KPF EXCLUSIVE: "iCarly" and "Victorious" Creator Shares How to Make a Successful TV Series!
Dan Schneider, the writer and producer of the hilarious movies Big, Fat Liar and Good Burger, is also the creator, exec producer and showrunner of Nickelodeon's hit TV shows "iCarly" and "Victorious." Additionally, his Schneider's Bakery production company is behind previous kid hits "Drake and Josh," "Zoey 101," "The Amanda Show," Kenan and Kel," and "What I Like About You," and Schneider got his TV start as an exec producer on "All That."
So, just how has Schneider (who got his start as a kid actor in the John Cusack-starrer Better Off Dead and the 1980s TV high-school set TV series "Head of the Class") made so many successful and funny TV series?
Schneider gives KidsPickFlicks Schneider's Bakery's recipe for success:
Write comedies the whole family can enjoy, not just kids. First of all, Schneider's shows don't talk down to kids. "I made the decision not to make dumb, silly kids' shows. I want to make shows that follow in the footsteps of The Charles Brothers ("Cheers," "Taxi"), Larry Gelbart ("M*A*S*H") and Larry David ("Seinfeld," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"); I try to make more sophisticated comedies and sometimes put in some broad, slapstick comedy," he says.
Cast talent who are REAL kids, not glamorous types. "I try to cast talented, real, good kids. I try to cast kids who you wouldn't necessarily see on competing shows or networks," he says. Even though Schneider runs the whole company producing two series, he is personally involved in the casting of EVERY actor, even if the character only has one line.
Casting has led to all of his future success because every show and movie he's made since "All That" has led to the next project. "All That" actors Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were spun off into the series "Kenan and Kel" which led to the feature film Good Burger. Jamie Lynn Spears was another cast member of "All That" who was put into her own show, "Zoey 101" where Schneider discovered Victoria Justice, now the star of "Victorious." Amanda Bynes is another actress who owes her career to Schneider -- he took her from "All That" and put her into "The Amanda Show" which spawned Big, Fat Liar and the WB's "What I Like About You" -- all Schneider's Bakery productions. "The Amanda Show" led to Drake Bell and Josh Peck being put into their own TV show "Drake and Josh" where Miranda Cosgrove played their little sister before Schneider created "iCarly" for her.
Hire great writers with a random, quirky sense of humor. "I try to hire great, great writers whom I depend on a lot. I like random, quirky, offbeat humor. Like George the Bra Who Tells Ghost Stories...I like that "what ... WHAT?" humor. I like the audience to be surprised by it."
By the way, Schneider's wacky sense of humor comes from his family dinners as a child. "I come from a funny family who always had dinner together at the table. I have three sisters and I'm the baby. The big score is if you could make someone laugh so they could spit their water out. I learned comedic timing from waiting until someone had a mouthful of water [and then hit the punch line]," he says.
Don't settle for good enough. "Another ingredient if I had a magic formula is really hard work. We don't phone it in and we stay late if we need to. I don't settle and I believe the audience deserves the best I've got.
Keep working with the same people until it's a science. "We're a very unusual ship, the Schneider's Bakery ship. We stay in constant production so we never go down. Because of that, I keep the same family all year round, year after year after year. That's unusual in TV because all jobs are really temp jobs. But I have the same production designer, the same costume designer, the same props master, the same casting director, the same key grip: we have this same family who have been working together on literally everything I've done, at least for Nickelodeon," Schneider says. "We have a shorthand together and a family together. I hear it all the time: we'll have a guest star [or someone come to the set] and say, 'I've never been in such a warm, fun environment' and they feel the family vibe in this place. There's no tension other than the clock."
If you're making kids shows, don't grow up. "I'm very much a big kid. I kinda never grew up. I never became the serious grown up I never wanted to become," he says. The Peter Pan even married a Tinkerbell rather than a Wendy who shared his passion for staying young. "I have a very funny wife, Lisa (better known as "The Hungry Girl" who has a show on The Cooking Channel that premieres Jan. 8!). She's REALLY funny. Let's put it this way: when my mother came to visit our home I said, 'Mom, what do you think?' and she said, 'Hmmmm....it looks like teenagers with money live here!'"
The one-hour "iCarly" episode "iSaved Your Life" was the most-watched TV show on cable for all ages in 2010.
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