Credit: Everett Collection

As 2011 comes to a close, wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements. Here, Keith Dawkins, the senior VP and general manager of TeenNick, discusses how the network’s block of retro programming, The ’90s Are All That, came to be and proved that, thanks to this viewer-driven ratings powerhouse, Gen Y nostalgia is far from a thing of the past. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.

As told by: Keith Dawkins

We noticed two things. One was that there was a whole viral, digital community that was just loud and proud about this idea of bringing back ‘90s Nickelodeon. We noticed this on various social media sites, from Twitter and Facebook to video-based sites where people were creating mash-ups of their favorite ’90s Nickelodeon content and creating their own user-generated content. So when we noticed that that was happening out there in the ether, we aggregated all that together, the 15 million strong that were lending their voice to this idea of “Bring My ’90s Nickelodeon Back.” They even launched a Facebook page of the same name. [Secondly], our interns and young, budding executives at Nickelodeon put a presentation in front of us and pitched an idea of an entire block of programming devoted to this idea of bringing back ’90s Nickelodeon, the stuff that they grew up with. We found that interesting, that they were presenting us this idea, in real time and representing an audience who we were just noticing all over the digitalsphere, lending their voice to this same idea. And that’s how we got the idea of packaging up The ‘90s Are All That, harkening to the golden age of ’90s Nick with the shows these kids grew up on.

The audience [chose the programming for The ‘90s Are All That], quite frankly. The initial line-up of All That, Kenan & Kel, Clarissa Explains It All, and Doug were the four that kept popping up over and over and over again on Twitter and Facebook. We just keep listening to the audience and monitoring. [Since then, fans] spoke more about various animated shows that they wanted to see. We switched the lineup again to have Angry Beavers and Rocko’s Modern Life. This idea was born out of the audience telling us what they want. We listen to the audience, but we also engage with them. We post messages on Facebook, tweet, let them know directly about news that’s happening within the block. We have the Stick Stickly segment on Friday nights, U Pick with Stick. They really are deciding what they’re seeing on the block.

All That and Kenan & Kel are two shows that really pop for me because not every show that’s made almost 20 years ago holds up well, in any landscape. These really hold up well. They are funny. I think that brand of comedy is really hard to do. To think of someone doing it at such a young age in their lives? I honestly don’t know how they did it. So it just shows the talent that came from these shows and I think that’s why we can put these shows on now. The twentysomethings watch today not just with fondness and nostalgia, but with an appreciation of just how funny they are.

The response that we’ve felt for [The ‘90s Are All That is] such an overwhelming passion from the audience. I continually get questions like, “Do you think the Nick shows of today hold up against the Nick shows of the ’90s?” I always say to them that the shows of today, like SpongeBob comes from the same blue print, DNA, and mold of Doug or Hey Arnold! in terms of storytelling and character development and doing right by kids. But their bias is showing. For them, this was the quintessential age of Nick. They were 8, 9, 10 years old, they were coming of age the same time that Nick was. It was a network that was completely devoted to them. And now those people are 22 through 27. That’s why this is so emotional and so meaningful for them. That’s why people will literally tweet things like, “I’m crying right now as I’m watching this.” The golden age of Nick is like comfort food for them.

For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.

Read more: