In 1991, John Kricfaulsi's nightmarish masterpiece The Ren & Stimpy Show debuted, and it remains one of the best Nickelodeon shows of all time. It was weird, it was gross, and it was wildly inappropriate for children, but it was also genius and it never had a chance due to the network it was on. Ren and Stimpy's second season began as great as the first but halfway through Nickelodeon could no longer allow Kricfalusi's controversial reign to continue, so they axed him, and the show began its steady roll downhill.
Fans of the show will probably say it became an immediate disaster upon John K.'s departure. While shows where the main writer was fired do sometimes immediately get bad, that's not necessarily the case for Ren and Stimpy's decline. The Ren and Stimpy theories run rampant but the facts are relatively straight forward.
Here's how Nickelodeon ruined Ren and Stimpy placing it forever on lists of shows that have a horrible second season and that were never allowed to live their TV truth.
The Show's Energy And Ambiguity Fueled Its Cult Following
The Ren & Stimpy Show has a checkered reputation. As it debuted on a children's network it was, and still is, viewed by many as crass, crude, and inappropriate for children. While all this is true, it fails to recognize the brilliance of the show, which might have thrived on a different network. (This is before such things as Adult Swim.)
John Kricfalusi created Ren & Stimpy in the early '90s by going back to cartoon basics. For decades, cartoons had stopped using storyboards and started using scripts, but Kricfalusi shunned that practice, feeling that cartoons had suffered greatly for it, lacking cohesion and energy. Say what you will about Ren & Stimpy, but it was certainly cohesive and energetic. The dynamic between the two characters further deepened the show. Between Ren's deranged genius and Stimpy's sweet but modest intellect they formed a complex duo. Were they friend? Or were they something more? The show was layered, and those layers were lost on both kids as well as Nickelodeon executives.
Nickelodeon Was Always Uneasy About The Show
From the very beginning Nickelodeon had reservations about The Ren & Stimpy Show. They wanted Kricfalusi to infuse educational elements and he was not willing. They frequently cut or edited segments, removing material from the show they found inappropriate. It didn't help that there were myriad complaints from parents who openly questioned why a children's network would have a show with such relatively mature content. Kricfalusi's increasingly dark writing eventually led to a breaking point.
"Man's Best Friend" Was The Last Straw
Kricfalusi wrote an episode called "Man's Best Friend" in which Ren and Stimpy are adopted by a man named George Liquor. There is also a tobacco reference in the episode, and Ren ultimately ends up beating Mr. Liquor violently with an oar. Nickelodeon refused to air it and fired Kricfalusi, along with most of the staff of his production company Spümcø.
The episode later aired on Spike TV when they picked up the program and renamed it Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon." It's not all that surprising that Nickelodeon had issues with the episode - even by Ren & Stimpy standards, it was not kid friendly.
There Were Other Production Issues As Well
When Nickelodeon dumped Kricfalusi, they claimed it was due to budget overruns and frequently missed deadlines. Kricfalusi, however, fired back, saying, [Nickelodeon] was responsible for 90 percent of the late scheduling and over-budgets.” While it's difficult to determine who's in the right in this he said/she said scenario, there is a bit more evidence to back up the creator's claims.
Kricfalusi said that Nickelodeon would often approve an episode and then change its mind. He cited a specific example in which VP of Animation, Vanessa Coffey, gave the green light for "Man's Best Friend," but the network later refused to air it. When EW asked Nick about this, their spokesperson responded, "We have a legal agreement with John not to discuss anything to do with that." That sounds suspiciously close to an admission by omission.