In 1985, Viacom, a television syndication company, purchased MTV and Nickelodeon from Warner/Amex. Inspired by the immense success of oldies radio and taking advantage of Viacom’s holdings of classic fifties tv series (Donna Reed, Dennis the Menace, Mr. Ed), MTV programming executives launched NICK AT NITE in July of 1985. Like oldies radio, Nick at Nite aimed itself at two audiences, branding the lineup as prime-time entertainment that could appeal to Nickelodeon’s kid audiences while offering nostalgic appeal to Boomer parents.
In his excellent book RERUN NATION, Derek Kompare describes the network’s pitch to viewers:
"Nick at Nite’s initial mode of address…harked exactly back to the boomers’ nostalgic TV neverland of the late 1950s, with colorful space-age shapes, bouncy pre-program bumps and promos…overenthusiastic announcers’ voices, mascots, and music reminiscent of the era (or at least the pastel-laden 1980s version of the fifties). This iconography of TV dinners and Raymon Loewy cocktail tables was consistent with the discourses of the fifties nostalgia already in circulation at this time…."
Derek Kompare, Rerun Nation: How Repeats Invented American Television.New York: Routledge, 2004. p 181. [AMAZON]
The ad above also evidences a growing confidence from MTV executives, who strong-armed cable carriers into adding their channel through the “I want my MTV!” campaign just a few years prior. The ad’s directive to “call your local cable operator” is a continuation of MTV’s winning formula.
Nick at Nite would also serve as a precursor to the niche-casting that MTV would later perfect. In 1985 MTV was still working from radio’s AOR playbook, but would soon develop blocks of programming that would appeal to specific niche audiences (YO! MTV RAPS, HEADBANGERS’ BALL, 120 MINUTES, HOUSE OF STYLE, etc).