Nickelodeon’s The-N.com created a blueprint for the fandom, early 2000s

Finding an online community is easier than ever. Social media platforms have simplified connection routes as young people bond through Discord servers and niche trends TikTok. In the 2000s, however, the Internet was just beginning to connect people through chat rooms, webcomics, and game sites. And for more than four million teenagers finding out who they were at first, a short-lived Nickelodeon TV channel and its website — where users chatted, posted on forums, and played games with each other — became a haven.

In 1999, Viacom and Sesame Workshop teamed up to launch Noggin, an educational television network focused on children ages 2-14. The station took off, making a profit and reaching 43 million households in two short years. However, its success has been hampered by a fundamental problem: Children go to bed earlyleaving their night block underguarded.

Struggling to maintain its older audience, Viacom split Noggin’s schedule to appeal to its teenage audience. On April 1, 2002 at 6:00 p.m. ET, the Noggin logo faded from the screen for the first time and a hand appeared in its place, welcoming viewers to an all-new block of programming: The N. The New block looked like Noggin’s cooler. older brother, and from that day on the same channel would be broadcast Dora the Explorer during the day and Degrassi: the next generation after dark. Stories on The N showed teenagers navigating real-life scenarios, such as pregnancy and drug addiction. Viewers have seen themselves in programs like south of nowherea groundbreaking friends-to-lovers series starring two queer young women.

Picture: The N/Viacom

“Our goal was to find a tool that helps teens imagine their future,” said Tom Ascheim, president of Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics, who founded The N during his 17 years at Nickelodeon. Ascheim attributes the surge in viewership of The N to the portrayal in its programming, as teenagers began to “recognize a life they would like to have”.

At the same time, the Internet was becoming its own source of self-discovery for teenagers. Growing up online in the 90s meant IMing a best friend and logging into AOL chat rooms. Online communities were beginning to form. Some of them filled gaps in education: millions of young girls gathered on message boards like gURL.com, asking anonymously for advice on sensitive topics. And in 2002, Neopets boasted over 19 million users aged 12-17. Users cared for virtual pets, collected secret avatars, and racked up Neopoints as they played Meerca Chase. They were also exploring their creativity, designing their profiles and guild pages using HTML and CSS.

Given the fierce competition, The N’s digital counterpart had to offer more than just advice on growing pains. Instead, the-n.com has become a bustling social hub for its fans. Members have created detailed profiles and personalized avatars. The N hosted moderated discussion forums where users discussed the latest episodes of Radio Free Roscoe or started chats to solicit actual fashion advice. Users could take one of The N’s many quizzes; there were educational ones about navigating high school cliques, as well as fun ones like learning if you were an Emma or a Manny from Degrassi. Members blogged about their daily lives, and they could “friend” each other or send private “Nmails”.

“For Le N, [the website] was more about community,” Ascheim explained, adding that “what we were doing was anticipating the social world a lot.”

A screenshot from The N's website

Image: the-n.com/Viacom via The Wayback Machine

But more than anything else, tweens and teens went to the-n.com to play games. There was Slash!a Among us-like a game of social deduction. Ascended Avatar and Avatar Ball were high school versions of The Sims in which players gained or lost points based on their interactions with other characters. The connectiona dating strategy game, ended up being “the biggest we’ve ever made for The N”, according to Peter Ginsberg, the co-founder of Thup Games, who also created Ascended Avatar and Avatar Ball.

The games have become the biggest traffic driver for the website. Keen to avoid flattering tweens via “dress-up games,” Ginsberg specifically turned to The N’s online community to decide what ideas to pitch to the team next. Thup Games’ idea for Avatar Ball actually came from a role-playing thread on The N’s message board, Ginsberg said. At the same time, the creators of The N game wanted identity and representation to remain central to their game development.

“Together, we’ve worked to create games that directly address social and emotional challenges,” Ginsberg said. This orientation has led players to Ascended Avatar being able to design characters with a wide range of skin tones and hair textures, and fans of The connection explore same-sex love stories. This focus has proven to resonate deeply with The N’s online audience, for which Ginsberg credits The N’s diverse mix of writers and staff. Without the two, Ginsberg believes they “wouldn’t have never been able to achieve” such a high level of commitment.

Despite all of The N’s success, the network has met what appears to be an untimely end. Things seemed to be going well: in 2006, more than 40,000 teenagers had attended layovers nationwide Degrassi mall tour, and in 2007 The N graduated from Noggin, moving into its own standalone chain. Unfortunately, the transition was awkward and some cable companies were unable to offer the channel a place in its programming. Nickelodeon began phasing out The N’s programming and replacing it with TEENick, an entertainment block with no educational program and Noggin’s involvement. The N lost its footing in 2009, and the channel and its website shut down completely.

But fans never stopped caring about the site that helped raise them. Fans on Reddit continue to to remember the-n.com, while others recode the website from zero or channel media archiving. Benjamin Reyna, who calls himself Benji, falls into the latter category as the creator of The-N Archives Tumblr. Reyna, who lives in Texas, has racked up more than 10,000 followers since launching Tumblr in January 2019. His posts are frequently reblogged by those who miss the channel and his community as much as he does.

“There was something unique about The N,” Reyna said, sharing that he was an immediate fan of Degrassi but I heard about The N’s other shows through the channel self-promotional advertisements and interstitials. “The south of nowhere the promo looked like a dream slideshow. It was so relatable and felt like what I was going through at that age.

After The N closed, Reyna joined The N-focused communities on LiveJournal and connected with other teens on MSN Messenger. Sentimental, he launched his own Degrassi and The N Tumblr to keep the channel’s memory alive. When it searches for new content to share, it saves the media using The time machine. Some of the returning content even comes from his own hard drive: “Back then, there was no YouTube, and TV shows weren’t available on iTunes or Amazon, so I would go to the -n.com and recorded everything.”

A screenshot from The N's website, showing Avatar Prom

Image: the-n.com/Viacom via The Wayback Machine

Reyna doesn’t think there could ever be another community as special as the one formed by The N. “It’s just music videos and streaming now,” he explained, speaking to the sites Web created by today’s networks. Social media seems to have replaced the type of community found on these early websites. On the release of a new current TV season, Tweets and TikToks on teen shows like HBO Max Euphoria and those of Netflix External banks flood everyone’s streams, creating a sense of community for these channels. But former The N fans know how bad they once had it. “[Networks] worry no more about fostering real engagement,” Reyna said. “It just doesn’t seem that special.”

As for whether The N or its games might ever make a comeback, Ginsberg sadly confirmed that they no longer own the rights to The connection, Avatar Ball, or one of the games they made for The N – Viacom does. He did, however, share that there have been plans to launch Branch 2before the-n.com closes.

“We were at 60% when The N started to fall back on TEENick,” he revealed, sharing that every few months for a few years afterward, someone at Viacom would ask about his progress. After The N was officially shut down in 2009, Thup Games considered Branch 2 completely scrapped.

For now, we’ll just have to keep reliving the channel’s glory days through archival Tumblrs, pixelated gameplay recordings on YouTube, and old Degrassi screenshot resurfacing as Twitter memes. Although The N may be gone, fans will make sure he is never forgotten.

Comments are closed.