Shows like Double Dare and Clarissa Explains It All are the stuff childhoods are made of, especially for the now grown-up viewers that flipped to the cable channel in the '80s and '90s. And it wasn't just the shows on Nickelodeon — a channel that was an anomaly in being all about kids — but the cabler's ads and other branding, which often included an orange paint splatter.
Though it disappeared in 2009, Nick announced last month that the nostalgic splat is back!
Here's the whimsical story of how that iconic logo originated:
In the early 1980s, Scott Nash, just out of design school, found himself on a flight to meet with executives from the nascent cable channel for kids, Nickelodeon. He and a former professor, Tom Corey, had been tasked with developing some logos.
"We had these, in retrospect, some really bad ideas," Nash tells Yahoo Entertainment. "One of which was… because they were owned by MTV, we would come up with something that was the equivalent of NTV. And instead of having the ever-changing M, we thought we'd turn the N into a door, which would… sort of greet kids and allow us to come into the world of Nickelodeon. But it was a really short-sighted idea, and one that I wasn't comfortable with."
Although they had very little time to spare, they decided to toss out what they had and start over.
"So Tom and I, on the flight down to meet with Fred [Seibert] and Alan [Goodman]," who were in charge of rebranding Nickelodeon in 1984, five years after its launch, "sketched on anything we could," Nash says. "We were sketching away. Tom said, 'Well, what do you really want to do on this?' I said, 'I think that a kids' network shouldn't have one particular shape. I think it should constantly change."
One iteration of this evolving logo would be the splat, which was already part of Nickelodeon lore, thanks to one of its earliest programs, You Can't Do That on Television, on which the kid stars were regularly slimed with green goo dumped from above anytime they said, "I don't know." So the splat was a no-brainer, and they quickly came up with others.
"And we presented those rough sketches, one of which was on a coffee cup that we were given, because I had run out of paper," Nash says. "And we actually presented the sketches we did on the plane... We basically threw away the proposal that we were going to present to Fred and Alan, and showed them a bunch of sketches done with Sharpies. It was a revelation for me because, again, I was nervous, as a young designer, to show something that unpolished. But Fred absolutely embraced the idea, especially. He was very enthusiastic about it."
The splat logo was born.
And though there were eventually many Nick logos used — the zeppelin, which Nash drew and became the shape of the trophies at the Kids' Choice Awards; a cow; and a dog bone, for example — the paint splatter became a favorite. Nash recalls that the product division particularly loved the splat. For the people responsible for making T-shirts, toys and other brand merch, the logo needed to be consistent; They were trying to build brand identity.
Nash says his team initially debated whether the color of the splat should be slime green or orange.
"We somehow got some information as to what colors adults least liked at the time. And lime green was one color. The other color was orange, and we went with orange because green is a keyable color," Nash says, explaining that green-screens often used for backgrounds at that time were blue or, well, green. "And so we weren't allowed to do that. We couldn't use green as the logo color, and so it became orange."
They settled on Pantone 021, the vibrant orange that just screams "FUN!"
Nash notes that everyone involved had a creative energy that comes with working on something fresh and new and vibrant. It was exciting times. He describes some of what they created back then as "groundbreaking," a word that he believes is over-used but appropriate here.
The splat remained part of the network's identity as hits such as The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rugrats and Hey Dude cycled through.
New episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show aired on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 1996. (Photo: Everett Collection)
"And so, for years," Nash says, "we were very proud of the Nickelodeon logo. We thought it was a new type of graphic identity. We referred to the logo as a flexi-logo. It's not one logo. It's a logo that is imbued with creativity, because it can change and morph. And the various iterations that we saw throughout the years through the creative services department and everyone who worked with it, it was really gratifying to see what people would do with this idea that Tom and I basically hatched on a plane heading down to New York."
In Matthew Klickstein's 2013 book Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age, Scott Webb, Nick's first creative director, went as far as citing Nash's late professor-turned-business partner as one of the people most responsible for the network's eventual success. The splat had been everything.
The guys who had made the Nickelodeon logo were suddenly in demand, and they went on to create imagery for Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, FX and more. Nick continued to use the splat until the late aughts, when, according to Variety, its parent company decided to connect all of the Nickelodeon brands — Nick at Nite, Nicktoons, Nick Jr. and TeenNick — by using matching lower-case logos for all of them.
"In asking ourselves if everything could live under the splat," said then network honcho Cyma Zarghami, "we decided that the splat was dated. It just couldn’t be done in a streamlined way."
Nick got a new look and then, last month, an old one, at a time when throwbacks are all the rage. Reboots or revivals of the TV hits of the era of Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush are routine. The new version of the splat will live alongside fresh episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and All That.
And it's not just on Nick, of course. TV shows elsewhere, as well as movies, music, fashion and more hark back to the days when we feared Y2K.
Nash, who's gone on to illustrate more than 50 children's books, teach and launch the Illustration Institute to promote the appreciation of illustration as an art form, was thrilled: "It's nice to see it come back!"
Nickelodeon revealed a refreshed splat logo in May 2023. (Photo: Nickelodeon)
He complimented the 2023 look, which he clarifies is not something drawn by him or Corey.
"They're smartly doing something new with the splat. They're using it behind the type," Nash notes. "It was one of the challenges with the idea that we came up with is that whatever orange shape contained the word Nickelodeon, had to be sort of football-shaped. It had to be roughly oval, because Nickelodeon's a very long word and whoever's designed the new stuff, has, I think, smartly taken the shape of the splat or the dynamic of the splat and put it behind the typography." Overall, it's "much simplified."
Sabrina Caluori, the executive vice president of global kids and family marketing for Nickelodeon, told Ad Week that it was time to "revisit all the pieces of Nickelodeon," after internal research showed that the "core DNA" continues to delight kids.
In addition to the splat, Nickelodeon is also bringing back its once ubiquitous barbershop quartet.