of adopted kids. In one sketch, an adopted teenage boy is a degenerate who likes to look up girls' skirts. Nickelodeon decided to pull it from rotation. "We ourselves didn't understand what buttons were being pushed about an episode dealing with adoption. And that was our mistake," co-creator Geoffrey Darby told Splitsider in 2012. "…And so that was a bad show … I think it only ever aired onceMaybe."