Ethan Alter, Yahoo News
Back in ’90s and early 2000s, Nickelodeon was one of the biggest names in children’s entertainment. Behind the scenes, though, the environment was reportedly far from family friendly. In recent weeks, a number of former Nickelodeon stars — including Jennette McCurdy and Alexa Nikolas — have opened up about their experiences at the network, with disturbing allegations about working conditions and the behavior of superstar producer Dan Schneider, who ‘The New York Times‘ once called “the Norman Lear of children’s television.” Here’s what you need to know about this unfolding story.
Who is Dan Schneider?
The Tennessee-born producer, 56, began his Hollywood career as an actor in ’80s teen-oriented movies and TV shows like Better Off Dead and Head of the Class. The latter series introduced him to Brian Robbins, who later became a director and is now the current president and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon.
In 1988, he and Robbins co-hosted Nickelodeon’s second Kids’ Choice Awards and became acquainted with comedy development executive Albie Hecht. He joined the writing staff of the sketch comedy series All That in the early ’90s, penning material for such future stars as Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell.
Over the next few years, Schneider created such breakout hits as The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101 and iCarly. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, flanked by many of the young performers he worked with.
To the surprise of many, Schneider and Nickelodeon parted ways in 2018, releasing a joint statement that announced he would be pursuing “other opportunities and projects.” The producer largely disappeared from the public sphere after that.
In 2021, ‘The New York Times’ reported that an investigation launched by Nickelodeon’s then-parent company, ViacomCBS, revealed allegations of verbal abuse. At the same time, internet critics compiled scenes from his shows that featured questionable content. Speaking with the Times, Schneider stood by his tenure and called the content complaints “ridiculous.”
What is Jennette McCurdy saying?
Born in 1992, Jennette McCurdy’s acting career began with guest spots on TV shows like Malcolm in the Middle and Will & Grace. She landed her breakout role as Sam Puckett on iCarly in 2007 when she was 15. McCurdy later received her own spinoff series, Sam & Cat, opposite Ariana Grande and departed Nickelodeon after the show was canceled in 2014.
In her new memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, McCurdy reveals her turbulent experiences as a child star, describing battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and eating disorders. As the book’s title implies, she also had a combative relationship with her mother, Debra, who died in 2013.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, McCurdy says that Nickelodeon executives limited her from pursuing career opportunities outside the network. Her book also alleges that a “Creator” of iCarly — who may or may not be Schneider — gave her unwanted massages and pressured her to drink alcohol.
I’m Glad My Mom Died also alleges that the unnamed iCarly “Creator” pressured McCurdy to wear a revealing swimsuit for one episode. Schneider allegedly encouraged all of the network’s teen actresses to wear “whatever was the most revealing.”
After Sam & Cat was canceled, McCurdy alleges that she was offered $300,000 from Nickelodeon to never publicly discuss her experiences. She turned the offer down.
What is Alexa Nikolas saying?
Born in 1992, former child star Alexa Nikolas landed her first big Nickelodeon role as Nicole Bristow on 2005’s Zoey 101 opposite Jamie Lynn Spears. She left the show at the end of the second season amid reports of a feud with Spears.
In a recent interview with Insider, Nikolas remembered meeting with Spears and Schneider when she was 13 to discuss their contentious relationship, and the producer started yelling at her. After that meeting, the actress told her mother that she wanted to quit the series, and Nickelodeon ultimately released her from her contract.
Following the publication of McCurdy’s memoir, Nikolas staged a protest outside of Nickelodeon’s headquarters with a sign reading: “Nickelodeon didn’t protect me.” Speaking with TMZ, she described her time at the network as “traumatic.”
In an Instagram Live filmed at the scene of her protest, she mentioned Schneider by name. “I did not feel safe around Dan Schneider while I was working at Nickelodeon,” she said, also suggesting that he was, “the creator of childhood trauma.”
What are other Nickelodeon stars saying?
Besides McCurdy and Nikolas, former child actress Daniella Monet — who played Trina Vega on the hit show Victorious — has come forward to discuss Schneider’s actions. Monet said that she felt her costumes on the series “were not age appropriate” and also called out a scene where she ate a pickle while putting on lip gloss, claiming it was “sexualized.”
A new piece on Insider details additional allegations from 15 former child stars who worked with Schneider at Nickelodeon. The Amanda Show actress Raquel Lee described an atmosphere where all of the young performers competed for Schneider’s attention. “Out of desperation, people will do a lot of things,” Lee noted.
Meanwhile, writers who worked on Schneider-created series shared their own memories, alleging that the producer seemed particularly hostile to female writers. Others allege that Schneider requested massages from female colleagues and also hugged female crew members, making them uncomfortable.
In a statement provided to Insider, Russell Hicks, former president of content and production at Nickelodeon, said that “Every single thing that Dan ever did on any of his shows was carefully scrutinized and approved.” Schneider himself wasn’t interviewed for the story.