Like many of you, I grew up just before the Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows got weird.
Some of my favorites were Drake and Josh, iCarly, Big Time Rush, Suite Life, and Victorious. They were all weird in their own right, but they were charming. Many of these shows I can still watch today and legitimately enjoy, and that’s not all because of nostalgia either.
You can’t say the same about the shows that make up those channels now. Shows like Bizaardvark, Game Shakers, and Henry Danger are odd and downright cringe-worthy at times. It seems like Disney and Nickelodeon increasingly focus on trying to be weird and funny. That’s why they’re bad, right?
That’s not the case at all. These shows are no more weird than the ones I mentioned before. The reason they don’t work is because they break a fundamental rule of writing.
Here is the difference between the Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows of yesterday and today.
a Solid POV Character
It’s probably the most simple rule in writing: the main character must be relatable. Disney and Nickelodeon just can’t seem to get that right anymore.
A solid POV character is vital for these shows since they focus on the weirdness. The worlds they create are so out there and random that the audience needs an entry point. If they don’t feel like they’re there, it’ll just come off as cringe-worthy.
Take Victorious for example. Tori is the “every man.” She lives in a world where not a single person is normal besides herself. That’s why it works. The show tells us that it is not normal, thus we embrace the weirdness because of our experience watching these Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows. We become a part of that world and tag along on the ride.
Community works the same way. The show would never have worked if Troy or Abed were the main character. It works because we have Jeff. When everything is weird, nothing is. This is the power of the POV character and how drastically they can impact a show’s quality.
iCarly vs. Sam & Cat
Take the breakout star from one show and put her with the breakout star from another. Seems like the perfect combo! Nope, that’s Sam & Cat.
This show failed for the exact reasons I mentioned above. It takes two characters who were never designed to be leads, and made them the leads of their own show. Then, throw in all of the weirder characters. That’s how we get one strange show.
However, the jokes and storylines aren’t too different from the show’s predecessor, iCarly, so why does that show work and not this one?
It all goes back to the POV character. In iCarly, we follow Carly as she navigates her strange High School years. In Sam & Cat, two side characters are thrown together in a house. For the sake of this article, let’s say Sam is the POV character.
Sam (Jennette McCurdy) is an oddball. She’s been in and out of jail, has anger issues, but also has a soft spot. That’s a really solid character, but a horrible POV character. We don’t relate to her, nor does she give us a window to view the world from. Same goes for Cat (Ariana Grande). She’s way too over the top and silly to fill that roll.
On the flip side, Carly (Miranda Cosgroves) is just a normal girl trying to adapt to a crazy world. This is why it is easy for audiences of all ages to relate to her and it gives us a great window to view the world from. Her normalcy balances out the other crazy characters by addressing the weirdness and allowing us to take part in it.
This isn’t just what makes a great kids show, but a great show in general. Without a strong lead, the whole thing falls apart.
The Good Ol’ Days of Kids TV
Every time I see one of these new kid shows on Nickelodeon, I watch for a few minutes and wonder “what happened?”
The writing is worse, the jokes are worse, and they treat kids like they don’t know anything. I haven’t seen the same love for today’s shows like I saw back when I was younger, hardly a decade ago. I’m very curious to see if today’s kids will look back on these shows the same way I look back on my own childhood shows? I can’t see them leaving the same impact.
At least they always play re-runs of iCarly, Drake and Josh, and other favorite Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows so all the kids can experience quality kids TV. While they’re not on the air anymore, the love for them has never left.
And for me, they never will.