A diverse group of 1990s teens (the cast of ALL That season 1), pose for a photo.

30 Years Later, ‘All That’ Is Still Grappling With a Complicated Legacy

On April 16, 1994, All That premiered on Nickelodeon. Thirty years later, the children’s sketch comedy series has come and gone multiple times, but is now in the news again for a very different reason.

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As the first of nearly a dozen Nickelodeon series with major influence from producer Dan Schneider, as well as involvement from other notorious individuals including convicted child abuser Brian Peck, All That and several of its former cast members were key figures in the recent Investigation Discovery documentary Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids’ TV.

This puts the show at an awkward place in television history as it marks its 30th anniversary. All That is perhaps the most well-known kid-centric sketch comedy show to ever hit the airwaves. It’s had three iterations over 25 years with humor specifically tailored to each generation it was produced for. It launched the careers of many well-known stars like Kenan Thompson, Nick Cannon, and Amanda Bynes. It was the first in a long chain of shows that spun off from each other, kickstarting the careers of even more young stars. Maybe most famously, Good Burger started as a recurring bit before becoming a franchise of its own, and Kenan Thompson started his sketch comedy career as one of the show’s original cast members before going on to become the longest-tenured cast member in the history of Saturday Night Live.

The show was also remarkably progressive in many ways compared to adult-oriented shows like SNL at the time. All That premiered during the tail end of the “Bad Boys” era of SNL featuring Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade (among others) which heavily centered on male performers (most of whom were white) and featured a lot of sexist humor. All That, on the other hand, began in 1994 with seven cast members, four of whom were girls and young women and three of whom were Black (including one Black actress, Angelique Bates).

But it’s hard to celebrate all of that without some big asterisks. Most notably, the aforementioned Dan Schneider and Brian Peck of it all. All That was the show that solidified both of their respective careers at Nickelodeon. All of the programs in the chain of spin-offs were produced by Schneider, who has been accused by many of being rude and inappropriate with his casts and crews. It was on some of these programs that Peck met at least one young, underage actor whom he would go on to groom and sexually and emotionally abuse in the subsequent years.

Even before Quiet on Set was produced (and has faced its own subsequent controversies for allegedly misleading and arguably exploiting participants), a lot of issues relating to All That and Nickelodeon in general had been both rumored and confirmed, but not on the level of mainstream awareness the documentary’s release brought.

Art vs. Artist

When it comes to the legacy of programs like The Cosby Show and Roseanne, it’s extremely difficult for many viewers to look at any aspect of them separately from its fallen stars. They are front and center virtually all the time. With something like Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling is never visible in the text or on the screen, but as the sole author of the books, we know the work came from her mind (and continues to benefit her financially) so many find themselves unable to separate the stories from her as a person.

But a situation like All That might feel to some to be more complicated. Dan Schneider didn’t create the show but he did influence heavily as a producer and writer—though so did many other people, both at the start and over the years that followed. As kids, most of us had no idea who he was (aside from a few cameos), but now as adults, with all of the information we now have, can we separate the show from everything happening behind the scenes? Should we want to?

All of the fun memories and positive elements of the show’s legacy are valid and worth acknowledging. But the reckoning against the abuse at Nickelodeon that’s taking place now is important and has been a long time coming. We can celebrate where many of these actors are now and that some have done some amazing things in their lives and careers while keeping in mind that they were placed in an environment that put them at risk. Being an adult in fandom often means having to acknowledge and sit with some uncomfortable truths about the stories behind our favorite stories and art. To ignore the revelations that have come out about Nickelodeon would be an insult to everyone who was affected, the vast majority of whom were minors during their time on All That.

So yes, 30 years later, the legacy of All That is awkward and complicated. And given the groundbreaking nature of the show and the severity of what’s come out about it since, it should be.

(featured image: Nickelodeon)


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Author
Julia Delbel
Julia Delbel (she/her) is a contributing writer at The Mary Sue and has been doing freelance entertainment coverage for five years. She loves diving into film, television, and theater, especially Marvel, DC Disney, and animated content, particularly taking a hard look at their character development, storyline weaving, and place in the pop culture pantheon.