The game shows that made the Nickelodeon Studios Tour so fun weren’t so popular at home anymore.
All That looked like a solution. The opening credits made use of Universal’s New York street sets. For the first two seasons, it kept the lights on in Nick’s soundstages with audience-friendly sketch comedy. Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, the show’s breakout stars, were getting a sitcom spin-off. It all sounded like good news for park guests.
But Nickelodeon was already looking west. Games Animation turned out its first completely in-house animated series in 1993 with Rocko’s Modern Life. It was already working on more. There weren’t many game shows on the slate and producing anything more substantial in Orlando was a challenge.
All That made the move with its third season and found a permanent home with its fourth in the Earl Carroll Theatre, soon renamed Nickelodeon on Sunset. Kenan & Kel stuck around longer before following suit in season three. Stage space was limited, but there was enough room to shoot multiple shows simultaneously. Just as the former Games Animation became Nickelodeon Animation Studios and served as the production hub for the network’s cartoons, Nickelodeon on Sunset did the same for its live-action programming.
Geraldine Laybourne left the company in 1996. 11 years after Nick first broke even, she’d turned it into a $8 billion force of nature.
As for her Florida project, the writing was already on the wall by 1998 - the Slime Truck and Nick at Nite taxi disappeared from their parking spots without fanfare.
Inside, the Tour saw few changes. Décor was added and subtracted based on the current schedule. Big cut-outs of The Wild Thornberrys cast filled in the blank spots around the escalators. Signage in the Game Lab was updated to reflect the latest, greatest, and eventually last game shows. A permanent awning replaced the queue tents outside and the Sega Genesis consoles for waiting guests went the way of the Sega Genesis.
The Nickelodeon Studios Tour was stagnating just as Universal Studios Florida was flourishing.
In 1999, one park became an entire resort. Islands of Adventure turned the old slogan - Ride the Movies - into an alternative. Production was no longer the only thrill at Universal.
The same year, Nickelodeon ran out of it. When Figure It Out wrapped its final season, there was nothing on the slate to replace it.
2000 brought mostly unsuccessful experiments. Double Dare 2000 aired from January to November, as designed. Noah Knows Best only survived two months before going down in history as the last sitcom produced at Nickelodeon Studios.
The only new show that stuck was Slime Time Live. Presented alternately from an outdoor stage near the Slime Geyser or in the studio, the program recurred across ad breaks with interactive games played by phone and special appearances from kid-centric celebrities. It replicated the Nick game show model - live audience, young contestants, green go - and packaged it around Nicktoon reruns. Slime Time Live put the big blue studio back on the airwaves. From home, it appeared to be thriving.
In 2001, the Nickelodeon Studios Tour was cut down from 45 minutes to about 10. Less than 100 employees worked in the building. Decay begat decay - the less there was to see, the fewer came to see it. At the same time, Universal settled on a plan to boost the brand elsewhere in the park.
On April 11th, 2003, the plan came to fruition as Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast. Ridership for its predecessor, The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera, had been steadily declining since the late ‘90s. Nicktoon Blast followed the same formula to a near-fault. Instead of Yogi dragging guests on a jet-powered meet-and-greet with Fred Flintstone, Scooby-Doo, and the Jetsons, Jimmy would take them to see Angelica, SpongeBob, Cosmo, and Wanda.
Some of the bright orange benches from the Studios found their way into the Nicktoon Blast post-show. Nobody needed them next door.
The iconic blue paint scheme and matching Memphis accents disappeared in 2004, replaced by a comparatively sober lime-green look. If it was intended as an update, it was too little, too late.
Slime Time Live ended that summer, leaving Nickelodeon Splat! as the last show standing. It only ran a month longer. As of the August 17th finale, Nickelodeon no longer had an active studio in Florida.
What Geraldine Laybourne once christened “the kid mecca of the United States” closed on April 30th, 2005. The Slime Geyser went the following month. The orange splat above the doors, the following year.
Nickelodeon didn’t need Universal anymore and Universal didn’t need Nickelodeon anymore.
Blue Man Group moved into Stage 18 in June 2007, repainting the exterior in their image. Various sports networks and wrestling promotions have taken over Stage 19 and some of the adjoining offices. Three Halloween Horror Nights houses have been built in the former Nickelodeon facilities between the other occupants.
As documented by the intrepid, illegal efforts of YouTubers, the slimy remains stuck around longer than most would’ve assumed. The second floor tour space survived mostly unchanged into the 2010s, complete with Ren & Stimpy murals and the aforementioned Wild Thornberrys cut-outs. The elevators were still a familiar orange.
These days, likely due to the very same videos that documented them, those leftovers are gone. One of the last - a wave of green tiles on a bathroom floor - was simply painted blue, the pattern unchanged. With the recent end of Blue Man Group’s engagement, it’s only a matter of time before that, too, is remodeled out of existence.
But Nickelodeon never really left Universal Orlando. A new generation of wide-eyed viewers can wave at Dora the Explorer in the Superstar Parade and frown with Squidward in the SpongeBob StorePants. Rumors occasionally swirl about a renewed presence in the parks. Early in design process for the upcoming Beijing resort, Universal Creative discarded a concept for an entire SpongeBob SquarePants land.
If nothing comes of the possibility any earlier, maybe Nickelodeon will get nostalgic when it finally opens the time capsule on April 30th, 2042. After all, that’s already closer to today than the Nickelodeon Studios Grand Opening Celebration.