To those who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, All That was must-see television. A kid-centered, Saturday Night Live-style variety show, it ran for 10 seasons, begat a spinoff movie, and helped launch the careers of a number of rising musicians, from Usher to Coolio. Here’s some vital information for your everyday nostalgia.
1. TEST AUDIENCES DIDN’T LIKE IT VERY MUCH.
All That was the brainchild of writer Dan Schneider and producers Brian Robbins and Mike Tollin. Like all sketch programs, the show relied heavily upon the talents of its cast, which was painstakingly assembled over the course of several months of auditions. Once eight young actors were chosen as All That’s main cast, it was time to shoot the pilot episode. Filming took place in January, 1994—and then came a period of limbo.
“[About] six months went by and I didn’t hear anything,” Schneider said. To his dismay, he learned that the footage had tested poorly with focus groups. “Basically, the company who ran the testing wrote a report that wasn’t too great. Their opinion was: Kids probably wouldn’t like this new sketch comedy show for kids,” Schneider remembered. “But luckily, the people at the network decided to give us a chance anyway. They picked up the show, and we all flew back to Orlando [where the pilot had been filmed] to write and produce the first season.”
2. EMMA STONE AUDITIONED FOR THE SHOW.
In an appearance on The Tonight Show, Emma Stone revealed that, at the tender age of 12, she auditioned for All That. At her tryout, the future Academy Award-winner showed off three original characters, including a demonically-possessed babysitter and “a cheerleader who couldn’t spell what she was cheering.” Though she didn’t get the gig, Stone remembers the event fondly. “It was a pretty special experience,” she told Jimmy Fallon.
3. KEL MITCHELL BEGAN DEVELOPING HIS “ED” PERSONA AT A VERY YOUNG AGE.
“Ed started out when I was about eight,” Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times. “I used to watch professional wrestling and copy the kind of wild ‘dude’ voices the wrestlers had in their interviews.” In an early All That sketch, Mitchell reused that voice while playing an energetic pizza delivery guy, and the rest is history. Mitchell’s performance inspired the show’s iconic “Good Burger” segment in which he starred as Ed, the lovable but dimwitted cashier of a fast food restaurant. By the way, Mitchell deserves credit for giving the character his trademark hairdo. “I wanted Ed to have a look,” he told The A.V. Club in 2015. “I remember I went to the hair room and I saw these … early Brandy ‘90s Milli Vanilli braids. I put those on and it came to life.”
4. THE FIRST TWO SEASONS WERE TAPED AT UNIVERSAL ORLANDO’S NICKELODEON STUDIOS.
For the young stars, this was a pretty sweet arrangement. “The [Nickelodeon] studios were literally right inside Universal Studios, so whenever we could—on lunch break, or whenever we had a break—we would sneak into [the park] and ride the rides and eat a bunch of junk food and then sneak back in,” original cast member Alisa Reyes recalled.
At an All That reunion panel hosted during 2015 New York Comic Con, Josh Server—aka: Ear Boy—waxed nostalgic about the experience. “We’d cut lines and piss everyone off,” he gloated. On the other hand, he did acknowledge that his awesome workplace wasn’t without its drawbacks. During All That’s tenure in Orlando, the theme park offered a guided tour through the Nickelodeon Studios. Guests would get to watch the teenage actors through a series of glass walls—which led to a few awkward moments. “You’d be getting your makeup done, and then there’d be a kid just [staring at you],” Server stated. After All That’s second season wrapped up, the remainder of the series was shot at Nickelodeon on Sunset, a Hollywood-based facility.
5. CHRIS FARLEY ONCE TRASHED THE SET.
Of all the program’s celebrity guests, few made a bigger splash than Chris Farley. In 1997, during a special edition of “Cooking with Randy,” Keenan Thompson’s chocoholic Chef Randy character went toe-to-toe with a ketchup-crazed cook known only as Chef Farley. The result? Hilarity and a condiment-drenched set.
According to Server, the bit was filmed in one take—thanks entirely to Farley. “He knew they would make him do [the sketch] over and over again, so he went out there and literally trashed the stage. It was the messiest thing I had ever seen, and he made it impossible for the production team to reset for another take,” Server revealed.
6. TLC’S CONNECTION WITH ALL THAT GOES BEYOND THE THEME SONG.
TLC had the distinction of being All That’s very first musical guests. At Robbins’s invitation, the women showcased their talents in the pilot episode. (By the way, Kel Mitchell has said that the original “Kenan and Kel” moment came in the same episode—specifically, it happened when he and Kennan Thompson ad-libbed some banter before introducing TLC.) To Left Eye Lopez, T-Boz Watkins, and Chili Thomas, All That looked like a promising new series. “They loved the show, they loved Nickelodeon,” Robbins notes. “So I asked [if they’d record our theme song] and they said yes. A month later, they released CrazySexyCool. Who knew they’d go on to sell 11 million albums?”
7. LORI BETH DENBERG IS NOW AN ORDAINED MINISTER.
A Nickelodeon legend, you may recognize Lori Beth Denberg as the advice-giver of “Vital Information for Your Everyday Life” fame—or as earth’s loudest librarian, Ms. Hushbaum. Since leaving the show in 1998, she’s appeared in such films as Dodgeball and 18 Fingers of Death. These days, when Denberg isn’t acting or doing standup, she’s helping couples tie the knot.
“It started as a joke when a friend I’ve had since the first grade decided to get married,” the All That alum explained on her official website. “They weren’t very religious and couldn’t decide on an officiant, so I jokingly volunteered.” Denberg’s next move was to get herself ordained as a minister through the Universal Church. Then, she rolled up her sleeves and started working on the service. As Denberg told ABC news, “I wrote a whole specialized ceremony for them and people just loved it. They said, ‘This is so great. You should do this. You should offer this service.’ So, I took their advice!” Today, she offers “personalized, quirky weddings, vow renewals, and commitment ceremonies for couples looking for something a little bit different, a little less sterile, and a little more fun.” “It’s my favorite thing to do,” Denberg says.
8. THE “SUGAR AND COFFEE” SKETCHES USED A FAR LESS APPETIZING BEVERAGE.
This high-energy spoof of TV morning shows was co-hosted by Kyle Sullivan as “Bates” and Lisa Foiles as “Kaffy.” Week after week, the over-caffeinated anchors would literally funnel sugar and coffee down the throats of their unsuspecting guests. All was not as it seemed, however; Foiles has admitted that while the sugar was real, the prop coffee “was flat Coca-Cola, which was sticky and gross.”
9. SOME NICKELODEON EXECUTIVES WANTED ALL THAT TO STEER CLEAR OF RAP.
In 1996, Steven Rifkind—then the president and CEO of Loud Records—sang All That’s praises to Billboard Magazine. “All That,” he noted, “[is] one of television’s only forums for rap and hip-hop artists since the demise of The Arsenio Hall Show.” Right from the start, this was one of the program’s major goals. “Music has always been a big part of SNL, and I wanted the same for All That,” says Robbins.
To get a sense of what his target audience liked, Robbins scrutinized the Billboard top 40 charts. He also got some inside information from a few younger relatives. “I have four nephews, ages 6 through 9, and I pay attention to what they listen to,” Robbins said in 1996. As he quickly discovered, kids and tweens at the time overwhelmingly enjoyed rap—something that Nick’s higher-ups wanted to avoid at first. “Nickelodeon thought I was crazy,” the producer recalled. “They were like, ‘Why do we have to use rap music?’” Of course, when All That’s ratings took off, those execs changed their tune.
10. ALISA REYES STOLE A KERNEL FROM THE BIG EAR OF CORN AS A SOUVENIR.
Alisa Reyes—best remembered for playing Kiki in the Island Girls sketch—owned up to the thievery in the above YouTube interview from 2013, but it eventually ended up with Schneider. Six feet tall and famously soft-spoken, the Big Ear of Corn was written into the cast by Schneider at a very early stage in All That’s production. Looking for some “weird, random, silly element” to throw into the program, Schneider remembers that “for some reason, I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm, a giant ear of corn would look pretty funny.’” When the prop was retired, he personally stepped in to save it from being thrown away or cannibalized for some other show. Ever since, Schneider has served as the vegetable’s self-appointed guardian.
“I’ve had a few different storage rooms over the years. And I’ve always kept the Big Ear of Corn,” he said in 2016. Later that year, the maize megastar’s presence was requested at the San Diego Comic-Con. After a few minor touch-ups, the Big Ear of Corn looked good as new—and ready to meet its admiring public.