Nickelodeon is an American pay television network which was launched on December 1, 1977, as the first cable channel for children. It is owned by Viacom through its Viacom Media Networks division’s Nickelodeon Group unit and is based in New York City.
The channel was originally first tested as Pinwheel on December 1, 1977. Pinwheel was at the time only available on QUBE, which was the first two-way major market interactive cable television system, owned by Warner Cable. Pinwheel relaunched as “Nick” on April 1, 1979, and expanded to other cable providers nationwide.
Nickelodeon’s schedule currently consists largely of original series aimed at children, pre-teens and young teenagers, including animated series, to live-action comedy and action series, as well as series aimed at preschoolers. It also airs reruns of select original series that have ended their runs. Take a look below for our list of the 10 best Nickelodeon shows of all time.
1. SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated television series created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg for Nickelodeon. The series chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The fifth longest running American animated series, its popularity has made it a media franchise. It’s the highest rated series to air on Nickelodeon and Viacom Media Networks’ most distributed property. As of late 2017, the media franchise has generated $13 billion in merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon.
Many of the series’ ideas originated in an unpublished educational comic book titled The Intertidal Zone, which Hillenburg created in 1989. He began developing SpongeBob SquarePants into a television series in 1996 following the cancellation of Rocko’s Modern Life. He turned to Tom Kenny, who had worked with him on that series, to voice the title character. SpongeBob was originally going to be named SpongeBoy, and the series called SpongeBoy Ahoy!; both of these were changed as the name was already trademarked.
Nickelodeon held a preview for the series in the United States on May 1, 1999, after it aired the 1999 Kids’ Choice Awards. The series officially premiered on July 17, 1999. It has received worldwide critical acclaim since its premiere and had gained enormous popularity by its second season. A feature film, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters on November 19, 2004. A sequel followed on February 6, 2015, as well as an upcoming third film set for May 22, 2020. In 2018, the series began airing its twelfth season; it was renewed for a thirteenth season on July 17, 2019.
SpongeBob SquarePants has won a variety of awards, including six Annie Awards, eight Golden Reel Awards, four Emmy Awards, 16 Kids’ Choice Awards, and two BAFTA Children’s Awards. The series has been involved in several public controversies including speculation over SpongeBob’s intended sexual orientation. In 2011, a newly described species of fungus, Spongiforma squarepantsii, was named after the cartoon’s title character. A Broadway musical based on the series opened in 2017 to critical acclaim, and a spin-off series titled Kamp Koral is in development as of August 2019.
2. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American animated television series created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon. The series began airing in February 2005 and concluded in July 2008. Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in an Asiatic-like world in which some people can manipulate the classical elements with psychokinetic variants of the Chinese martial arts known as “bending.”
The series is presented in a style that combines anime with American cartoons and relies on the imagery of East/South Asian, Inuit, and New World societies. It follows the protagonists, 12-year-old Aang and his friends, who must bring peace and unity to the world by ending the Fire Lord’s war with the rest of the world.
The series was commercially successful and was acclaimed by audiences and critics, who praised its art direction, humor, cultural references, characters, and themes. It was nominated for—and won—Annie Awards, Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award. The first season’s success prompted Nickelodeon to order a second and third season.
Merchandising for the series consisted of action figures, a trading card game, three video games, stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks, and two Lego sets. An art book was published in June 2010. The complete series was released on Blu-ray on June 5, 2018 for the 10th anniversary of season 3’s finale.
The series inspired a critically panned but financially successful live-action film, The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and considered one of the worst movies ever made. An animated sequel series, The Legend of Korra, aired from 2012 to 2014. A new live-action remake of the series by its original creators to be produced for Netflix was announced in September 2018.
3. Drake And Josh
Drake & Josh is an American sitcom created by Dan Schneider for Nickelodeon. The series follows stepbrothers Drake Parker and Josh Nichols as they live together despite having opposite personalities. The series also stars Nancy Sullivan, Jonathan Goldstein and Miranda Cosgrove.
After actors Bell and Peck previously appeared in The Amanda Show, Schneider decided to create Drake & Josh with them in starring roles. The series ran from January 11, 2004, to September 16, 2007, totaling 56 episodes and 4 seasons. It also had two TV films: Drake & Josh Go Hollywood (2006), and Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh (2008). The series’ opening theme song, “I Found a Way”, is written by Drake Bell and Backhouse Mike and performed by Bell.
Rugrats is an American animated children’s television series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain for Nickelodeon. The show focuses on a group of toddlers, most prominently Tommy, Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and Angelica, and their day-to-day lives, usually involving life experiences that become much greater adventures in the imaginations of the main characters.
The series premiered on August 11, 1991, as the second Nicktoon—after Doug and before The Ren & Stimpy Show. Production was initially halted in 1993 after 65 episodes spanning three seasons, with the last episode airing on May 22, 1994. From 1995 to 1996, the only new episodes broadcast were “A Rugrats Passover” and “A Rugrats Chanukah”, two Jewish-themed episodes that received critical acclaim; during this time, after the end of the show’s production run, Rugrats began to receive a boost in ratings and popularity due to constant reruns on Nickelodeon.
In 1996, Klasky Csupo Animation began producing new episodes, and the show’s fourth season began in 1997. As a result of the show’s popularity, a series of theatrical films were released over the next five years: The Rugrats Movie, which introduced Tommy’s younger brother Dil, was released in 1998; Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, which introduced Kimi, Kira, and Fifi, was released in 2000; and Rugrats Go Wild, a crossover film with another Klasky Csupo series, The Wild Thornberrys, was released in 2003. The final TV episode aired on August 1, 2004, bringing the series to a total of 172 episodes over nine seasons. The 13-year run (with the 2-year break) ties Rugrats with King of the Hill and Squidbillies as one of the eighth longest-running American animated television series.
On July 21, 2001, Nickelodeon broadcast the made-for-TV special “All Growed Up” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the series premiere. The special was a pilot for the Rugrats spin-off series All Grown Up!, which aired from 2003 to 2008 as it chronicles the lives of the babies and their parents after they age 10 years. Another spin-off series, Rugrats Pre-School Daze, aired on TV in 2008 but had only four episodes after Nickelodeon decided to focus on the first spin-off series. Two direct-to-video specials were released in 2005 and 2006 under the title Rugrats: Tales from the Crib. Tie-in media for the series include video games, comics, toys, and various other merchandise.
Rugrats gained over 20 awards during its 13-year run, including 4 Daytime Emmy Awards, 6 Kids’ Choice Awards, and its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The series garnered high ratings on Nickelodeon and was the network’s top-rated show from 1995 to 2001. It was Nickelodeon’s longest-running cartoon for 8 years, until SpongeBob SquarePants aired its 173rd episode in 2012. The show is Nickelodeon’s third longest-running animated series, behind SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents.
On July 16, 2018, Nickelodeon announced a revival of the series to be executive produced by the original creative team of Klasky, Csupó, and Germain. It was further announced that Paramount Pictures had green-lit a live-action/CGI hybrid feature film, currently set to premiere in 2021.
5. The Fairly Oddparents
The Fairly OddParents is an American animated television series created by Butch Hartman for Nickelodeon. The series chronicles the everyday misadventures and endeavors of Timmy Turner, a 10-year-old boy with two fairy godparents named Cosmo and Wanda. He is constantly at odds with his 16-year-old babysitter Vicky, with whom his parents are oblivious to her malevolent doings against their son. It was produced by Frederator Studios (2001–2017), Nickelodeon Animation Studio and Billionfold Inc. (2008–2017).
The series originated from shorts on Nick’s animation showcase, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, that aired from 1998 to 2001. It was later picked up as a series on March 30, 2001, due to its popularity. Originally, it ended on November 25, 2006, totaling five seasons, but resumed production in 2008. Production of the series ceased again after Hartman left Nickelodeon in February 2018.
6. Invader Zim
Invader Zim is an American animated television series created by Jhonen Vasquez for Nickelodeon. The series centers on an extraterrestrial named Zim, from the planet Irk, and his mission to conquer Earth and enslave the human race along with his malfunctioning robot servant GIR. He is antagonized by Dib, a young paranormal investigator who is determined to stop Zim from succeeding.
Nickelodeon contacted Jhonen Vasquez about pitching ideas for an animated series for their older demographic and Invader Zim was the first thing he pitched. In Vasquez’s words “it went from pitch to series without hardly any waiting”. As the series went on, ratings declined and budgetary issues became more frequent. Before the second season was completed, Nickelodeon cancelled the series, leaving several episodes unfinished. The show originally ran on Nickelodeon from 2001 to 2002, with six of the completed second-season episodes initially going unreleased; these episodes were first made available on DVD in 2004 and later made their television debut on the Nicktoons Network in 2006.
Invader Zim received positive reviews from critics and audiences, with praise primarily directed at its humor, writing, animation, art-style and the way it pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on children’s television. In the years following its cancellation, Invader Zim has often been listed as one of Nickelodeon’s best shows. The series won an Annie Award, an Emmy Award and a World Animation Celebration Award, and received nominations for six additional Annie Awards and a Golden Reel Award.
Invader Zim has spawned its own fan convention called InvaderCON and a plethora of official merchandise, including a comic book series, toys, clothing and accessories, among many other products. Despite its early cancellation, due to increasing popularity and above-average merchandise sales it has been regarded as a cult classic.
7. Hey Arnold!
Hey Arnold! is an American animated children’s television series created by Craig Bartlett that aired on Nickelodeon from October 7, 1996, to June 8, 2004. The show centers on a fourth grader named Arnold, who lives with his grandparents in an inner-city boarding house. Episodes center on his experiences navigating big city life while dealing with the problems he and his friends encounter.
Bartlett’s idea for the show is based on a minor character named Arnold whom he created while working on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The executives enjoyed the character, and Bartlett completed the cast by drawing inspiration from people he grew up with in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Bartlett created the pilot episode in his living room in 1994 and official production began in 1995.
The animators worked to transform Arnold from clay animation to cel animation, leading to the series premiere. The show finished production in 2001 after 5 seasons and 100 episodes. A feature film based on the series, Hey Arnold!: The Movie, was released in 2002. All five seasons have been released on DVD.
A television film continuation of the series, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, was green-lit. It picks up from where the series ended and resolved unanswered plot lines of the story. The film premiered on November 24, 2017, on Nickelodeon.
8. Danny Phantom
Danny Phantom is an American superhero animated television series created by Butch Hartman for Nickelodeon. It was produced by Billionfold Studios and distributed in Canada by Nelvana, a Canadian animation company. The series follows a teenage boy who, after an accident with an unpredictable portal between the human world and the “Ghost Zone”, becomes a human-ghost hybrid and takes on the task of saving his town, and the world, from subsequent ghost attacks using an evolving variety of supernatural powers. He is aided in his quest by his two best friends, and later, his older sister, who for most of the series’ run are among the only people who know of his double life.
The series premiered on April 3, 2004 at 9:30 p.m. with its first episode airing after the 2004 Kids’ Choice Awards, and ended on August 24, 2007, totaling 53 episodes over the course of three seasons. With five Annie Award nominations, Danny Phantom has received critical and audience acclaim, with praise primarily directed at its ensemble cast and comic book-influenced themes and storyline.
Hartman himself has noted that the series is arguably his most popular and acclaimed work, despite its relatively short production life compared to The Fairly OddParents. Danny Phantom has spawned video games, home video releases, toys, and various other merchandise. After the show ended, reruns continued to air on Nicktoons until December 25, 2016, and returned to premiere on NickSplat for the first time on January 16, 2019.
9. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is an American computer animated television series created by Keith Alcorn and John A. Davis. It originally aired on Nickelodeon for three seasons beginning July 20, 2002, and the final episode aired on November 25, 2006. A spin-off of the 2001 film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, the show follows a genius 11-year-old from Retroville, James “Jimmy” Isaac Neutron, as he goes on adventures with his friends Carl Wheezer and Sheen Estevez.
Throughout the show, various mishaps and conflicts occur on these adventures, as Jimmy’s various inventions go awry. The series features voices of Debi Derryberry (Jimmy), Jeffrey Garcia (Sheen), and Rob Paulsen (Carl) for the three main characters.
The series has been the recipient of various nominations such as Kid’s Choice “Favorite Cartoon” in 2006 and 2007, and has won an Annie award for “outstanding achievement in animated television production produced for children” as well as a Motion Picture Sound Editors “Golden Reel award”. A second spin-off of the film, titled Planet Sheen, aired from 2010 to 2013.
iCarly is an American teen sitcom created by Dan Schneider that ran on Nickelodeon from September 8, 2007 until November 23, 2012. The series stars Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Kress and Jerry Trainor, and tells the story of Carly Shay, a teenager who creates her own web show called “iCarly” with her best friends Sam Puckett and Freddie Benson, in the attic of her apartment loft with her older brother Spencer Shay. The web show quickly becomes an internet phenomenon and the trio must deal with their newfound fame, while also dealing with adolescence.
During the first five seasons, the show was taped at Nickelodeon on Sunset before relocating to KTLA Studios in Hollywood for the sixth and final season. It was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Children’s Program five times. The series finale, “iGoodbye”, aired on November 23, 2012.
Although the show received mixed reviews from critics, it became popular with audiences. The most watched episode was “iSaved Your Life”, which aired January 18, 2010, to 11.2 million viewers; this is the second-most-viewed telecast in Nickelodeon history.