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The '90s are all that again on TV

"Clarissa Explains it All" starred Joe O'Connor, Melissa Joan Hart, Jason Zimbler, Elizabeth Hess and ran on Nickelodeon from 1991-1994. Credit: Nickelodeon

Is it already time to be nostalgic for the '90s?

Several TV networks say yes. Since July, Nickelodeon has been successfully reairing such shows as "Kenan & Kel" and "Doug" in the two-hour programming block "The '90s Are All That" on TeenNick. Meanwhile, MTV and VH1 have re-created two of their most enduring '90s classics, "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "Pop Up Video," respectively. This year may bring a revival of the '90s sketch comedy show "In Living Color."

"I think the window for nostalgia has gotten shorter," says Ken Tucker, a TV critic and editor at Entertainment Weekly. "Pop culture just moves so fast and sort of uses up celebrities and stars and formats so quickly that you can feel nostalgic for it."

Of course, pop-culture nostalgia is nothing new. In the 1970s and '80s, baby boomers began looking back at the '50s and '60s. In the '90s and 2000s, members of Gen X felt the pangs of nostalgia for the 1970s and '80s. The early shots of a '90s revival have already brought us updates of "90210" (semi-successful) and "Melrose Place" (not as successful). Each generation is bound to look back on their youth as they age, so it's not surprising that the current walk down Memory Lane is being spearheaded by folks in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s.

"I was young, so I didn't have anything to stress about. All I did was go to school, come home, do my homework, watch television and think about boys," says "Clarissa Explains It All" fan Jennifer Cadet, 30, of Elmont. "Now there's more to worry about, like work and paying bills."

It's a different world

Babies of the '80s are quick to point out that a lot has changed in the world since the '90s.

"I think it was more of a simple time," says Michael Shields, 28, of East Meadow. "The economy was really strong. There weren't terrorist attacks. . . . It seemed like there was a lot less fear involved; the future seemed pretty bright."

Gen Y-ers initiated the effort to relive those simpler times. Rather than the networks shoving this latest nostalgia revival down their throats, younger adults took to social media, creating Facebook campaigns for Nickelodeon shows to stage a comeback. It caught the network's attention, says Keith Dawkins, senior vice president and general manager of NickToons and TeenNick.

"It was a gold mine of information and creative inspiration. So from there we were like, 'let's go for this,' " he says of the programming block, which airs from midnight-2 a.m. to reach 20- and 30-somethings. A special team engages watchers on social-media platforms and viewers even act as collaborators, selecting their favorite shows online to air Friday nights.

For Kevin Ryan, 24, of Massapequa, reruns of Nickelodeon shows brought back memories of identifying with characters in "Hey Arnold" and "Doug."

"I definitely compared myself to Arnold and to Doug. They were these nice kids that it seemed like all these bad things happened to," he says. "When you find out it happens to another kid you feel comforted and relieved."

And though TV of the '90s "really shaped kids" because "it was the only outlet when you got home from school" in an age devoid of Facebook and Words With Friends, Ryan says it was "kind of heartbreaking" to re-watch his favorite episode of "Kenan & Kel."

In it, Kel ends up admitting that he dropped a screw in a can of tuna during Kenan's court case against the manufacturer.

"It really isn't that funny," Ryan says. "But at the time, it was the greatest thing in the world."

Make room for 'Beavis'

Shields, a Columbia University graduate student, cleared time in his hectic schedule to watch "Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head," a cartoon about two teenage imbeciles that first aired from 1993 to 1997. "I watch it because it reminds me of growing up," says Shields, admitting that the "old ones were funnier" and that the title characters "seem a lot smarter now."

According to MTV, 3.3 million viewers tuned into the October season premiere of "Beavis," with 2.6 million of those viewers being 12 to 34 years old. Most elements of the show remained intact, says Chris Linn, executive vice president of MTV production, adding that characters were still the same age and still working at Burger World. "The only thing that really changed is the content of what they're commenting on. You don't want to mess with something that's working." So the boys now direct their snark at such contemporary targets as "Jersey Shore" and teen obesity.

Meanwhile, "Pop Up Video," which hit TV screens from October to December, seemed to be easily adaptable for today's audiences. The show, which originally aired from 1996 to 2002, featured four to five music videos while speech bubbles popped up throughout each clip containing trivial tidbits in a saracastic tone. Instead of featuring '80s music videos from Lionel Richie and Billy Idol, recent viewers watched the latest from Rihanna and Justin Bieber, says co-creator and executive producer Woody Thompson. But the tone of the writing, "bloop" sound effect, and even graphics were the same.

"I needed to make sure that we could recapture the voice and feel like the show never went away, so when people watch the show, they get back into that groove that they were in," Thompson says, adding that fans, stars and sources now tweet as they're watching.

Meanwhile, Fox recently announced that two half-hour specials of "In Living Color" will air in the spring as a modern-day take on the sketch show that launched careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and "Fly Girl" dancer Jennifer Lopez.

"You can't find anything like that," says Cadet, who recalls rehearsing the show's dance routines with friends and repeating catchphrases such as "Homey don't play that" on the playground. "They created some great characters. No one today can compete with that."

And if past trends in nostalgia are any indication we should be expecting more '90s blasts from the past. So get ready for that "Family Matters" update. Son of Urkel, anyone?

Where to watch them

Got the urge to reflect on the good ol' days? Check out when you can see '90s TV shows that have staged a comeback.

90S ARE ALL THAT -- Rotating lineup of four episodes of popular hits like "All That," "Kenan & Kel" and "Doug." midnight-2 a.m. daily on TeenNick

POP UP VIDEO -- Speech bubbles filled with comedically timed factoids on mostly current, and a few flashback, music videos. Reruns sporadically on VH1. Check for updates.

MIKE JUDGE'S BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD -- Irreverent pop-culture commentary by the dumb and dumber duo. Original episodes ended in December, but reruns air sporadically on MTV. Check for updates.

IN LIVING COLOR -- Sketch comedy featuring an all-new cast of actors and music performances. Spring 2012, dates to be announced, on Fox.

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