Nick at Nite, TV, and YounEvery night, in prime time, a changeling can enter yournliving room, an inhuman creature secretly usurping anhuman’s place. It’s an unnatural presence, an electronicnphantom with vast and secret motivations; but its presence isnso enjoyable and comforting, as well as so familiar (it hastensnto assure you), that you really don’t mind its hangingnaround. In fact, you are uneasy when the bogey is absent.nAs the two of you watch TV, you enjoy a flattering nudgenin the ribs, as you and it chuckle at the simplicity andntriteness of television. You watch for several hours, includingnall the commercials. But when, later in the evening, you goninto the kitchen for Mystic Mints and beer, you turn the setnoff, and the silence is visible. “Where are you?” you ask.nThere is no response. Your friend was a projection ofntelevision all along. Your friend, in fact, was television. Yourn”friend” was Nick at Nite, a service of Nickelodeon, ansubsidiary of MTV Networks, Inc., which has discovered ansecret of marketing by which we can finally be absorbed intonthe brightness and vacuum of television.nThis is a heady claim to make for any TV programming,nespecially programming as conspicuously lightweight asnNick at Nite’s. But it is because of this mask of unseriousnessnthat Nick at Nite can insinuate itself so easily into one’snhalf-attentive mind.nNick at Nite was launched on July I, 1985, the result of andecision at MTV Networks to expand its children’s network,nNickelodeon, to 24 hours. “We needed to do somethingnfast,” said Debby Beece, the senior vice-president in chargenof programming at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. “We hadnalready stumbled across a way to treat classic programmingn. . . when we put Lassie on Nickelodeon.” The success ofnan old black-and-white show on the MTV-modern Nickelodeonnsuggested a course for the new night hours. A decisionnwas made to buy up old television shows, packaging them asn”classic” for a TV generation audience. There would be nonJosh Ozersky is a freelance writer living in Hoboken,nNew Jersey.nby Josh Ozerskynproduction costs, and a slick modern veneer would be putnon by an in-house advertising campaign. Tom Shales,ncomplaining about the “Re Generation,” said of cable TV’snreruns, “There’s no now now. Just . . . Television Land.nCable has made this even worse . . . there is an explosion ofnoutlets for program sources, but since not enough newnprogramming can possibly be produced . . . watching cablenTV is like wandering through the network’s burial ground.”nThis is precisely what has happened. Nick at Nite now drawsna very respectable three to five share nighfly, and theirnaward-winning “TV Land” campaign is prodigiously creative,nironic, and sophisticated.nThis campaign defines the network. The programmingnitself is merely a string of defunct TV shows, unconnectednby era or genre, which play in loose rotation from 8 P.M. to 6nA.M. nightly. The list extends from the 70’s to the 50’s:nLaugh-In, My Three Sons, and The Donna Reed Show cannbe seen in succession any night (as could until recentlynSCTV), with only the Nick at Nite promotional campaignnto bind them. They are all small terrorists in “TV Land,”nthe concept that Nick at Nite presents itself as a guide to. Innthe schedule spots, for example, a TV screen is shown withnstill pictures of SCTV characters moving back and forth inndifferent directions, in the form of a window display. “10:30,nSCTV.” The TV screen remains but the characters change.nNow Laugh-In figures move back and forth, up and down.n”Then, at 11, Laugh-In.” The Laugh-In regulars, RuthnBuzzi, Arte Johnson, etc., disappear and are replaced withnFred McMurray, William Frawley, and cut-out figures fromnMy Three Sons. “Followed by My Three Sons at 11:30.”nThe scheduling promotion is the briefest and crudest onnNick at Nite. I only present it as an illustration of what seemsnto be an underlying premise of the network. The showsnthemselves, taken as shows, are treated as the cartoonishnnullities they usually are. But TV as an element in life — itsnomnipresence, the childhood spent with it, its unassailablenstatus as a lifetime mate — this is what Nick at Nite concernsnitself with. Marshall McLuhan’s assertions about the negli-nnnAPRIL 1991/21n