Spinoff Stories: Rugrats (Updated)

While Nickelodeon was founded back in 1979, it spent much of the 1980s airing game shows and syndicated cartoons. It wasn’t until the early 1990s when Nickelodeon made a real push at original scripted programming. Live-action sitcoms like Clarissa Explains It All and The Adventures of Pete & Pete premiered in early 1991. On August 11, 1991, Nickelodeon premiered their first three in-house produced cartoons. The block started off with Doug, a show that saw moderate success for four seasons before being moved to ABC’s Saturday morning block for three additional seasons. The block concluded with The Ren & Stimpy Show, which was at first far and away the breakout hit of the block. However, neither Doug nor Ren & Stimpy had the longevity on Nickelodeon's schedule as the show sandwiched between them: Rugrats. Whereas Doug stopped producing original episodes for Nickelodeon in 1994 and Ren & Stimpy in 1996, Rugrats made it to 2004, with a spinoff featuring all the same main characters making it to 2008. 

The Original Hit Machine
Rugrats (1991-2004)

Rugrats is an animated series following the lives of a group of toddlers. It premiered in 1991 to a 13-episode order as one of the first three “Nicktoons.” Rugrats was a critical success from the beginning, winning the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1992. While ratings data at the beginning of the show’s run is limited, we know its ratings were originally only a fraction of Ren & Stimpy’s. In fact, Rugrats was quietly almost canceled after three seasons; production had wrapped in 1993 after three seasons. Subsequently scheduled reruns, specials, and more sporadic airings of original episodes gave Nickelodeon enough time to produce more episodes without anyone really noticing the former decision to end production. By the mid-90s, Ren & Stimpy had ceased production and Rugrats become Nickelodeon’s flagship series. It went on to break ratings records for the network on multiple occasions. However, by the turn of the century, Nickelodeon scaled back on new Rugrats episodes; partially because of time spent producing theatrical films (more on that later). Also, by the time Season 7 premiered in early 2001, Rugrats had 130 episodes available to be rerun. Instead of being one of three Nicktoons airing original episodes, it was one of nine. Looking to expand the brand and perhaps bring it new life, Nickelodeon ordered a spin-off of Rugrats. It was to feature slightly older versions of the characters, and be called Rugrats Pre-School Daze. Yet, it wouldn’t actually end up being the first spinoff. That honor would go to All Grown Up!, a hugely popular backdoor pilot where the characters are in middle school. 

The First Spin-Off
All Grown Up! (2003-2008)

All Grown Up! premiered on April 12, 2003, and has a unique concept for a spin-off. Rather than spinning off one popular character like most spin-offs do, All Grown Up! follows the Rugrats crew in middle school. Aging the characters and putting them in a new setting is a synopsis one might usually find in a revival series, rather than a spin-off. With All Grown Up!, Nickelodeon was hoping audiences would find Rugrats to be a character-driven show over a plot-driven show. The bet was that audiences would be willing to follow these characters as the characters got older. Rather than produce new Rugrats episodes to a new generation, Nickelodeon hoped past Rugrats fans would grow up with the characters. All Grown Up! lasted 5 seasons, airing 55 episodes and wrapping its run in 2008. 

While All Grown Up! was able to last five seasons and thus can’t be considered a failed spin-off, it did not live up to the phenomenon that was the original Rugrats series. It certainly doesn’t help that Rugrats stopped airing original episodes after All Grown Up!’s first season. All Grown Up! wasn’t a flop by any means, but it was a part of a franchise in decline. A 2003 Rugrats theatrical film performed paltry, with the show concluding its run in 2004. That year proved to be a turning point for Nickelodeon; Rugrats was the fourth long-running Nicktoon to end in a two month time span. By the mid-2000s, there simply wasn’t the appetite for Rugrats on Nickelodeon that there was 10 or even 5 years prior. All Grown Up! didn’t leave behind much of a legacy since its cancelation in 2008. It managed to extend the Rugrats franchise through most of the 2000s decade, but spent most of that time living in the shadows of other Nicktoons.

The Second Spin-Off
Rugrats Pre-School Daze (2008)

After the success of All Grown Up!’s backdoor pilot, Nickelodeon shelved what was once this highly-anticipated spinoff. Rugrats Pre-School Daze was a similar concept to All Grown Up! in that it ages the Rugrats characters. However, this spinoff only brings them to preschool age. It aired shortly after All Grown Up! wrapped its original run, making for a confusing timeline. While Rugrats Pre-School Daze at one point was supposed to have a 13-episode first season, that order was cut down to just four episodes. It premiered in November 2008 and was off the schedule by the end of the year. Rugrats Pre-School Daze is a failed spin-off, but expectations could not have been high given the circumstances. 

The CGI Revival
Rugrats (2021-2024)

Upon the launch of Paramount+, Paramount leaned into some of the most recognizable Nickelodeon titles to hopefully bring subscribers to the platform. Of those shows, Rugrats was the only one to get a straight-up reboot. Given the familiarity of the series, a Rugrats reboot was presumably seen as a safer option than another continuation series with the characters at yet another age. The Rugrats phenomenon didn’t carry over a ton into the 2010s; another continuation series would therefore presumably have trouble finding an audience. With a CGI Rugrats revival, parents can put on one of their old childhood favorites for their kids, while kids can appreciate the modernized animation style. 

August 2023: The revival will have aired 51 episodes after the second season is complete, and will surpass All Grown Up!’s episode total in its third season. The first season was rerun on Nickelodeon and did about as well as any other show does on the declining cable network. While the Rugrats revival isn’t bringing the series back to the heights of its popularity, it is doing well enough to keep the Rugrats name alive. Rugrats has a whole section dedicated to it on Paramount+’s Nickelodeon page, proving the show has left behind a legacy that the revival series is doing its best to continue. 

March 2024 Update: The revival did not air 51 episodes after its second season, and did not surpass All Grown Up!’s episode total in its third. Instead, Paramount decided to scrap the Rugrats revival from Paramount+ entirely in March 2024. The series received a 13-episode Season 2 backorder as well as a Season 3 renewal in July 2022, neither of which saw the light of day on the streamer. There was one major warning sign leading up to this news: the last half of Season 2, which has never been available on Paramount+, began airing not on Nickelodeon but on Nicktoons on March 14. Eight of the 13 episodes have aired on the small cable channel; none received more than 50,000 viewers. 

Movie Trilogy
The Rugrats Movie (1998)
Rugrats In Paris: The Movie (2000)
Rugrats Go Wild (2003)

One thing that aligns with the success of the original Rugrats movie is the levels of success of the three corresponding theatrical movies. The first one, The Rugrats Movie, premiered in 1998 and brought in $141 million off a $24 million budget. The second one, 2000’s Rugrats In Paris: The Movie, didn’t fare quite as well, but still managed to bring in $103 million off a $30 million budget. This is certainly a success, but no more of one than the previous year’s Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The third Rugrats movie was arguably a head-scratching decision. It was a crossover film with fellow Nicktoon The Wild Thornberrys, a moderately successful series which aired primarily from 1998 through 2001, with occasional airings bringing it into 2004. A 2002 feature film of The Wild Thornberrys didn’t do all that great, making $60 million off a $25 million budget. By 2003, Rugrats itself was less dominant than it used to be, and the crossover Rugrats Go Wild brought in a modest $55 million on a $25 million budget. A live-action film was planned in the late 2010s, but was quietly canceled. 

The Future Of Rugrats

August 2023: With the Rugrats revival having been renewed for a third season before Season 2 even premiered, one would have to wonder if there are future possibilities for the Rugrats franchise. An All Grown Up! revival seems off the table; it’s not all that prominently featured even in the Rugrats-dedicated section of Paramount+’s Nickelodeon page. Perhaps they make the live-action film after all, but the live-action Fairly OddParents remake flopping could have them think twice about that. A spinoff with just one main character is probably within the realm of possibility, and is arguably the most plausible way the franchise can continue past the revival series. Regardless of if there are future titles to come from the Rugrats IP, the fact it’s around in any capacity more than 30 years after the series premiere is truly remarkable; especially given nobody knew how August 11, 1991 would go for Nickelodeon. 

March 2024 Update: The Rugrats revival never seemed to perform great for Paramount+ based on the Popular Shows section; the same can be said about their other kids-focused originals. It certainly wasn’t the hit the original Rugrats was for Nickelodeon in the 1990s. Still, pulling it from the streaming service entirely was a surprise, given it was renewed for a third season and there is a dedicated section for Rugrats in the Nickelodeon page of Paramount+. 

At this point, Paramount appears committed to continuing to draw eyeballs to the Rugrats IP through displaying the original series, All Grown Up!, and the various movies and specials that were produced in the series’ heyday. That does provide a glimmer of hope for anyone wishing for future Rugrats series. After all, Paramount did remove Fairly OddParents live-action reboot The Fairly OddParents: Fairly Odder from Paramount+ only to announce a new animated sequel series. However, given Rugrats (2021) was pulled from Paramount+ despite already having been renewed, it’s more likely there won’t be new installments of this IP produced in the near future. 

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