Head Of The Classless

Dan Schneider has basically spent almost his entire life within the vicinity of a soundstage.  As a teen actor, he was part of the ensemble cast of the modestly successful ABC sitcom HEAD OF THE CLASS, where he portrayed, as Wikipedia described him, the overweight, wisecracking cynic Dennis Blunden , a computer whiz whose fields were chemistry and physics and who had a knack for getting the socially inept Arvid (his purported best friend) involved in various schemes. His scenes were frequently the source of comic relief, qualified by the standards of mediocrity otherwise ascribable to this show, effectively the flip side of an earlier ABC and Warner Brothers show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER–only this time it was the gifted students, and not the “Sweathogs”–that were the focus and it was none other than Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, doing a stand-up routine for his high schoolers, and with far weaker Groucho Marx impressions than the much better-written (IMHO) Gabriel Kaplan had in his repetoire.

Schneider went on to move behind the camera and was the ostensible brains behind a series of cost-effective and wildly popular comedies for Nickelodeon during the late 1990s and early 2000s.  As THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Etan Vlessing rattled off in an article dropped yesterday, (t)he former…producer created hit programs for the network like All That, Drake & Josh, iCarly and Sam & Cat, and helped launch the careers of the likes of Kenan Thompson, Amanda Bynes, Victoria Justice, Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy and others. To Viacom, he was effectively the Norman Lear of shows for the 2-17 demo.

Except any other comparison to Lear as a human being would now be an insult to his memory and, based on what was revealed in the recent four-part Investigation Discovery documentary QUIET ON  SET, wholly untrue.  The documentary, which per the creative spin doctors at ID has been seen by 16 million viewers to date, gargantuan for an otherwise forgotten “zombie network” (that, to be sure, was still one of the Top 25 of those that still exist in 2023 -albeit with an average audience of a mere 546,000) chronicled a career that Vlessing described as anything but kid-friendly:

Quiet on Set highlighted how Schneider’s scripts allegedly sexualized Ariana Grande, Bynes and Jamie Lynn Spears, among others, when they were child actors. And those claims have long been part of clips and compilations on YouTube and social media platforms that are denouncing Schneider as the creator and showrunner of those series.

Schneider, who parted ways with Nickelodeon six years ago after many of these allegations came to light, immediately took to social media to offer up his version of an apology, to address what USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler summised as claims of racism and bullying workplaces to truly horrifying accounts of alleged sexual assault, the documentary suggests there was darkness behind all of Nick’s bright green slime.  Vlessing reported the spin that came from Schneider’s camp in the wake of his softball sitdown:

In a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, a representative for Schneider says, “Dan absolutely never intended for any of those jokes that are now being seen as sexualized content to be anything other than funny for kids. Kids don’t look at things the same way as adults. The jokes were funny for kids, and only funny. But now, 20 to 25 years later, adults are looking at a handful of those jokes and looking at them through adult lenses and it’s making some people uncomfortable. So Dan thinks those jokes should be cut from the reruns.

But in the week and day since Schneider dropped that video and statement, per Vlessing again, crickets.

But after making the public call in the apology video, Schneider has not contacted Nickelodeon or other Paramount platforms that make classic Nickelodeon series available for viewing, THR has confirmed. (Paramount Global is the owner of CBS, Paramount+, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and other media brands.)

So anyone can still relive their own childhood memories in what one would hope would be a more detached manner than those who actually worked on these shows, via YouTube, X or a site purpotedly still tied to Schneider called THE SLAP.

Memories like this one recounted to Vlessing:

Alexa Nikolas, who co-starred with Jamie Lynn Spears on Zoey 101, has…spoken out about the wardrobe choices she claims were hand-picked by Schneider that included miniskirts that were “so short” the costume designers had to give her biker shorts to wear underneath. However, the biker shorts were too long, poking out under the tiny skirts, so they had to be cut. “Dan wants these skirts; he’s the one handpicking them and he has all creative control. It’s pretty scary looking back at that experience,” she told THR. (A rep for Schneider did not respond to THR‘s comment request.)

Or the more chilling ones which Katelyn Mensah of RADIOTIMES.com chronicled:

The series also features revelations from Drake Bell about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of former dialogue coach Brian Peck. Peck was convicted of committing a lewd act against an unnamed minor in 2004 and was sentenced to 16 months in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender.

And, one would pray, nothing like the rumored ones that have allegedly plagued one particularly popular alum, as covered by SNOPES’ Nikki Dobrin yesterday:

In the aftermath of the release of…”Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,”… rumors resurfaced about former child star Amanda Bynes.  Bynes, known for her roles in late-’90s Nickelodeon show “All That” and the eponymous sketch-comedy series “The Amanda Show,” has long been the subject of numerous social media discussions, gaining traction on platforms like TikTokYouTube and Reddit. One prominent rumor was the unsubstantiated claim that Bynes was impregnated at age 13 by Dan Schneider, a former Nickelodeon writer and producer who has faced serious allegations of misconduct.

As is almost always the case when something comes out of almost nowhere with massive numbers and sustaining virality, there’s still more QUIET ON SET coming .  As CNET’s Kourtnee Jackson reported yesterday:

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV is releasing a new episode, and viewers will hear more from former Nickelodeon cast members and their reactions to the docuseries. Titled Breaking the Silence, the new installment includes Drake Bell and other former child actors, and Soledad O’Brien will lead a discussion on kids in the entertainment industry. Episode 5 of the docuseries will air live on Investigation Discovery, and will also be available to stream on Max on Sunday, April 7, at 8 p.m.ET/7 p.m. CT. 

We may see some responses to Schneider’s response, as this was only greenlit in the past few days.  Schneider and his representatives attempted to remind us that he may have been complicit, but he was not alone in it.  Again per Vlessing:

“Everything that happened on the shows Dan ran was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults, and approved by the network. Had there been any scenes or outfits that were inappropriate in any way, they would have been flagged and blocked by this multilayered scrutiny.”

Former Nickelodeon president of content Russell Hicks had added in a separate statement to THR: “There is a standards and practices group that reads every script and programming executives looking at every episode. Add to that every day on every set, were the parents and caregivers and their friends watching every single frame of footage and listening to every joke. Every single thing that Dan ever did on any of his shows was carefully scrutinized and approved by executives at Nickelodeon.”

Indeed, Nickelodeon executives should have a chance to weigh in.  One in particular appears to be extremely qualified to do so.  His name is Brian Robbins, and besides being the current head of the network, as well as Paramount Pictures, he was also Schneider’s co-star on HEAD OF THE CLASS.  Before he and Mike Tollin became prolific producers, and even before he briefly hosted a children’s version of PICTIONARY.  Before he was a producer of ALL THAT, and a contemporary of Schneider’s when a lot of his abusive behavior was going on.

Nickelodeon still produces children’s sitcoms, at least until Shari Redstone finds a willing buyer for her crumbling empire.  Robbins is certainly an executive who carries some clout.  A statement of some kind, a vow to do better.  At least to quell the concerns raised by Lawler in her piece:

At the end of “Quiet,” many of the actors urge more regulation, tougher laws and other safeguards to keep future young actors safe. Bell struggles with whether kids should be allowed to act, clinging to the special experiences and good memories he has from his childhood, even as he relives his trauma. Many of the participants, however, say they would never let their own children near a Hollywood set. I can’t help but empathize.  Will the documentary change anything? It’s hard to be optimistic. For one, children’s TV, even past its peak, is a big business, and we are hard-pressed to interrupt corporate profits for anything in this country, even for kids. And as a society we keep inventing new ways to exploit minors for the profits of adults. Even as “Quiet” has encouraged a conversation about child actors, who at least have some legal protection, there is a wild west of child influencers on TikTok and Instagram. On social media, the “set” is the children’s own homes and the “producers” are their parents, who are under no legal obligation to share the profits with their famous kids, or to protect their privacy or mental health.

As an exceptionally high-ranking and well-compensated executive of influence, Robbins has a moral obligation to at least comment.  At bare minimum, to get his onetime co-star to actually make good on at least one of the empty promises he made in his video.  Make the damn edits.  Make it at least harder for teens and immature adults to rewatch the mistakes of the past.

It’s time for at least someone from Charlie Moore’s intellectually gifted class to step up and show the world that they were fit for that education.  And that they made have learned something along the way.  If Dan Schneider’s “apology” is the best they could do, I’m afraid they were the Sweathogs after all.

Until next time…

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