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Graduate's Documentary Chronicles How Nickelodeon Shaped A Generation

Nostalgia is a powerful thing that can transport people back to pleasant times. Whether it’s a song or a particular scent or a television series, memories often inspire artists to create. Filmmaker and TLU Dramatic Media major Adam Sweeney ’08 and his childhood friend, Scott Barber, are taking their own nostalgia to the big screen on November 17 with, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story.

Originally launched in 1979, Nickelodeon was the first cable channel just for kids. The Orange Years focuses on the golden age of Nickelodeon’s popularity in the 1990s when shows like Are You Afraid Of The Dark, All That, Clarissa Explains It All, Hey Dude!, Double Dare, and The Secret World Of Alex Mack captivated—and comforted—a generation of children. The film also features candid interviews with actors like Saturday Night Live cast member and former All That star Kenan Thompson, Melissa Joan Hart, Christine Taylor, Marc Summers, and SpongeBob SquarePants himself, Tom Kenny.

As co-directors, Sweeney and Barber wanted to tell a documentary-style story that connected with a large audience.

“I crafted an idea for a Nickelodeon festival in 2011 and we thought there may be a story there about the network that hadn't been told,” Sweeney said, “ After five furious minutes of Google research we confirmed the story was waiting to be told and so we jumped at the opportunity.”

After his family went through a divorce and moved away when he was 11 years old, Sweeney said he and Barber stayed in touch by calling each other to watch Nick shows together.

“In a way, the project has been waiting for a lifetime,” he said. “I think we all need hope and are intrinsically good and positive. Projects that possess nostalgic elements allow us to escape from the current climate in favor of some sweeter moments. It also allows us to learn from our past and remember the foundational pieces that shaped who we are. There's a kid in all of us and we return to those times often because they were formative. In this case, Nickelodeon connected so many of us as children and still does today.”

Pictured above left to right: Director Adam Sweeney '08, Danny Tamberelli (The Adventures Of Pete & Pete), Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World Of Alex Mack), and Director Scott Barber at the New York City premiere.

Sweeney said the filmmaking experience was an exhilarating and sometimes sobering crash course in every aspect of film production imaginable. He said it was also absolutely mind-blowing to meet and work with so many of their childhood heroes.

The featured cast is a who's who of classic Nickelodeon including Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell (All That and Kenan and Kel), Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Explains It All), Marc Summers (Double Dare), Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World of Alex Mack), Alisa Reyes, Lori Beth Denberg, Josh Server (All That), Danny Tamberelli and Michael C. Maronna (The Adventures of Pete & Pete), Ross Hull, Daniel DeSanto, Jason Alisharan (Are You Afraid of the Dark?), Danny Cooksey, Michael Bower, Venus DeMilo Thomas (Salute Your Shorts), Christine Taylor (Hey Dude!), Drake Bell (Drake & Josh), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), Geraldine Laybourne (former president of Nickelodeon), Phil Moore (Nick Arcade), and Kirk Fogg (Legends of the Hidden Temple).

“We also have the creative minds behind nearly every classic Nick show or program element you can think of,” he said. I can't stress enough how lucky we are that all of these individuals worked with us.”

Aside from the very sentimental elements of the film, Sweeney says other main themes are the power of challenging the status quo, the importance of equal representation in storytelling, and authenticity when it comes to showing real people on television.

“A large portion of the creative leaders during the golden age of Nickelodeon were women, which was a rarity at that time,” he said. “Let's be honest; all minorities are still underrepresented in entertainment. And while Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, Lindsay Lohan, and Zac Efron were all Disney stars that many of us admired, I can't say many of us could relate to them. Nickelodeon, at one point in time, was as real as it got.”

As much as he’s looking forward to sharing the story that shaped the lives of millions of children, he's also excited to humbly showcase the skills he learned at Texas Lutheran University.

“TLU provided me with endless opportunities to grow as a human, student, and storyteller,” he said. “The lessons I learned there inform me every day and they set the stage for me to be part of this story. As a creator and a Bulldog, I want anyone who sees the film to know they can follow their dreams and tell their stories if they go after it. The Orange Years is a positive labor of love and proof that a small group can accomplish big things, with the help of so many talented people. I hope anyone kind enough to watch walks away with a smile on their face and a better understanding of all the hard work that went into making an incredible network. I would also love for each person to know that they were an important part of why Nickelodeon was successful. A storyteller is only able to share their story if they have an audience that's willing to receive it.”

The Orange Years will be released on Tuesday, Nov. 17 on Amazon and iTunes and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD at Target.com.