'Rugrats' matures into Nickelodeon hit

by Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

The following article appeared in USA TODAY newspaper on Thursday November 8, 1995; ©1995 Gannett Co. This article was originally seen on Billy D'Augustine's Rugrats site (now closed), and submitted to that site by Jerry Shannon.

In 1991, Nickelodeon unveiled 'Rugrats', offering a novel baby's-eye view of the world.

After getting great reviews and decent ratings, the animated series quietly become one of Nick's signature shows. As with most catoons, Nick closed production on the series after 65 episodes were completed.

But a funny thing happened during the endless rotation of reruns: In 1995 after Nick moved the show from weekends to weekdays, 'Rugrats' became Nickelodeon's top-rated show.

Toys and other 'Rugrats' merchandise had already come and gone. The series' producers had moved on to new shows.

"We've been caught off guard by the success of the show," says Nickelodeon's executive vice president Herb Scannell. "And we're considering what to do about it."

'Rugrats' also is one of cable's highest rated series with a 3.3 rating; Nick's average rating over a 24-hour period is 1.6. (A ratings point represents 672,000 TV households.) Among kids shows, 'Rugrats' is surpassed only by Fox's 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' and Warner Bros. 'Animaniacs' Scannell says.

Steven Spielberg recently gave 'Rugrats' his own stamp of approval, calling the show "a TV 'Peanuts' of our time."

Co-creator Arlene Klasky, whose Klasky-Csupo studio produces 'Rugrats', is flabbergasted by the recent response to the show. There's talk of a series of 'Rugrats' specials and even a second cycle of 65 episodes for Nickelodeon. A 'Rugrats' movie is in development at Paramount.

"I'd love to see a feature," she says. "We would get a much wider audience than just the kids who can get cable."

Klasky is the inspiration for 'Rugrats' Didi, the yuppie mom who reads everything about child development and worries that she doesn't spend enough time with her kids.

"I was home with my son Brandon, who was 1-1/2 and we had to go to Nickelodeon to pitch some ideas. I was sitting in my bathrobe and looked at Brandon and though, 'What motivates a baby?'"

Partner Gabor Csupo drew a picture of young Tommy (based on their son) and brought it to Nickelodeon. After years of airing animated series about animals, clay figures, teen boys and girls and super heroes, Nick was happy to have one about babies and pre-schoolers.

At the time, Klasky-Csupo was doing the animation work on 'The Simpsons'; 'Rugrats' was the company's first creation. It has since added to its portfolio USA Network's 'Duckman', Nickelodeon's 'Ahh!! Real Monsters' and CBS' new 'Santa (sic) Bugito'.

"If you had an original idea (in 1991), you couldn't get it on the air," says Nickelodeon's Scannell. "Everything was based on pre-existing products, but it wasn't that way when we grew up."

So Nick decided to make its own stars, ordering 65 episodes of 'Rugrats', 'Ren & Stimpy', and 'Doug'. Since then 'Rocko's Modern Life' and 'Real Monsters' have been added to the mix, and next fall 'Hey, Arnold' will join the lineup.

"Our audiences likes the new product," says Scannell. "But based on the success we're seeing with 'Rugrats' (and 'Doug', which is also out of production) it might make sense to revisit our original strategy and make some changes."

Webmaster's Note: Jefferson Graham is also an author of several books about television, including The Ultimate Rugrats Fan Book, published in 1998. And as for the movie, what was in development in 1995 became a blockbuster in 1999.

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