It is now easier than ever to find a group online. Social media platforms make it easier to connect with people through Discord servers or niche TikTok trends. However, the internet was only beginning to connect people in the 2000s through message boards, webcomics and gaming sites. And for over four million teens discovering who they were during the early aughts, a short-lived Nickelodeon TV channel and its website — where users chatted, posted on forums, and played games with each other — became a refuge.
Viacom and Sesame Workshop joined forces to create Noggin, an educational television channel that focuses on children between the ages 2-14. The station was successful, making a profit and reaching its goal of reaching $1 billion. 43 million householdsIn just two years. However, the fundamental problem that hampered its success was: Kids go to sleep earlyThey left their nighttime block unsupervised.
Struggling to sustain their older audience, Viacom split Noggin’s schedule to appeal to their tween-aged crowd. On April 1, 2002 at 6:00 p.m ET, the Noggin logo faded out on screen for the first time and a hand appeared in its place, welcoming viewers to a brand new programming block: The N. The new block felt like Noggin’s cooler older sibling, and from that day forward, the same channel would air Dora The Explorer during the day and Degrassi: The Next Generation after dark. The N’s storylines featured teens who had to deal with real-life situations like substance abuse and pregnancy. Viewers were able to see themselves in programs like South of Nowhere. This groundbreaking series, which starred two queer young ladies, was called friends-to-lovers.
Image: The N/Viacom
“We aimed to find a tool that helped adolescents imagine their future selves,”Tom Ascheim, President at Warner Bros. The N was created by Global Kids, Young Adults, and Classics during Ascheim’s 17 years at Nickelodeon. Ascheim credits The N’s soaring viewership to the representation in its programming, as teens were beginning to “recognize a life they might like to have.”
The internet was also becoming a source of self-discovery and empowerment for teens. Growing up online, in the ‘90s, meant IMing a best friend and connecting in AOL chat rooms. Online communities were emerging. Some of these helped fill in the education gaps: Millions upon millions of young girls gathered on message boards like gURL.comanonymously asking for advice regarding touchy subjects. Neopets boasted that they had reached a milestone in 2002. over 19 million users between the ages of 12 and 17. Users were playing Meerca Chase, taking care of virtual pets and collecting secret avatars. They were also exploring their creativity and designing their guild pages and profiles with HTML and CSS.
Given the stiff competition, The N’s digital counterpart needed to offer more than just tips on growing pains. Instead, the-n.com developed into a bustling social network for its followers. Members created detailed profiles with customized avatars. The N hosted a moderated message board where members could discuss the latest episodes of Radio Free Roscoe and start threads to share real-life fashion tips. 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 whether you were an Emma or a Manny from Degrassi. Members could also blog about their daily lives. “Friend”Each other or send private messages “Nmails.”
“For The N, [the website] was more about community,”Ascheim also shared the following: “what we were doing very much anticipated the social world.”
Image: the-n.com/Viacom via The Wayback Machine
Tweens and teens visited the-n.com primarily to play games. Slasher!, a social deduction game that is reminiscent of Among Us, was available. Avatar High Avatar PromHigh school versions of The Sims were available. Players could earn or lose points based upon their interactions with other characters. The Hook-UpThe dating strategy game “Dating Strategy Game” was a success. “the biggest one we ever made for The N,”Peter Ginsberg, co-founder of Thup Games and creator of Avatar High, said that Thup Games was also founded Avatar Prom and Avatar Prom.
The website’s most popular traffic driver was games. Be careful not to appeal to tweens via “dress-up games,” Ginsberg specifically looked to The N’s online community when deciding which ideas to pitch the team next. Thup Games’ idea for Avatar Prom actually came from a roleplaying thread on The N’s message board,Ginsberg stated. At the same time, The N’s game creators wanted identity and representation to remain at the focus of their game development.
“Together, we worked to create games that directly tackled social and emotional challenges,” Ginsberg said. Avatar High players were able to design characters in a variety of skin tones and textures. Fans of The Hook Up also enjoyed the same-sex love stories. This focus proved to resonate deeply with The N’s online audience, for which Ginsberg thanks the diverse mix of writers and the team at The N. Without both, Ginsberg believes they “could have never pulled off”This is a high level engagement.
For all of The N’s successes, the network met what feels like an untimely end. Things looked to be going well. In 2006, over 40,000 teensThe N had been to stops on the Degrassi mall tour and in 2007 The N graduated form Noggin and moved into its own channel. The transition was slow and some cable providers were unable offer the channel a slot in their lineup. Nickelodeon began phasing out The N’s programming and replacing it with TEENick, an entertainment block with no educational curriculum and zero involvement from Noggin. The N’s footing was lost by 2009 and both the channel as well as its website were shut down.
Fans never lost interest in the site that raised them. Fans on RedditContinue reading reminisce aboutWhile others are recoding the website, the-n.com will be available from scratchOr archiving media on the channel. Benjamin Reyna, also known as Benji, falls under the latter category. He is the creator of The-N Archive Tumblr. Reyna, who is from Texas, has more than 10,000 followers since the Tumblr launched in January 2019. People who love his channel and its community often reblog his posts.
“There was something unique about The N,” Reyna said, sharing that he was an immediate fan of Degrassi but learned about The N’s other shows through the channel’s self-promotional commercials and interstitials. “The South of Nowhere promo felt like a dreamy slideshow. It was so relatable and felt like what I was going through at that age.”
Reyna joined The N’s communities on LiveJournal, and connected with other teens via MSN Messenger after The N closed. As a sentimental person, he started his own Degrassi and The N Tumblr to keep the channel’s memory alive. He uses media to save media when searching for new content. The Wayback Machine. Some of the throwback content comes even from his hard drive. “Back then, there was no YouTube, and TV shows weren’t available on iTunes or Amazon, so I would go on the-n.com and save everything.”
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. “There’s only clips and streaming now,” he explained, speaking to the websites created by today’s networks. Social media seems like it has replaced the sense of community that was present on those early aughts websites. At the drop of a new season of current-day TV, Tweets and TikToks about teen shows like HBO Max’s Euphoria and Netflix’s Outer Banks flood everyone’s feeds, creating a sense of community for those channels. Ex-fans of The N remember how good it was. “[Networks] don’t care about fostering real engagement anymore,”Reyna said. “It just doesn’t feel as special.”
As for whether The N or its games could ever make a return, Ginsberg unfortunately confirmed that they no longer own the rights to The Hook Up, Avatar Prom, or any of the games they made for The N – Viacom does. However, he did reveal that there were plans for The Hook Up 2 to be launched before the-n.com closed down.
“We were 60% through when The N started folding into TEENick,”He revealed that Viacom would contact him every few months to inquire about its progress for the next couple of years. Thup Games decided to scrap The Hook Up 2 after The N was officially closed down in 2009.
For now, we’ll just have to continue reliving the channel’s glory days through archival Tumblrs, pixelated gameplay recordings on YouTube, and old Degrassi screenshots resurfacing as Twitter memes. Fans will ensure that The N is not forgotten, even though it may be gone.