Fear of the Dark
In the 80s and early 90s, there wasn't very much available in the way of children's programming, especially 24 hour children's programming. There were Saturday morning cartoons, where you had your pick between all the major networks as to what you'd watch. Then there were the local TV stations, which would usually run whatever syndicated cartoons they could get from 6 A.M. to 9 A.M. before school and then from 2 P.M. to 5 P.M. after school. Then it would switch over to syndicated sitcoms. There was also PBS, which ran educational children's programming all day. But God help you when that last episode of Sesame Street ended and the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour started; those bastards were even more boring than the regular news. I guess the basic philosophy was that children didn't deserve options. After all, once children learn how to pick and choose, they become harder to control.
Then came cable, and with it came two kid-oriented channels. Nickelodeon launched in 1979 and The Disney Channel launched in 1983. Nickelodeon had the distinct advantage of being part of the basic cable package. Disney, much like HBO, was a premium channel. Disney had no commercials and no worthwhile programming. If your idea of a good time was watching movies like Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, Herbie The Love Bug, and Benji wedged in between ten thousand fucking Mickey Mouse cartoons, then Disney was the channel for you. Disney didn't run commercials, which made it attractive to parents; kids can't beg for toys if they never see them. The Disney Channel was a wussy stupid channel for bedwetters with overprotective moms, which I suppose it still better than their current situation: Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff are both graduates of Disney's Whore Training Program.
Nickelodeon, on the other hand, was fucking awesome. Shows like Finders Keepers, where contestants trashed rooms in order to find prizes, catered to what children wanted to see instead of what parents wanted children to see. In the early days, a lot of Nickelodeon's programs were borrowed. Early favorites such as Today's Special and You Can't Do That On Television were imported from Canada, while early cartoons were picked up in syndication or imported from Japan, England, and even France. These included Looney Tunes, Heathcliff, Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, Danger Mouse, and Spartakus and the Sun Beneath The Sea. In the early 90s, Nickelodeon had a massive influx of original programming that included Clarissa Explains It All, Welcome Freshmen, Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, and the first batch of cartoons produced explicitly for Nickelodeon. While Nickelodeon stuck mostly to cartoons, comedies, and game shows, they were always open to innovation. Nickelodeon decided to try out a horror show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? in 1992. This is the story of its first episode.
"We're called The Midnight Society. Seperately, we're very different. We like different things, we go to different schools, and we have different friends. But one thing draws us together: the dark! Each week, we gather around this fire to share our fears and our strange and scary tales. It's what got us together, and it's what keeps bringing us back. This is a warning to all who join us: you're going to leave the comfort of the light and step into the world of the supernatural."
- Gary, President of the Midnight Society
The first episode begins with this spoken introduction by Gary. Later episodes would begin with a much creepier introduction with random shots of an attic, an empty playgrounds, and other spooky locations. I suppose it was necessary for the first episode to start this way to establish the premise. It was simple and effective. The next couple of episodes would have no formal intro, other than a brief shot of the title screen. Now let's meet the original Midnight Society!
This is Gary. As President of the Midnight Society, he has very few real duties. He presides over meetings and initiations, that's about it. Gary is also in charge of the Midnight Society's seemingly endless supply of magic dust. The magic dust is thrown into the fire right before a story is told, thus allowing everyone around the campfire to see the story in vivid detail. For the record, I am not accusing the Midnight Society of taking hallucinogens. Oh wait, yeah I am. Gary fulfills Teenage Casting Stereotype #5: Thin White Kid With Glasses.
This is David. I can't think of anything interesting to say about David. He looks a little like Marshall from Eerie, Indiana and he could probably use a little sun, but that's all I've got. Hell, I can't even figure out what casting stereotype he fits. Sorry Dave.
This is Kiki. Kiki has a tough urban attitude. She obviously doesn't live in a city though, if she hangs out in the woods every week. Along with Betty Ann and Gary, Kiki was one of the only cast members to make it all the way through the show's original run. When it ended, she found work as another tough girl: the voice of Francine Frensky on Arthur. Kiki fulfills Teenage Casting Stereotype #2: Ethnic Girl With Attitude.
This is Betty Ann. I feel bad for this girl. In real life, she had a very cool name, Raine, but she got stuck with "Betty Ann" on the show. What the fuck? Who names their kid Betty Ann? I have arbitrarily decided that her character has a backstory. Her parents probably immigrated to the United States from some strange foreign land. Their daughter was born in America, and wanting her to fit in, they gave her an anglicized name. Unfortunately they knew nothing about English names, so they picked Betty Ann at random from a book. Betty Ann fulfills Teenage Casting Stereotype #15: Dorky Girl With Silly Name.
This is Kristen. Kristen was played by the incredibly hot Rachel Blanchard, who later went on to star in the TV version of Clueless as well as Road Trip. Rachel was sixteen when the first season of this show aired, so it's only illegal in a dozen or so states to have impure thoughts about her character. Of course, the vast majority of the Nickelodeon's viewers were younger than sixteen when the show was originally broadcast, which effectively eliminates any moral ambiguity about what we may have thought about Kristen. At the very least, it wasn't skeevy. Kristen was by far the prettiest girl on Nickelodeon at the time, easily beating out Melody Hanson, Z.Z. Ziff, Clarissa Darling and all those freaky theater chicks on Roundhouse. With her fair skin, cold stare, and classy outfits, she was a total knockout. Kristen fulfills any number of casting stereotypes: The Blonde, The Quiet Girl, The Proper White Girl... Take your pick.
This is Eric. Goddam, I hate this kid. Much like Ferguson Darling on Clarissa Explains It All, this kid was born with a face that's just begging to be punched. He spent most of his time on the show either smirking or looking bored. It's hard to say whether he was acting or whether he was just a dickhead. Since he only lasted one season, my guess is that he really was an asshole. Eric fulfills Teenage Casting Stereotype #3: The Snotty Preppy Kid.
This is Frank. Frank is another character I don't have much to say about, other than the stories that he narrated often contained the show's most memorable recurring character. More on that later. Frank fulfills Teenage Casting Stereotype #24: The Tough Kid.
The episode starts with Frank blindfolded. This is not a good position to be in. Sure, a lot of lesbian sorority house pornos start out this way, but so do a lot of snuff films. And I don't see any lesbians. Fuck. As it turns out, this is Frank's initiation into the Midnight Society. Since their meeting place is secret, he must remain blindfolded in case he is not accepted. Frank must tell a story, then the others will vote to see if he gets in. In order for Frank to be accepted, he must get a unanimous vote. Frank is annoyed but undaunted by this challenge. He has the perfect tale to tell.
And it's called...