What Went Right? Pinwheel and Primitive Nickelodeon

Do you know where Nickelodeon came from? Take a few minutes to learn the history of the first cable television channel for kids and the forgotten show that started it all…

About Omega


  1. I don’t think the fortune teller stuff would fly today on kid’s TV. It’d be hated by both Christians and atheists alike for condoning (the wrong kind of) superstition. (I am not as familiar with other religions, so I can’t say what they would think.) I’m also pretty sure the Roma would be upset, if the few of my acquaintance are of any indication.

    Wait, Picture Pages was originally from this? Because I grew up loving Picture Pages as part of Nick Jr. I even got a whole run of them on VHS.

    (You’re older than me, which is kinda refreshing on this website.)

    • Picture Pages was not a part of Pinwheel but it started around the same time and was shown as interstitial programming during Pinwheel blocks. Actually, the very next episode of What Went Right? is about Picture Pages, it’s up on my blip page.

    • Really? Because A) fortune teller characters are still reasonably common (if almost never as main characters, granted), and B) I don’t think atheists have enough power to censor media.

      • Well, it wouldn’t have flown back in 2002, when the hot news story was about Miss Cleo being charged with fraud.

      • In children’s “educational” shows, though? I mean, granted, it’s been a little while for me, maybe 2006 or so, but it did not seem that Blues Clues or Bear in the Big House or Charlie and Lola or Dora the Explorer or, yes, Sesame Street would have that sort of thing anymore.

        Fortune tellers have a creepy vibe to them, and that aspect of children’s educational program seems to have died out as far as I can tell–for the reasons I said. Magic, if it exists, is kept for whimsy and playing pretend.

        And I would argue that atheism has more power than its numbers would lead you to believe. They don’t have much power alone (without help from secular government principles), but they can amplify the power of otherwise less powerful parts of Christianity.

        Children’s educational programming in particular wants to stay secular to avoid accusations of teaching the “wrong religion” to children. Because of this desire, atheists complaining about religious content has more power.

        In isolation, even this increased power might not be enough to fight against the Goliath of Christianity. But when part of Christianity agrees with them, I think it would matter.

        Throw in an anti-discrimation crowd, since fortune-tellers are largely caricatures* of Roma (aka Gypsies), and I think that should be enough to keep them offscreen.

        *You may argue they are positive. So is the Magical Negro–and that’s basically what the fortuneteller is, the Magical Gypsy. Well, unless the message is about not believing in magic, and then they become the con artist stereotype, which is definitely negative.

      • BTW, Omega, you really need to update your website, if even just a post telling people that it’s no longer active, and pointing them to the correct place. (I found it while looking for your Blip page.)

    • Picture Pages was on Captain Kangaroo in the late 70s. It was around for a very long time.

      • Local Pittsburgh affiliate in 1974, started on Captain Kangaroo in 1978, Pinwheel debuted in 1979…see the WWR? on Picture Pages for more details. (I DESPERATELY wanted my own Mortimer Ichabod Marker from ages 4-6…)

  2. Having been born in ’83 I was just barely in the demographic for Pinwheel, yet unfortunately I have no memory of it at all; my family did have Nickelodeon all throughout my life, by the first shows I can recall watching were “You Can’t Do That On Television,” “Welcome Freshman,” “Hey Dude!,” “Salute Your Shorts,” “Doug,” “Rugrats,” and “Ren & Stimpy” — the early 90’s staples. I have this feeling that, prior to those shows, we were probably watching the Disney Channel, instead.

    Still, I found an interest in wanting to learn more about Pinwheel when, out of curiosity, I looked up the history of Nickelodeon one day, so this video immediately caught my eye and I’m happy to be more informed. A shame there’s no digital copies available since I’d like to think that those parents who were children at the time would like to show it to their kids (while I have none of my own, it’s part of the reason I have so many cartoons on DVD like “The Super Mario Bros. Super show” XÞ).

    …now I want cookies.

    • Funny, I was born in ’85, but I also have no memory of watching this show, though I remember watching other pre-Nick Jr shows like David the Gnome, Special Delivery, The Woozles, Maya the Bee, Adventures of the Little Koala, Belle and Sebastian, and Grimm’s Classic Fairy Tales.

      • I’m 32. I and vaguely remember the Waner-Amex/Premium Only years of Nickelodeon.

        To say that they sucked ass, is an understatement. Pinwheel was poor man’s Sesame Street, pure and simple.

        Give me GOLDEN YEARS/MTV NETWORKS era of 1985-1993 anyday or Nickelodeon/Universal 1994-1995.

        • I was born in late ’82. I only VAGUELY remember the early years of Nick as the PBS Cable Knockoff network and like you, vividly remember Nick Jr’s early years of 1988-1993 where they showed DOZENS of Children’s anime.

          MTV Networks helped put Nickelodeon on the top. Warner Amex nearly drove the network into the ground.

      • I was also born in 1985. I think we’ve found the crossover point, where Pinwheel wasn’t relevant. The sketch show she mentioned that took over is the one I remember: “You Can’t Do That on Television!”

      • Also, I believe you mean Noozles–the Koala aliens. Nickelodeon had a thing for Koalas back then.

        (And do not under any circumstances Google that show and listen to the theme song. It will be stuck in your head forever. You think Ducktales is bad–at least it’s not just the name of the show over and over.)

    • I was born mid 83. We had basic non-cable TV growing up, but I can’t remember anything older than Real Ghostbusters TAS, which came out in 86.

      Man, remember when weekend mornings were worth getting up for? & now that there’s 3 networks dedicated (almost) entirely to kids, the other networks seem to figure they don’t need ANY cartoons at ALL. When I’m cleaning the kitchen at 6am, making lunches, I always wish the stuff I grew up on was still there. But at 6am, all the TV programs seems to be crime dramas, medical comedies, news, & sitcoms.

  3. Beautiful work, Omega. It’s also a very interesting history lesson for me – I didn’t know most of this stuff. I feel like I missed out by living the wrong place.

  4. Pinwheel was awesome.

    I remember it being on, like, all day.

    Great episode.

    • Pinwheel was linear. Everything else save for Mr. Wizard was just dull and boring. Plus Nickelodeon was premium only until 1984. Parent’s were actually PAYING for shit that their preschoolers and kids could watch on PBS for free.

      Another crappy part of Nick, Until June 1984, THEY SIGNED OFF AT 8PM!Only 12 hours of actual programming. A&E debuted in June 1984 replacing the blank prime time lineup. Nick At Nite didn’t launch until June 7,1985, and that was under MTV Networks.

      • I guess I may have seen Mr. Wizard on there. (I assume he’s also not part of the show, though, since I remember him having his own show.)

        I don’t remember much about Mr. Wizard other than the name and a small bit of the aesthetic.

  5. Lots of good stuff from that era of Nick. Pinwheel was the flagship, but there was also the Elephant Show (a CBC property), Today’s Special (also CBC), and my personal favorite (and late night treat, just before they switched over to more “adult” programming”…Turkey TV. Now, if you wanna talk hard clips to find…it’s Turkey TV. To this day I can still sing the song!

    Great video, can’t wait to see the future episodes!

  6. Nickelodeon from 1979 to 1984 was complete shit. Unsuccessful, premium only and a poor man’s PBS, you had to pay for.

    Warner Amex were the wrong people to own and run the network. MTV Networks with Viacom Communications’ help completely launched Nick into the stratosphere in late ’84. After MTV Networks,Inc split from their parent Viacom becoming MTV Networks,Inc owners of Nickelodeon Networks,Inc, MTV ran Nick with pure excellent and phenomenal success. Everything fell apart in September 1993, when Nickelodeon Networks,Inc took it shares from MTV Networks, divorced them and became Nickelodeon Studios,LLC on March 22,1994 in a joint venture with MCA/Universal Television. But on April 22,1995, Viacom Communications, having restructured as Viacom International,Inc in 1989, outbid MCA/Universal and purchased Nickelodeon,Inc and All OF its shares. They then purchased Comedy Central,LLC a year later, repurchased rather brought back VH1 Communications,Inc in October 1997 11 years after VH1 split from Viacom in ’86 when VH1 joined a joint venture with Turner Broadcasting.

    MTV Networks,Inc was sold off to CBS Television,Inc on February 23,1999, who’s parent company of course was “Viacom”. CBS sold its shares to Viacom later that year. In August 2002, Viacom purchased TNN, renamed it the following summer “Spike TV”. They officially dissolved and sold off MTV Networks,Inc on July 1,2003. Piece by Piece.

    • I remember watching Nick and PBS pretty equally during my early years but I don’t think we got cable until I was older…I emailed my mom to ask if we paid for Nick back then (we moved in 1985 and ended up getting cable a few years later) but it’s 5am in the US right now so I don’t think I’ll hear back for a few hours.

  7. The only time I was able to see Nickelodeon as a kid was over my grandparent’s house. By the time our cable company finally got Nickelodeon a lot of those shows were gone and I was too old for Pinwheel. (Although for some reason I did watch Today’s Special a few times.) A number of those animated things I saw on Captain Kangaroo or between shows on HBO.

  8. How come you’ve reuploaded this video?

    • Because it was originally posted on my blip before I became a member of CA and I’m posting this series in order (excepting the holiday episode, which went up on at the holidays).

  9. I loved watching Pinwheel when I was a wee one. My favorite shorts were Chapi and Chapo and Hatty Town. This review was a nice trip down memory lane for me.

  10. I remember my younger sister was JUST the right age for that show, and it was one of the few shows Mom would let us watch. She was careful about our TV.
    I remember Kim was always making art, and I remember that clip, how she didn’t know what she was making, just that it was fun and she let the art lead her. I remember her clips the best, like the one where she was painting with glue and sand and someone sneezed on the work. He thought he ruined it, but it just blew the extra sand away. Another time she had her eyes clothes and was drawing loosely in circles, and another she wasn’t looking at her paper.

  11. Oh my word, I didn’t think anyone else remembered Pinwheel House! This is probably the first time I’ve seen some of these clips in going-on 30 years. Thank you!

  12. Didn’t the picture pages segment have Bill Cosby? I remember that being my favorite thing about the show.

  13. I didn’t get cable until the mid 80s, so I’m quite interested in this pre-nostalgia.

    Everything the news anchors say about QUBE makes me think of FMV games.

    The humor & sketches of Pinwheel seem significantly more condescending than Sesame Street, with a bit of an improv feel to it, while Sesame Street seemed more nonsensical & drug-fueled.

    Man, in 2005, when the Nick studios closed down & sold to the Blue Man Group, & people reminded us about the time capsule, & they totally revamped their lineup & got rid of all of their classic shows, I felt like a member of my family died, & was reincarnated as a zombie.

  14. The Crazed Spruce

    Are you planning to do a show on “You Can’t Do That On Television” somewhere down the line?

    • Funny you should mention…it’s the script I’m working on now, actually. I have a 2000 word essay due for uni and after that’s out of the way, YCDTOT will be the next episode.

  15. I have never seen this show but somehow I felt nostalgic. Felt like a little child seeing something like that again. I did grow up with Sesame Street. But it reminded me more about programs I saw as a child overall. I live in Sweden so we got some shows late. I grew up in the 90´s but we had just started getting a lot of 80´s shows.

  16. Since I live about 100 miles or so east from Columbus, this history fascinates me. Also, is QUBE now called Qubo?

  17. I really enjoyed this! I used to watch Pinwheel at my grandmother’s house in the early 80s, and this video brought back some nice memories of that time.

  18. Man I really liked this. I love Pinwheel so very much growing up. I preferred to Sesame Street because of the little cartoons. Thank you.

  19. Thanks for the nostalgia trip. I grew up in the 80’s but didn’t get cable tv until the start of the 90’s. I have vague memories of seeing Paddington Bear, Pinwheel (in some form or another) and maybe one other show you mentioned from when I was at a friend or relative’s house. Now I know where some of those shows originated.
    Pinwheel may have been the poorman’s Sesame Street but if the real thing wasn’t on and Pinwheel was you’d happily settle when you’re a kid who’s bored.

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