By Kierston Drier
Anyone born after the 1980’s is likely to conjure up the classic warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia at hearing the word “Nickelodeon”. The image likely involves Saturday morning cartoons, flannel feet pajamas, and sugar-crusted cereal. But the history and origin of this family-friendly word trails back long before the TV network used it to brand their franchise. Believe it or not, the word Nickelodeon travels back to the 1880’s, and, diving even deeper, into Ancient Greece. Surprised? Don’t be. Today on Film word of the Week we will break this down.
Nickelodeon can trace its base root word “odeon” from “Melodeon” which means ‘Music hall.” The root of that word can be linked to the Greek work “Oideion” which loosely means “building for musical performances.” This is likely based on the ritual practice of community-wide attendance at theatrical performances. A practice that was viewed by the Greek civilization of as a form of society-wide catharsis. Centuries later, when the jukebox was in its’ infancy, the word “Nickelodeon” would come into existence in relation to it, as the machine would offer a round of songs for a nickel.
When the development of commercial cinema led to the creation of theatre houses, admission prices were low to attract the masses, averaging around five cents. This low admission price, coupled with the long-running variety of short cinema reels and often serialized pieces, led to high popularity among the growing middle class. The word “Nickelodeon” began being associated with the movie theatre, and the jukebox became…well, the jukebox.
In 1979, when Parent Company Warner Cable was an opportunity in creating commercial-free children’ programming under the name, to give them an edge over competitors, they launched the channel, as the first ever all children’s network. Although it struggled at first and failed to gain widespread excitement, after some rebranding the channel would take off. In the mid-1980’s Nickelodeon went from a day-time children’s’ programming channel to a 24-hour channel when it launched “Nick-at-Nite” and later, created an educational preschool programming section called “Nick Jr.” From Pinwheel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nickelodeon has had notable success as the first children’s programming channel.
While Nickelodeon may have shaped many-a-childhood, the origins of this film word stretch out all the way back to Ancient Greece. Who’d have thought? Just one more cocktail fact to throw around at your next film-related party.