“Kennan & Kel”: Scenes From a Failed Nickelodeon Pilot
As I’m sure you’re aware, today is Kenan Thompson‘s 32nd birthday. Thompson is a current Saturday Night Live cast member and has appeared in such films as Fat Albert and Snakes on a Plane, but he’ll always be remembered by my generation for his role in the 1990s Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan & Kel. I am not exaggerating when I say that Nickelodeon programming was the definitive cultural product of the ’90s (unless you count Clinton getting a blowjob as a “cultural product”), and Kenan & Kel was quintessential Nick. Don’t believe me? Go back and rewatch the theme song, sung by none other than Coolio himself.
So you can imagine my surprise when I hacked into Nickelodeon’s database archives and found out that the show’s original concept was very, very different from how the final product turned out.
According an early outline and pilot script that I’ve looked at, the show originally didn’t include Kenan at all! Instead, hyperactive teenager Kel Kimble was paired with famed Cold War diplomat George F. Kennan, author of the “containment” strategy used by the United States against the Soviet Union. Kennan and Kel (from whom the show’s original name was drawn) were supposed to represent the ultimate odd couple, and each episode would find them engaged in another wacky misadventure set in idyllic 1950s America.
I fear that I might get sued if I post the entire pilot script online, so I’ll just show you a few excerpts from it. Here’s the first three pages, complete with occasional handwritten notes from a Nickelodeon programming executive. (You can click each page for a full-size view, or click here to download all the pages in PDF format.)
The show came very close to being dropped from the Nickelodeon schedule before the producers decided to replace the Kennan character with a wisecracking teenager named Kenan Rockmore. So while you’re wishing Kenan a happy birthday today, make sure to thank him for helping to avoid the dissemination of a children’s sitcom based around the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
Although, to be fair, I’d still rather watch that than anything on the Disney Channel.