Monday, August 31, 2009

Secrets of the King of Tween

iCarly Creator, Dan Schneider (second from left).

Fortunately, the show's creator, Dan Schneider, is a one-man comic spark. He barks out the order: Bring in the flash paper that will be placed inside one of the young actor's smoothie-shop cups. The scene starts again, the smoke effect goes off -- pop! -- without anyone getting singed, and hilarity ensues.

Meanwhile, the career of the man behind it all remains relentlessly, well, on fire.

Schneider, a former teen actor (TV's "Head of the Class"), is arguably the most successful tween-show creator/producer of his generation: He has shepherded seven straight hits, helping to launch the careers of such young actors as Amanda Bynes, Jamie Lynn Spears, Drake Bell and Josh Peck, and now Cosgrove. His latest Nickelodeon project, "Victorious," is a "Fame"-esque comedy that stars Victoria Justice.

What's his secret? Here are seven Ingredients for Success we came up with after cornering the creator, his stars and his colleagues:

It's acting, not 'drama.' As a veteran of some unpleasant sets while a young actor, Schneider has a rule: "There's no drama on set, even if the show is a drama." Jerry Trainor, the physically gifted actor (think a 30ish Jim Carrey) who plays Carly's elder brother/quasi-guardian, concurs. "It's so much fun on the set," he says.

Don't talk down to the kids. Even interacting with tweens on the set, Schneider has a knack for talking to them, not at them. "He knows what kids like," Cosgrove says. "It's really difficult -- it's harder than people think: to make kids laugh but not insult them. He's really good at that."

Have an uncanny eye for talent. Schneider discovered Cosgrove when she was 8 and soon cast her in "Drake & Josh." And he cast Justice in the Emmy-nominated "Zoey 101" when she was barely a teenager, the actress says. Now, Schneider is convinced Justice is poised to be a breakout performer.

Show loyalty. "The core of Dan the person is that he is loyal, and he looks [for ways] to use people he likes," says Trainor, whom Schneider first cast in "Drake & Josh." "He's got that memory."

Embrace techno toys. "I love the Web in a big way," says Schneider, who on set looks like a grown-up video-gamer, as he types script notes on a laptop, eyes the camera angles and posts Twitpics. He first tried to give a character a Web show about a decade ago, with "The Amanda Show" -- but he was too far ahead of the curve. With "iCarly," the timing dovetailed perfectly. "He dials in to what kids already do," Trainor says.

Find that funny word. As a writer, Schneider can offer a mini-thesis on why "banana" is funnier than "apple." And if he can't find that just-right word, well, he'll make it up. For one episode, "I made up the word 'hobknocker,'" recounts Schneider, citing a coinage meaning "fool."

Work around the clock. As he embarks on his eighth straight show, Schneider does admit to one downside: He feels like "an engine that never gets a chance to relax," and says he works 100 hours a week.

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