Rugrats was formed by the then-husband-and-wife duo of Gábor Csupó and Arlene Klasky, along with Paul Germain in 1989.
Klasky Csupo had a major animation firm at the time which also provided services for commercials and music videos. Klasky, Csupó, and Germain were also animating
The Simpsons at the time, which they would continue to do until 1992. The trio decided to create their own series in reaction to a proclamation by the children's cable network Nickelodeon that they were to launch their own line of animated shows, which would be later called
Nicktoons. With the comedic stimulation branching from the antics of Klasky and Csupó's infant children and also pulling inspiration from The Beatles, the 61⁄2–minute pilot episode, "Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing" (never to be aired), went into production.
Peter Chung, along with Klasky and Csupó, co-designed the characters and directed the series pilot, "Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing", as well as the opening sequence. In a Decider article, Chung said, "He [Gábor] wanted the babies to be 'strange' instead of 'cute.'"
 The production was completed in 1990 and they submitted it to Nickelodeon, who tested it with an audience of children. The feedback for the pilot episode was primarily positive. With that, the series went into production. Chuckie and Angelica were added as characters.
Paul Germain felt that the series needed a bully. Angelica was based on a bully in Germain's childhood, who was a girl. In addition to that, it was Germain who decided that Angelica would be a spoiled brat. Klasky initially did not like Angelica Pickles and also protested the character's actions in episodes like "Barbecue Story", where she throws Tommy's ball over the fence.
New Yorker article, Klasky said, "I think she's a bully. I never liked Angelica." She never fully approved of Angelica's character development. Her bullying caused Klasky to disdain her. Angelica started to become a problem for some of the Rugrats staff. In some instances, her voice actress, Cheryl Chase, had trouble portraying a mean Angelica. To help Chase out, Steve Viksen, one of the writers, would mention that Angelica was the series'
J. R. Ewing.
After the episode "The Trial", Klasky complained that the Rugrats were starting to act too old for their age. Csupó often acted as a mediator in arguments between Klasky and the writers, with the writers often winning. Some of the offscreen tensions ultimately found their way into the scripts and, naturally, into the show. In 1994, before Nick premiered the last of the original 65, production of new episodes went on hiatus, and most of the Rugrats writing team left Klasky-Csupo. After the first-run days were over, Nickelodeon had enough episodes to show every day, and did just that, scheduling the show in the early evening, when both kids and parents would be watching, among multiple other times in the day; in 1996, Rugrats episodes had aired 655 times over the course of the calendar year, and despite (or perhaps because of) the saturation it remained one of cable television's most watched series that year.
 The show resumed production in 1996. However, the tensions between Klasky-Csupo and their former writers still existed.
After The Rugrats Movie and seeing the "new" Angelica in the film, Klasky changed her tune: "I think she's great for the show; I love Angelica."
Rugrats was Nickelodeon's second
Nicktoon, debuting on the same day as
Doug (which premiered before it) and
The Ren & Stimpy Show (which debuted after). The first run of the series was produced from 1990 to 1993 before production went on a hiatus (episodes that had not yet been released at that point continued to be released through 1994). Between 1995 and 1996, only two Jewish-themed specials premiered, and the rest of the series aired in reruns. Production on new episodes restarted in 1996, and the show aired in Nickelodeon's
SNICK block from 1997 to 2000. From 1994 until 2012, Rugrats was Nickelodeon's longest-running Nicktoon, with 172 episodes produced across its 13-year run. It was surpassed in 2012 by
SpongeBob SquarePants with the episode "Squiditis/Demolition Doofus" that year.
On July 21, 2001, Rugrats celebrated its 10-year anniversary; the special/TV movie "
All Growed Up" was produced for the occasion. After the show, a special retrospective lookback aired, entitled "Rugrats: Still Babies After All These Years". It was narrated by
Amanda Bynes. Nickelodeon approved of its ratings and popularity so much, they eventually commissioned a full series, All Grown Up, which ran from 2003 to 2008.
Rugrats ended in 2004, along with fellow Nicktoons
Hey Arnold! and
Rocket Power. After the run, two fairytale-themed direct-to-video films based on the original series, under the title Rugrats: Tales from the Crib, were produced and then released separately in 2005 and 2006.
Through its full run, Rugrats occupied several main voice actors.
E.G. Daily provided the voice of
Tommy Pickles, except in the unaired pilot where Tami Holbrook provided the voice;
Christine Cavanaugh was the original voice of Chuckie Finster, but left the show for personal reasons and was subsequently replaced by
Nancy Cartwright (voice of
Bart Simpson and others on FOX's
The Simpsons) in 2002. The fraternal twins,
Phil and Lil (as well as their mother, Betty) were voiced by
Kath Soucie; Dil Pickles and Timmy McNulty were voiced by
Cheryl Chase initially auditioned for the role of Tommy, but was passed up. When the show came to series, she was brought on board to be cast as the voice of
Dionne Quan was the voice of Kimi Finster. Susie was primarily voiced by
Cree Summer, though in two episodes where she could not be in attendance E.G. Daily filled in.
 Other regular voice actors included
Melanie Chartoff as Didi Pickles,
Jack Riley as Stu Pickles,
Tress MacNeille as Charlotte Pickles, and
Michael Bell as Drew Pickles and Chas Finster.
David Doyle provided the voice of Grandpa Lou Pickles until his death in 1997,
Joe Alaskey took over until the end of the series. In 2000,
Debbie Reynolds joined the cast as Lulu Pickles, Lou's second wife, and remained until the series' end.
Episodes took up to a year in advance to produce. First the story had to get written, and then approved. The next phase consisted of voice recording, storyboarding, pre-eliminating animation, overseas production and delivery, followed by editing and polishing. All of that had to happen even before
Klasky-Csupo sent the master tapes to Nick. In addition, fine animation took time to make. During the first six seasons of Rugrats, shows were primarily divided into two eleven-minute episodes. After the second movie, during season seven, Rugrats made a change with a different format that consisted of three episodes per show, though it returned to its original two-episode-per-show format in the final two seasons.