Let me ask you something: Do you know what a bumper is? You might not think that you do, but trust me, you do. A bumper can be defined as a 15-30 second piece that airs on a television channel that tells you the channel that you’re watching. These can often go unnoticed by the viewer, but these things can really enhance the TV viewing experience. You may find yourself remembering a catchy jingle or remembering some imagery from these, and you may not even realize it. That may be because we saw many of these as impressionable children on channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
My interest in bumpers began when I watched the VHS A Rugrats Vacation as a child. After the previews and Paramount logo, a short musical number by a barbershop-like trio accompanied by several other characters and the Nickelodeon logo on everything you could ever imagine played. My younger self was entranced by the bumper, and years later while searching for it on YouTube, I found out that it was like a compilation of recycled clips and animation from several bumpers that Nick had in the 1980s.
Here’s some backstory: Nickelodeon struggled mightily during its first few years. It had bad branding, hardly any original programming, and a bad viewing experience. However, in the mid-1980s, things took a turn for the better when the network switched to the iconic orange logo. In coordination with this, new bumpers guided by Fred Seibert (eventual founder of Frederator) and Alan Goodman were created that stuck in viewers’ minds. From singing dinosaurs to flying aliens, these were inventive. Even as someone born about a decade after these first aired, these fascinated me as I saw them on YouTube many years ago. Something about the different styles of animation and music really makes it feel like something out of a child’s imagination. It’s hard not to look at some of these from both the 80’s and 90’s and appreciate the effort that had to go into them. See for yourself.
Cartoon Network also created bumpers that feel like something out of a child’s imagination. Whereas Nick made bumpers to establish an identity, these bumpers were part of a re-brand to build on their established identity. These featured the network’s characters interacting with one-another in a CGI city. Let me tell you, as someone who liked most of these shows, this was like a dream come true. Younger me and current me love the look of the combination of 2D characters in a 3D space.
Another noteworthy set of bumpers were those seen on Disney Channel. This was around the time that their teen-star formula was becoming insanely popular. They capitalized on that and the traditional Disney imagination by having the stars of the channel hold a lightsaber looking wand and form a Mickey Mouse head, the basis of the channel’s logo. Simple, but effective.
Children’s channels weren’t alone in the bumper game, however, as MTV was also known for them. Much like Nickelodeon, they needed an identity in 1981, so Fred Seibert had a vision. He was a big part of the reason why these bumpers were as wild as they are. These are insanely creative and they were sure to catch the eye of someone flipping the channel. And heck, they might’ve even stuck around to watch some music on Music Television before the network would start airing shows like Buck Wild and Siesta Key.
No matter what network they aired on, bumpers have been and always will be a key component of a channel’s identity. These can easily creep into your mind years after you first see them. I know this because several people have uploaded these on YouTube (thanks to all of the YouTubers who uploaded the clips I used, by the way), so they obviously had an impact.
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