How TV series ‘Doug’ hopped from Universal to Disney

If you were a theme park kid in the ‘90s, one of your favorite spots was most likely the old Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios Florida — it certainly was for me. As I recently went down a rabbit hole researching the old Nickelodeon Studios, I came across an image that sparked a memory in my mind. Surrounding the brightly-colored and eccentric studio building were some photo-op standees featuring beloved Nickelodeon characters. One of them included the characters Doug Funnie and Patti Mayonnaise from the hit Nicktoons series, “Doug.” As I recalled having my photo taken with Doug and Patti when I was a kid, it also sparked the memory of “Disney’s Doug Live!” at Disney-MGM Studios. But how did an iconic Nickelodeon character end up in a Disney park?

Photo by Jeff DePaoli

“Doug” isn’t some throwaway series for Nickelodeon. It is an important part of Nicktoons history. When Nicktoons first launched in 1991, there were only three original animated series greenlit as part of the launch. One of them was “Doug,” along with “The Ren & Stimpy Show” and “Rugrats.” Of course, series can’t continue making new episodes forever (unless it’s “The Simpsons,” apparently), but a move from Nickelodeon at Universal Studios Florida to Disney-MGM Studios was an unexpected curveball that I don’t think anybody had predicted. As has often been touted, Nickelodeon often thought of themselves as the anti-Disney.

Nevertheless, after Nickelodeon decided not to renew the series after its fourth season ended in 1994, through a contractual loophole the character rights went back to “Doug” creator Jim Jinkins allowing him to work on new projects with these same characters. In 1996, the then head of ABC’s Saturday Morning lineup, Geri Laybourne — who just so happened to be the former president of Nickelodeon — decided to bring Doug and his friends to the alphabet network, which had been recently purchased by The Walt Disney Company.

Ultimately, Disney brought the characters back to television in 1997 with “Brand Spanking New! Doug” for seasons five and six, then later renaming it once again to “Disney’s Doug” for its final season ending in 1999. Disney had big plans for Doug as we would see Doug’s impact expand in 1999.

“Disney’s Doug Live!” premiered at Disney-MGM Studios in March 1999 as a stage musical featuring live vocals and created by the same folks who worked on the Disney animated series. I have very fond memories of seeing this short-lived show in person. Just days after the opening of the theme park show, “Doug’s 1st Movie” hit theaters, but it would end up being Doug’s only movie. Although Disney had plans to continue making Doug movies, the reviews and box office numbers weren’t enough to keep the franchise alive. This ultimately meant that “Disney’s Doug Live!” would only survive in the theme park for just over two years, ultimately closing in May 2001.

So, that is the crazy story of how a character made famous at Nickelodeon and featured at Universal Studios Florida ended up in a Disney theme park. It’s a bit crazy, but also really fascinating in my mind. I would be remiss not to mention that one of the voice actors who was part of “Doug” ever since the beginning also has a part of Disney-MGM Studios history on his resume. Actor Fred Newman voiced Skeeter Valentine and various other “Doug” characters, but may be most recognizable to ‘90s kids as the adult co-host of “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” which shot at Disney-MGM Studios. If you’re as endlessly fascinated by this sort of ‘90s entertainment history, I suggest checking out “The Orange Years” documentary all about the origins of Nickelodeon.

Did you grow up watching any of the versions of “Doug?” If so, which iteration was your favorite? Did you ever get a chance to see “Doug” represented in any of the theme parks? Let me know in the comments.

If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.