Remember when life was easy? When our most pressing challenge was making sure to get our homework done in time to catch the latest episode of Pete & Pete and Rugrats on Nickelodeon? Then SNICK came on, and it was all about pretending that Are You Afraid of the Dark? was actually scary and how many fart jokes they’d cram into Ren & Stimpy that week. Ah, but alas, while we continued to play the Circle Game, Nick kinda became… er, something else altogether, cable turned into Netflix Instant and we all became lawyers, mediocre rock musicians and narcissistic bloggers. No longer did we care why Sam always came through Clarissa’s window. But, hey: It’s officially 20 years later. Time to check in on some of the TV shows that helped to raise us. So, sit back, relax and let me stalk and hunt down all of your favorite Nick-ilites for a nostalgic look at a halcyon time when the only shit that mattered was making sure not to say, “I don’t know.”
Let’s start here, with Doug, a show that originally ran on the “First Kids’ Network” and celebrated its 20th anniversary this past August. Disney acquired the Emmy-nominated cartoon (along with Jumbo Pictures, the production company responsible for the show) in 1996, two years after its truncated run ended on Nick. Doug’s Disneyfication resulted in varied alterations to the program, characters and voices (including that of the eponymous character himself). But the changeover also resulted in a second full series run, numerous books, ancillary products, a feature-length film and a live musical stage show.
It was that first incarnation of Doug, with its quirky yet indelible “line drawing” opening (the signature “doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo-doo-doo doo doo” is running through your head right now if you’ve ever watched an episode), that made for something special in the lives of those of us who years later are now stepping forward into building families, careers and futures of our own.
Animated or no, the show was all-too-familiar: The younger viewers felt the pangs of Doug Funnie’s quotidian adventures as he approached adolescence; the older kids couldn’t help but gleefully see themselves as anxious yet inquisitive 11-year-olds.
I personally blame the characterization of Doug’s brooding Beatnik older sister Judy for my (sometimes self-destructive) penchant for the dark and bohemian girls who have peopled my adult life. We all had a bully (or three) like Roger Klotz, even though ours might not necessarily have sported Roger’s black leather jacket, spiky red hair and lizard-green skin.
Now that we, Doug himself, Nickelodeon (and/or the corporate entity that has subsumed it) have moved on, before you take another glance back with elegiac wonder, here are a few things you probably never knew about the series, its creator Jim Jinkins and why it may — regrettably — be the last of its kind…
Jim Jinkins helped to pin down Nickelodeon
The amiable yet ambitious creator of Doug began working with Warner Brothers’ QUBE, a precursor to what would become cable TV as we know it today, in the late 1970s. Still in his early twenties at the time, laboring away on everything from puppetry to painting for QUBE’s children’s division then known as Pinwheel, Jinkins was around to hear the stentorian call from his executive producers: “Let’s not just do a show, let’s do a network. And let’s call it Nickelodeon.”
During our interview, Jinkins (who still owns a barely discernible “southern twang” from his Virginia upbringing) referred to this “children’s network” concept as “one of those amazing ‘happen to be in the right place at the right time’ situations; it was sort of my break into my future career.”
After airing its family-friendly programming for two years, Pinwheel was officially re-branded as Nickelodeon in 1979, with Jinkins participating (alongside likeminded colleagues) in the network’s fledgling development.
“It’s a part of the story of Nickelodeon you don’t hear about very often,” Jinkins said. “Hardly anybody remembers it or talks about it, but I was fortunate to be part of the group that was at the birth of that channel.”
Doug blossomed out of a grapefruit commercial
While Jinkins pined away in New York, contributing to the early days of both Nickelodeon and MTV, he began filling sketchbooks with the universe of a little boy not too unlike himself. “I didn’t keep a journal like Doug did; I drew,” Jinkins said. “And it was definitely about this ‘any guy.’ My alter-ego. Some of the stuff I drew was very dark and cynical. And some of it was very silly. That was the beginning of figuring out that character.”
In 1988, Jinkins brought to life his “any guy” character — whose resemblance to Doug Funnie is immediately apparent — as a silent, animated spokesman in a Florida Grapefruit Growers commercial (narrated by Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield and The Gummi Bears’ Tummi).
Jinkins followed this appearance with a 1990 promotional bumper for the USA Network, which boasts a purplish mutt of a dog who is the spitting image of Doug’s own Porkchop. It was these commercials, along with Jinkins’ growing reputation, that eventually afforded him the chance to pitch a full show to the nascent Nick.
“They liked the style of the way I drew, and they wanted some kind of neutral, forlorn character that all this stuff would befall,” Jinkins said. “So, [these commercials] are the beginning of what he would look like. I didn’t call that character ‘Doug,’ though. It was just a character in a commercial that everything swirled around.”
Doug is more literary than you thought
Living the harried young artist lifestyle by day, Jinkins found solace in committing his paltry spare time to his ever-bulging sketchbook and the adventures of his sketched “alter-ego.”
He showed his pages of doodlings to friend David Campbell, who would become Jinkins’ business partner for the next 20 years. Campbell suggested that Jinkins attempt to publish a children’s book focused on the character, which struck the artist as a fine idea.
Along with cohort Joe Aaron, Jinkins put together a book called Doug’s Got a New Pair of Shoes, which Jinkins says he took “to all the publishers and was rejected by the very best.”
“It’s another story about timing,” Jinkins affirmed. “This was 12 years later [than his participation in the birth of Nick] and an executive by the name of Vanessa Coffey came up with the idea of doing a block of animation based on original ideas — not spin-offs, not toys being expanded into series, but something that was original and ‘creator-driven.’”
Coffey would become the executive at Nickelodeon whose brainchild was Nicktoons, bringing in three original new shows to the network in the late summer of 1991: Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy and Doug.
Yes, there was a real Patti Mayonnaise
“So I went over there with what I had and explained to [Coffey] who the character was, and it was really my memory of being a kid,” Jinkins continued. “Exaggerated, of course… And, yeah, there was a real Patti in my life whom I had a massive crush on for forever, it felt like. Certainly from junior high through high school.”
“And there was a guy down the street named Roger who lived next door to a family whose name was Klotz, so I sort of put that together. The best teacher I ever had in my life name was Ms. Wingo, so she got to be in the show. And so anybody that was from Richmond [Jinkins’ hometown] and was from my past got sort of an extra bonus when they watched the show. My football coach was Coach Fritz, and of course there’s a Coach Spitz on the Doug show.”
Doug’s own name is the “least interesting story of all,” Jinkins admitted. “At the beginning, I was calling him ‘Brian.’ It was sort of just a generic name. I was trying to find the most flat, neutral name.
“If this were the 1940s, I would’ve called him ‘Joe.’ And I thought that ‘Doug’ had that feeling and that sound about it. It was a conscious choice because I wanted him to be this very neutral, middle-of-the-road guy.”
Jinkins pointed out that his childhood did not boast a real-life counterpart for the nutty, gadget-crazed Mr. Dink, but rather that the name of Doug’s “quirky, humorous, kind of bumbling next door neighbor that means well” found its obvious provenance in the acronym that defined Dink and his wife Tippi: Double Income No Kids.
“I did not have a neighbor nearly as fun as Mr. Dink as I recall,” Jinkins confirmed. “It was just a fun thing to add to the universe.”
Though Jinkins said there was also no sibling named Judy in his life growing up (he had three sisters to Doug’s one and none of them, according to the show creator, resembled the histrionic Judy whom he conjured as an “eccentric character to play off of Doug’s middle-of-the-road character”), he did reveal that Judy was the name of his first “official” girlfriend and that (along with Judy’s having resembled “some of my wife’s sisters”) he had a real-life counterpart to Doug’s beloved best friend.
“The Skeeter of my life was named Tommy Roberts.”
There was even some truth to Skeeter’s and Doug’s superhero aspirations. Though there was no “Quail Man” in the vivid imagination of Roberts and Jinkins, the epic duo did make home movies of themselves trying to be what Jinkins referred to as Super Clod.
“That was sort of the beginning of Quail Man,” Jinkins said. “My wearing the underpants on the outside of my pants. I definitely have a photo of me doing that when I was about Doug’s age. It’s a memory of my childhood that came super handy later in life.”
Jinkins rocked out as much as Doug
It’s no wonder that one of the most memorable aspects of Doug is those singular “mouth sounds” and weird noises that seasoned the show’s deftly layered soundtrack. (Skeeter’s “honk honk,” the various Seinfeld-esque segues into new scenes a la the wonderful machinations of inimitable voice actor Fred Newman, etc.).
Praising Newman’s “mouth sounds” as “very rhythmic and sonically fun and funny,” Jinkins says he found these quirky additions to be “very organic” to the development of the show.
“I love fooling with different sounds,” Jinkins said. “Taking a conventional type of music but spinning it by throwing in some weird instrument: Fred showed me how you could take out a guitar and use a tuna can filled with water that you’d thump with your finger.”
Then there’s the peculiar yet strangely catchy tunes played by either Doug himself (on banjo) or off of the radio he and his friends frequently jammed out to in their rooms or at their regular hangout, the Honker Burger.
“I was very involved in pretty much everything [on the show], but the music was extremely important to me,” Jinkins said. “I’m not a musician; I just love music. I always had music on. Always. Growing up, whenever I could, I was listening to rock and roll and loved the Beatles, the Who.” When it came time to showcase Doug’s and his friends’ favorite group, the Beets, Jinkins borrowed from the very music he listened to when he was Doug’s age. “I was a kid during the British Invasion, so again, right place and right time as a kid in terms of music.”
A closer peek at the members of the Beets and one can easily pick up Jinkins’ postmodern pastiches: Monroe Yoder is a dead ringer for Ringo Starr; Robert Plant tacitly set the mold for Chap Lipman; and, according to Jinkins, the animated group’s implied endless “reunion” concerts harkens back to the Who.
“The music was really part of the storyteller,” Jinkins said. “All of the character noises, the sound effects. All of those were the storytellers.”
Tune in next week to the stirring conclusion of “You Don’t Know Doug” where we’ll answer the burning questions you’ve longed to ask:
“Was Skeeter black?”
“Why did Doug’s voice suddenly change in the Disney version of the show?”
“Where is Jim Jinkins today?”
Update: Check out Part Two right here.
Mathew Klickstein is the author of SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, which is in stores everywhere and will tell you more about Nickelodeon than you probably should know.