Old School Lane’s Nickelodeon Tribute: Welcome Freshmen/Fifteen
The year is 1991.Â Beauty and The Beast, Terminator 2: Judgement Day,Â andÂ Silence of the LambsÂ was released in theaters.Â Blossom, Taz-Mania, Eerie, Indiana,Â andÂ Home ImprovementÂ debuted on TV. The Super Nintendo was released as well as the fourth installment of theÂ MarioÂ series:Â Super Mario World.Â After over 40 years, The Cold War had finally come to an end. That year would be the huge quintessential year that Nickelodeon would attract a brand new generation of kids with brand new shows. The previous generation who grew up watching Nickelodeon in the 80’s felt that everything went extremely downhill in the 90’s. All the shows they saw as kids were gone and all these new shows popping out of nowhere took over. They felt that they lost their educational touch and filled it to the brim with garbage that rotted kids’ minds.
The new kids, however, would be entering in Nickelodeon’s true golden era. They were on their way to now classic shows remembered for many years to come. More on that later.
Two teenage sitcoms came out on February 1992. One of them was calledÂ Welcome Freshmen.
The show was about a group of high school freshmen at Hawthorne High. The kids consisted of the following:
Kevin St. James (played by Chris Lobban) is the cool kid who tends to fall in love with every cute girl he meets.
Walter Patterson (played by Rick Galloway) is the laid back “surfer” dude who tends to be around detention more than in class.
Merv (played by David Rhoden) is the proud nerdy kid in the group. He conducts scams to other students known as “Merv-u-mentaries”.
Alex Moore (played by Jocelyn Steiner) is the beautiful girl in the group who loves boys and girly stuff like clothes and makeup.
Tara (played by Jill Setter) is the conscious one in the group standing up for animal rights and environmental rights.
The vice principal Mr. Lippman (played by Mike Speller) was the clueless adult in the show. However, the kids look up to him as a cool adult.
According to a 1991 newspaper article by Catherine Hinman from the Orlando Sentinel, Bob Mittenthal, the show’s producer talks about the characters and how they’re trying to relate to the viewers of the show.
“These characters are written to be cool, but they also are subject to insecurities. Their first job will be to make their audience laugh – at themselves and their predicaments. Second, these characters will subtly illustrate a point that can’t be overstressed for the average adolescent. Teaching kids how to accept themselves is one of the show’s most important underlying messages.Â They are individuals. They are not conformists and there is a lot of pressure on kids to conform to be like everybody else. It is a real hard lesson to learn that it’s OK to be yourself.”
Each episode they would be doing sketch comedy having a main theme to focus on. One example is a documentary hosted by Mr. History teaching people about past freshmen. For example, the students are portraying themselves as the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Others would include Mr. Lippman doing the morning announcements on how he really feels about the students, Merv trying to scan the other students, and a student named Billy Cushman who teaches students how to have good manners and how to master the art ofÂ flatulence. But the most remembered one was when Merv was singing about mystery meat. Kids who grew up withÂ Welcome FreshmenÂ still have this song stuck on their heads, even to this very day.
However, the show drastically changed around the 3rd season. Gone were the comedy skits andÂ Welcome FreshmenÂ was turned into a teen sitcom. Because of the huge popularity ofÂ Saved by the BellÂ andÂ Beverly Hills 90210,Â Nickelodeon tried to do that withÂ Welcome Freshmen.Â When the students went into their sophomore year, Merv and Tina were written off the show, new characters named Manny, Erin, and Grant were added to the show, and Walter was held back. This was when the popularity of the show dropped. Looking at the show, it truly looks like a complete knockoff ofÂ Saved by the Bell.Â Let’s do some comparisons. This is whatÂ Welcome FreshmenÂ was before the change.
Here’s what it looks like after the change.
See? It’s completely unrecognizable! They look like two completely different shows! According to an article by Mathew Klickstein at splitsider.com, he interviewed the director ofÂ Welcome FreshmenÂ Adam Weissman about the drastic change.
â€œI didnâ€™t see an enormous difference in those shows and what I was already doing; perhaps in production value, but thatâ€™s really a function of money. Those shows might have looked a little glossier because they were done out here [LA], but as far as the content, funnyâ€™s funny. If itâ€™s funny, itâ€™s great. If itâ€™s not funny, itâ€™s not, no matter how slick it might look.â€Â
â€œI saw similarities: thereâ€™s the class clown, thereâ€™s the hunky guy, thereâ€™s the cute girl. Theyâ€™re your archetypal characters that you would write your shows around. The situations were similar because the experience that kids have are similar. Your high school experiences are what they are, especially back then when those shows really did take place in schools almost exclusively.â€
â€œA lot of those shows were school-based. Now we try to do shows where thereâ€™s less of it. Yeah, they have a school and they go to school because thatâ€™s what kids do, but their stories and their experiences go outside of that world. I think thatâ€™s because audiences are continually bored, and writers have to come up with new ways to keep them interested.â€
â€œI think also because kidsâ€™ lives â€” especially now â€” are much more expanded outside of school. I think primarily every writer struggles with some new, fresh ways to tell these stories that also reflect back on what society is. What distracted kids and what got them into trouble and what kept them entertained was different in 1993 than today. Now you gotÂ iCarly, and sheâ€™s got a web showâ€¦ because thatâ€™s what they do.â€
The audience definitely noticed right away. The show was cancelled after the third season ended in 1993.
The teens who acted in the show never went into other acting roles afterÂ Welcome Freshmen.Â Bob Mittenthal became a writer and executive producer of other Nickelodeon shows likeÂ Aaahh! Real Monsters, Kablam, 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd,Â andÂ The Naked Brothers Band.Â Adam Weissman directed other Nickelodeon shows such asÂ My Brother and Me, Space Cases, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, True Jackson: VP, Drake and Josh, iCarly, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Zoe 101Â andÂ Victorious.Â He also directs shows for Disney Channel shows likeÂ Hannah MontanaÂ andÂ Good Luck Charlie.Â
Overall, with the first and second season, similar toÂ You Can’t Do That on TelevisionÂ andÂ Out of Control,Â the skits are pretty hit and miss. There are some that are still really funny though, like the Mystery Meat song. The characters were stereotypical cookie cutter high school kids. It just made me feel like I was seeing characters fromÂ Saved by the Bell.Â Kevin reminded me of Zack, the cool guy who loves all the girls. Alex reminded me of Lisa, the beautiful girl who loves boys, clothes, and makeup. Merv reminded me of Screech, the nerdy kid who gets himself into trouble. Walter reminded me of Slater, the laid back dude. Mr. Lippman reminded me of Mr. Belding.
I would recommend checking the show out, but only from the first two seasons. The third season deserves a pass.
The next show we’re going to check out came out on February 2, 1991. The show is calledÂ Fifteen,Â a Canadian show which was originally known asÂ Hillside.Â
The show was about different high school students who were dealing with teenage problems and issues such as alcohol, sex, dating, divorce, and friendship. The show had many characters, but mostly focused on the following teens.
Dylan Blackwell (played by Chris William Martin) was the tough kid with the leather jacket who has serious issues.
Matt Walker (played by Todd Talbot) was the athletic kid who would end up having a drinking problem.
Ashley Frasier (played by Laura Harris) was the popular girl who was perfect in every way.
Billy Simpson (played by Ryan Reynolds) was the tag-along 14-year-old who wanted to be like the older teens.
The show lasted for over four seasons ending its run on April 25, 1993.
A few of the actors went on to do other acting roles afterÂ Fifteen.
Chris William Martin went on to do other TV and movie roles likeÂ Felicity, Emile, Try Seventeen, The Volcano Disaster,Â andÂ The Vampire Diaries.
Laura Harris is well known actress and has done many voice work such asÂ Dead Like Me, 24, Darkstalkers, Defying Gravity, Great Day, My Little Pony Tales,Â andÂ Underworld: Endless War.
Ryan Reynolds is the most well known actor among the bunch being in many movies and TV shows such asÂ Just Friends, Scrubs, The Proposal, My Boys, Green Lantern,Â andÂ X-Men: Origins.
Overall, the show was basically a knock-off ofÂ Degrassi.Â The stereotypical high school teens with their stereotypical ranks of nerd, tough guy, popular girl, etc. Also, just likeÂ Degrassi,Â the show had our kids dealing with issues like drinking alcohol, sex, dating, and more. It had branching story lines for many of the characters of the show, but the actors would come and go after each new season that many of them become forgettable. The acting is a bit hokey and cheesy in moments when it’s trying to be serious. Also, the looks of the show really shows its age. It’s extremely outdated by today’s standards.
However, the show still has its fans in Canada and the U.S. that there’s an actual website namedÂ http://fifteentheseries.com/.
That’s all for now. Tune in next time as we check out a well known Nickelodeon teen sitcomÂ Clarissa Explains it All.Â
Hope to see you around Old School Lane real soon. Take care.