July 14th, 2011
04:58 PM ET
Nickelodeon's "Hey Dude" is being released on DVD next week by SHOUT! Factory. Filmed in Tucson, Arizona from 1989-1991 but set during one summer at the fictional Bar None Ranch, the children’s sitcom chronicled the adventures of teenagers who taught riding lessons and took care of guests.
Mr. Ernst, the only adult major cast member, was a former New York City accountant who purchased the ranch on a lark. Actor David Brisbin's portrayal of Mr. Ernst provided comic relief of the fish-out-of-water sort.
"Hey Dude" was also Nickelodeon's first original live-action series, and paved the way for favorites like "Clarissa Explains it All" and "Salute Your Shorts."
The DVD extras feature the most famous “Dude” alum, actress Christine Taylor. She played swim instructor Melody and is known for her roles in "The Brady Bunch Movie" and "Zoolander.” (She also happens to be the wife of Ben Stiller.)
Admittedly, "Hey Dude" had sort of a niche audience. Either you know what it means to "watch out for those man-eating jackrabbits and that killer cacti," or you're hard-pressed to figure out why we're committing bandwidth to something so obscure.
(Random fact: Paris Hilton, it turns out, is a “Hey Dude” fan. Taylor told SHOUT! Factory about the time she was approached years later at a party in Los Angeles by Hilton, who recognized her as Melody.)
Not only were "Hey Dude" viewers roughly 8-14 (so over the span of the series, they would've been born between 1975 and 1983, give or take), but they also would've had cable – or a friend who had cable – to watch Nickelodeon, which wasn't as common.
So when I told people that I was writing this week's "Throwback" on "Hey Dude," their reactions ranged from "Huh?" to "Ooh! I LOVED that show!!!!" to "Are you sure you're not talking about 'City Slickers?'"
But the mention of "City Slickers" made me realize something I'd never connected the dots on before: In hindsight, it is crystal clear that America went through a major wild west/ranch obsession in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Did "Hey Dude" help "rope" in this national obsession? Perhaps.
Think about it: The Escape Club's song "Wild Wild West" was wildly popular throughout most of 1989. Who could forget the gunshot sound effects, or those lyrics: "Headin' for the '90s, livin' in the wild, wild west."
Then "Back to the Future, Part III" came out in 1990. Where did most of it take place? The Old West. The following year gave us the children's animated feature film "Fievel Goes West" (the sequel to "An American Tail") and Garth Brooks' album, "Ropin' the Wind." And of course, we had the aforementioned "City Slickers" that same year.
Then in 1992, "Unforgiven," a Western, won four Academy Awards. Maybe Clint Eastwood can thank "Hey Dude" for that Oscar.
I’m convinced that the reason the 1999 Will Smith/Kevin Kline (wagon) train wreck "Wild Wild West" fared so poorly was because it wasn’t released during America’s love affair with all things tumbleweed and spurs.
As long as you overlook the fact that there should be a comma between "Hey" and "Dude" and turn a blind eye to Mr. Ernst's blatant defiance of child labor laws, there isn’t much not to like about “Hey Dude.”
But the real question is: Will the DVD release of "Hey Dude" rekindle America's cowboy craze? The weight is on your shoulders, "Cowboys & Aliens."
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