10 Years of ‘Nick News’ for Kids

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“Nick News With Linda Ellerbee,” the longest-running kids’ newsmagazine in TV history, will rebroadcast an hourlong retrospective, “Turning Ten: A Nick News Celebration,” on Sunday as part of its ongoing focus on the show’s influence on the younger set.

The weekly Nickelodeon series has won the Emmy, DuPont and Peabody awards. But if truth be told, Ellerbee says: “It would be nice if there would be no need for it. But we don’t live in that world.”

Ellerbee, who is an executive producer of the series, had to reedit the retrospective to include the recent “Nick News” special on the terrorist attacks on New York and the Washington, D.C., area. Just five days after the Sept. 11 tragedy, Ellerbee was on the air trying to explain the incident to children as well as offering them comfort.


It was another conflict, the Gulf War of 1991, that was the genesis of “Nick News.” The then-president of Nickelodeon called the respected journalist and asked if she’d do a kids’ special about the conflict. The special was such a success, Nickelodeon turned it into a series. And over the decade, Ellerbee has tackled such topics as the Oklahoma City bombing, school shootings, AIDS, racism, differences between children, and politics. The series also has done stories on kids who have changed their world, including Operation Food for Thought, in which a young boy began the now-national program in which millions of pounds of unused food from schools go to feed the homeless.

One of the most difficult specials for Ellerbee was on the Oklahoma City bombing. “If you remember, all the images were of dead kids,” she recalls. “There was no explanation. This man had killed 168 people and had no remorse. That was almost harder for me than the school shootings. There is so little you can say.”

Ellerbee has frequently waited to cover a topic, such as the O.J. Simpson trial. “I didn’t want to add to the noise,” she says. “We just felt, let’s see where it is headed. Every day something changed. There was no good point, but when the verdict came out, it certainly was made clear how many black and white Americans felt totally differently [about the verdict]. I said, ‘This is our opportunity. This is our door into talking about racism,’ and that is what we used it as.”

When Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky dominated the headlines, the decision to discuss it was made when the Starr report reached the Internet and the House was about to vote on his impeachment. “We know kids are all over the Internet, and at that point we said we have got to cover this.”

And how did they get around the sexual nature of the Clinton impeachment?

“What happens right now is with really young children, they get told you have a right not to be touched in an inappropriate way or in an inappropriate place. ‘Inappropriate’ has become a code word for ‘sexual.’ So we were able to say the president had an inappropriate relationship with a woman to whom he was not married and when confronted with the evidence lied about it, and that was it. We went straight from there to what happens when you lie? Can a president lie?”

Ellerbee has never had any censorship problems with Nickelodeon. “We are all aware of our responsibility--our responsibility is not to raise anxieties in kids. It is to lower them and to show them the world can be changed and citizenship doesn’t start when you are 18.”


The special illustrates the array of guest stars who have appeared on “Nick News,” including Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve, Magic Johnson and Dan Rather. “Just think about it, we have had B.B. King come on and explain the blues to 11-year-olds; Yo-Yo Ma explaining classical music; Maya Angelou talking poetry. I must tell you I own a production company and we produce a lot of television for a lot of networks other than Nickelodeon and we are constantly having to book famous people and there is no easier show in the world for me to book a famous person on than ‘Nick News.’ The guys come on and are happy to do it.”

Ellerbee’s style hasn’t changed much since the days when she wrote and anchored “NBC News Overnight,” as well as the ABC weekly series “Our World.”

“The things I have lost from my television work before that don’t really work for kids are irony, which I used to rely on a great deal, and subtle humor,” she says. “But that is not a big trade-off. I don’t write any differently than I was for grown-ups.”

Ellerbee and her staff choose the children who appear on the series from an ever-expanding lists of schools from across the country. If the show, she says, is planning to cover the topic of divorce, “we are going to look for kids who are going through divorce. We don’t go to schools and say give us your brightest, super kids. We say this is the topic. We are looking for kids who are willing and want to talk about this. It is not a test. What their opinion is doesn’t matter. They have to be willing to express their opinion.”


“Turning Ten: A Nick News Celebration” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon. The network has rated it TV-Y (suitable for young children).