The goo, roughly the consistency of an egg white, was being squirted repeatedly on the teen actor Jamie Lynn Spears’ face.
Spears was shooting an episode of Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101” in which a costar accidentally sprays her with a yellowish-green liquid candy called a “goo pop.”
But Dan Schneider, the show’s meticulous creator, found problems with every take, Spears’ costar Alexa Nikolas recalled, making a crew member squirt the syringe of goo at Spears over and over again.
Then, in one take, the slime hit Spears squarely on her forehead, dripping down her face and mouth.
Schneider started laughing hysterically, Nikolas said. Others laughed as well, including Spears’ mother, who was on set at the time. Nikolas said she heard one of her male teenage castmates say, “It’s like a cum shot.”
That was the shot that made it into the show.
“We’re talking about a minor,” Nikolas said. “I think Jamie was 13, and they’re squirting stuff on her face to make it look a certain way.”
(Russell Hicks, Nickelodeon’s former president of content and production, said that a standards-and-practices group read every script for Schneider’s shows, that programming executives watched every episode, and that parents and caregivers were always on set. “Every single thing that Dan ever did on any of his shows was carefully scrutinized and approved,” Hicks wrote in a statement to Insider.)
(A person close to Schneider said that “the ‘goo’ was green, just like Nickelodeon’s famous slime,” adding: “This episode aired and was seen by millions of people and (to our knowledge) not one viewer ever had a concern.”)
At the time, around 2004, Schneider was on his way to becoming one of the most powerful people at Nickelodeon. Schneider joined the network in 1993 as a writer on “All That.” His first series, “The Amanda Show,” starring Amanda Bynes, established his brand of kid-friendly slapstick comedy. Subsequent hits like “Zoey 101,” “iCarly,” and “Victorious” helped turn Nickelodeon into a $10 billion-plus powerhouse, leading The New York Times to crown Schneider “the Norman Lear of children’s television.”
A heavyset former child star with a round face and rumpled button-downs, Schneider was obsessively hands-on as the creator, executive producer, and writer on his shows, according to his cast and crew. He maintained a constant presence on the set, chatting with teenage casts for hours after filming ended. Winning Schneider over could be a career-making move; he was known to craft bigger roles and even new series for his favorites.
“He was what every kid star wanted,” said Nikolas, who played Nicole Bristow on “Zoey 101.” “They wanted to be on his show.”
Despite Schneider’s success, whispers that he bullied crew members and became overly close with child actors have followed the 58-year-old for years. In 2018, Nickelodeon cut ties with Schneider after an investigation found he’d verbally abused colleagues. Nikolas, who has been outspoken about her negative experiences at Nickelodeon, told Insider that Schneider once yelled at her so harshly when she was 13 that she broke down in tears.
Writers, actors, and crew members told Insider they were disturbed by sexualized scenes in Schneider’s scripts, such as the goo-pop shot or one in which a teenage Victoria Justice had food rubbed on her bare stomach. And in a gender-discrimination and hostile-workplace claim made in 2000 that has not previously been made public, a writer on “The Amanda Show” said Schneider had made her uncomfortable by persistently requesting massages, according to two people with knowledge of the case.
Some people who worked with Schneider requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, but their identities are known to Insider.
Rumors of Schneider’s misconduct exploded into widespread speculation earlier in August when the “iCarly” star Jennette McCurdy published her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” In the book, McCurdy describes an “iCarly” “Creator” who pressured her into drinking alcohol, gave her an unwanted massage, and pitted young actors against one another.
Many of the 15 former child actors who spoke with Insider maintain warm relationships with Schneider. “Dan cared about the kids on his shows even when sometimes their own families unfortunately did not,” Hicks wrote. “He was the shoulder they cried on when something happened to them. He understood what they were going through.”
But several writers and crew members said Schneider created an uncomfortable, bizarre environment that he ruled over like a fiefdom. Schneider was Nickelodeon’s breadwinner, giving him immense power, and child actors and their families would do anything to win him over. One longtime writer said it took years before he understood what he now describes as the “maddening, disgusting, controlling little bubble” that Schneider created.
“It’s why people stayed for so long and never said anything” publicly, the longtime writer said. “It was very effective.”
For many Nickelodeon actors, life at the network was surreal, the “Amanda Show” actor Raquel Lee told Insider.
For every normal preteen activity, like Bynes making friendship bracelets for Lee, there was an only-in-Hollywood moment, such as Bynes’ pop-star boyfriend Aaron Carter showing up on the set. Lee, who went on to act on the Disney Channel show “The Proud Family,” recalls child stars scrambling to buy luxury cars before they were even old enough to have licenses, with Kyla Pratt once pulling up to the “Proud Family” set in a brand-new Lexus at 14.
In the early 2000s, one of the most coveted child-acting gigs was on a Schneider show — a goofy laugh-track-backed universe filled with gags like the spaghetti taco, an “iCarly” punchline so buzzy that it was written up in The Times. Being cast by Schneider opened up a world of crossovers and spin-offs, with payouts that could change a family’s life. Miranda Cosgrove, who was said to have earned $180,000 an episode as Carly on “iCarly,” bought a $2.65 million home at 19. In his memoir, Josh Peck wrote that he made about $450,000 over five years of filming “Drake & Josh.” Backstage reported in 2012 that most child-star series regulars earned just $5,000 to $7,000 a week before taxes and expenses, which a parent of three child actors said could reduce weekly take-home pay to a mere $500.
Actors, and sometimes their parents, vied for Schneider’s attention. Some parents were so desperate for Schneider to notice their children, Nikolas said, that they would “physically push” them toward him. Everyone took careful note of his favorite stars, with the “Zoey 101” star Matthew Underwood’s mother counting the number of lines each actor had in every episode, Nikolas said.
It was an environment, Lee said, that brought out the worst in people.
“Out of desperation, people will do a lot of things,” she said. Desperation, Lee added, is “how the industry feeds itself.”
Those on set said Schneider relished being “with the cool kids,” in the words of a former crew member, often palling around with his teenage stars.
Schneider took the young actors out to dinner, invited them to his house for holiday parties, and — to the annoyance of some in the writers room — delayed writing scripts for hours as he socialized with the stars on the set. The Nickelodeon powerhouse took multiple photos with teenage actresses sitting on his lap, something Nikolas said was common on the set of “Zoey 101.”
Schneider was so close to Bynes that in 2002, when she was 16, People magazine reported, she sought to live with him and his wife while attempting to emancipate herself. Schneider’s wife, Lisa Lillien, has said that though Bynes “was spending a lot of time with us,” she never moved in.
Some of Schneider’s colleagues questioned the amount of time he spent chatting and texting with young actors, though the person close to Schneider told Insider: “Dan always had a rule for himself when texting anyone under age 18. That rule was text like their parents and the whole world are reading, too.”
While Schneider could be a mentor for some, others saw him as a bully. The actor Angelique Bates recalled Schneider screaming at her after an “All That” sketch went off the rails, to the point that she ran away, crying. Her mother corroborated the incident to Insider. The person close to Schneider said that Schneider “never screamed at anyone” but speculated that perhaps Bates “got upset” with “some direction Dan was giving her.”
In her memoir, McCurdy wrote that “The Creator” — who goes unnamed but is assumed to be Schneider — “fired a six-year-old on the spot for messing up a few lines on a rehearsal day.” (The person close to Schneider said he “never fired a 6-year-old on set” but that “all actors,” regardless of age, “have to perform the job, or they have to be replaced.”) McCurdy recalled The Creator giving her an unwanted massage and wrote that he also pitted the casts of the different shows against one another. Once, when McCurdy was 18, she wrote, The Creator pressured her to sip his whisky mixed with coffee and cream by telling her the “Victorious” cast would “get drunk together all the time.” (McCurdy hasn’t said why she kept The Creator anonymous, and she declined Insider’s request for an interview.)
Lee, who was cut from “The Amanda Show” at 13 after one season, said Schneider treated her as though she were disposable.
“It’s not about being a human. It’s not about being a child. They don’t care about that,” Lee said. “They care that I have this show that’s worth a lot of money, and my job and life depends on this show being successful.”
Nikolas said Schneider could be volatile and described the on-set environment as “traumatizing.” Once, Britney Spears intervened in the contentious relationship between Nikolas and Jamie Lynn Spears. Nikolas said the pop star screamed at and berated her, leaving her sobbing in the fetal position. Schneider set up a meeting to discuss the situation. Nikolas remembers being summoned into a large conference room with Nickelodeon executives, alone. Nikolas, who was 13 at the time, said Schneider started yelling at her, telling her it was “not called ‘Nicole 101’; it’s called ‘Zoey 101.'” She recalled silently crying, as executives nodded along to Schneider’s tirade. (Nikolas’ mother, Alexandra Nikolas, corroborated the incident to Insider.)
Afterward, Nikolas told her mother she wanted to quit “Zoey 101.” Her mother demanded that Nickelodeon release Nikolas from her contract, and less than a week later, she was off the show.
“I was so happy to get out of there,” Nikolas said. “It was the best day of my fucking life.”
Writers and crew members had their own problems with Schneider. Six writers described working for him as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the success of Schneider’s shows provided rare stability in a chaotic industry. On the other, he regularly demanded 14-plus-hour days and expected writers and crew members to be available “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” a former writer said.
A writer who worked with Schneider for years said that when he finally quit, the creator tried to erase his name from unaired episodes before being told it was impossible and illegal to do so.
“If you were in his favor, work was joyful and fun,” Christy Stratton, a writer for “The Amanda Show,” said. “But if you upset him — even unintentionally — he would burn you to the ground.”
Female writers suffered their own particular brand of indignity.
While many of Schneider’s leading actors were teenage girls, including Jamie Lynn Spears, Ariana Grande of “Victorious,” and Cosgrove of “iCarly,” Schneider once “openly stated he didn’t like having female writers in the writers room” and rarely hired them, a longtime Nickelodeon writer said. None of Schneider’s shows credited more than two female writers in the entirety of their runs; “Zoey 101” and “Drake & Josh” had zero.
Kayla Alpert said that on her first day writing for “All That,” Schneider declared that women were not funny and dared her to name a single funny woman. “It speaks to something very dark and very wrong,” Alpert said.
(The person close to Schneider said this is “untrue” and added that Schneider “really likes Tina Fey,” “reveres Lucille Ball,” and “often cites Ariana Grande as one of the funniest actors he’s ever worked with.”)
In 2000, Jenny Kilgen, one of two female writers on “The Amanda Show” at the time, accused Storybook Productions — the production company for the series — of gender discrimination and of creating a hostile work environment, two people with direct knowledge of the claim told Insider. Schneider was not named as a party, but during the mediation proceedings Kilgen said she was uncomfortable with Schneider’s repeated requests for massages, according to the two people.
As part of the mediation, the other female writer on “The Amanda Show” wrote a letter, which Insider viewed, in which she said Schneider asked her and Kilgen to perform embarrassing activities for money and to massage his shoulders. The writer wrote that Schneider once pressured her into simulating “being sodomized” while she was telling a story about high school, to her embarrassment.
The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, the two people said, and Kilgen left the television industry. When contacted by Insider, Kilgen declined to comment.
Schneider was known to hug female crew members for extended periods “as a joke,” making people uncomfortable, two crew members said.
Numerous Nickelodeon staffers said Schneider asked for massages from adult female colleagues throughout his time at the network. Kerry Mellin, who worked as a costumer on Schneider’s shows for 14 years, and another costumer said Schneider received weekly massages from a third member of the costume team. Both said Schneider would ask the woman to reach under his shirt to massage him.
The person close to Schneider said Schneider “regrets ever asking anyone and agrees it was not appropriate, even though it only happened in public settings.”
“It was humiliating to observe a respected colleague having to do this,” Mellin said.
Schneider’s power at Nickelodeon meant his shows continued to be greenlighted despite allegations that he created a hostile work environment.
It also meant he could push the envelope more than your typical show creator, some people who worked with him said.
One writer recalled Schneider receiving an email with a few minor notes from Nickelodeon’s standards department. Schneider displayed the email on a large monitor in the writers room. Instead of addressing concerns, the writer said, Schneider responded point by point with gibberish — writing “flippity floo” and “flippity flam” — to “make this big show of thumbing his nose at the network.” On-set employees rarely pushed back against Schneider, another writer said, because “you just didn’t cross Dan — he was a really scary presence.”
And while the network had a multitiered system to review content before it aired, some said it did not always succeed in preventing footage that could be viewed as inappropriate.
Two people recalled Schneider fighting with Nickelodeon over teenage actresses’ costumes on “Victorious,” with Schneider — who signed off on all outfits — campaigning for the skimpier options.
In one battle, the network thought a skirt for Justice, then 17, was too short, while Schneider thought it was perfect, according to a writer and the costumer Kerry Mellin. The writer said Nickelodeon and Schneider compromised by making the skirt “3 inches longer.”
Daniella Monet, who started filming “Victorious” when she was 18, making her the eldest of the teenage cast members, told Insider some of the actors’ outfits were “not age appropriate.”
“I wouldn’t even wear some of that today as an adult,” Monet added.
Swimwear was also a contested topic, a different writer said, as Schneider campaigned for teen actresses to wear “whatever was the most revealing.” In her memoir, McCurdy wrote that she was pressured to wear a bikini on “iCarly,” with the head of wardrobe telling her The Creator explicitly asked for two-piece swimsuits.
The person close to Schneider said all costumes “were seen and approved by dozens of people, including the parents of the actors, and the state-licensed teachers on set.” Mellin said that no one would force child actors to wear outfits if they voiced discomfort and that she did not feel Nickelodeon sexualized child actors more than other shows did.
However, she said, people were reluctant to voice concerns to Schneider because they wanted to keep their jobs.
“It’s an imbalance of power,” Mellin said. “Jennette felt it, the designer felt it, I felt it, all of us feel it.”
Innuendo is not uncommon on children’s television; the person close to Schneider said Schneider would “include some jokes intended for the parents.” But four writers and crew members said Schneider proposed scenes they felt were overly sexual for teenagers on a children’s show.
A video showing scenes from Grande’s time on “Victorious” went viral this summer; it includes several shots of Grande putting her big toe in her mouth, as well as pouring water on herself as she hangs upside down on her bed.
One scene shows Grande with her eyes closed, moaning and squeezing a potato in both hands, begging it to “give up the juice.” The sketch, as well as the ones involving Grande’s nibbling her toe and pouring water on herself, is from a series of online extras that a database from Writers Guild of America West credits Schneider with writing. (A person close to Schneider said that these credits were “part of Dan’s deal to get writing credit” but that these “specific sketches referred to were not written by Dan.”) Two writers said Schneider was almost singularly responsible for this online content, which they felt could sometimes be inappropriate, especially in the early seasons of “Victorious” when the Grande sketches were filmed. One said writers “largely avoided set when the web shows were being shot because they were largely very cringe.”
The longtime Nickelodeon writer recalled feeling uncomfortable with another online extra in which the cast rubbed food on Victoria Justice’s exposed midriff, turning her “into a hamburger” and squirting her with condiments. Monet said that after filming a “Victorious” scene in which she ate a pickle while applying lip gloss, she reached out to the network to express concern that it may be too sexual to air. The network aired it anyway.
Monet emphasized that Schneider is not the only one to blame. The network, as well as the department of standards and practices, had to sign off on everything. Monet added that Schneider’s male-dominated writers rooms could result in some hypersexualized content.
Most of “Victorious,” Monet said, was “very PC, funny, silly, friendly, chill.”
“But once in a while,” she said, there’d be a moment like the pickle scene.
“Do I wish certain things, like, didn’t have to be so sexualized?” Monet said. “Yeah. A hundred percent.”
For years Schneider’s behavior went unchecked by Nickelodeon as he created hit after hit.
Then, in 2013, Nickelodeon launched an investigation into inappropriate behavior on the set of “Sam & Cat” after complaints from McCurdy and Grande about a producer on the show, someone with knowledge of the investigation said. They said the investigation concluded that Schneider had contributed to the “toxicity.”
McCurdy wrote in her memoir that The Creator was “no longer allowed to be on set with any actors.” Two people who worked at Nickelodeon at the time corroborated this to Insider.
McCurdy wrote that The Creator was confined to a “small cave-like room off to the side of the soundstage, surrounded by piles of cold cuts, his favorite snack, and Kids’ Choice Awards blimps, his most cherished life accomplishment.” An assistant director had to run across the soundstage to give notes, McCurdy wrote, extending shoot days to 17 hours from about 13.
Hicks told Insider that Schneider was “never banned from the Sam & Cat set at any time.”
“Sam & Cat” was canceled in 2014. Schneider went on to create two more shows with Nickelodeon: the tween sitcom “Game Shakers” and a superhero series called “Henry Danger.”
But online rumors of Schneider’s supposed misdeeds became so widespread in late 2017 and early 2018 that Nickelodeon’s parent company, ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global), launched another internal investigation into Schneider’s “alleged sexual behavior,” someone with knowledge of the investigation told Insider. The investigation found no evidence of sexual misconduct but did conclude Schneider could be verbally abusive. ViacomCBS cut ties with Schneider in 2018. ViacomCBS executives who flew to Los Angeles to tell Schneider the news were anxious he might retaliate, the same person said.
In 2019, Nikolas, who had been speaking out about her negative experiences at Nickelodeon, said she was contacted by a lawyer for Schneider’s production company, Schneider’s Bakery. The lawyer said he and Schneider would love to have a conversation and reach “an agreement” with her, Nikolas recalled. She said she turned the lawyer down.
“I know for a fact that guy’s a creep,” Nikolas said she told the lawyer.
The person close to Schneider said a representative called Nikolas to tell her that she “could get into legal trouble for making false accusations about someone (in this case, Dan) — even if vague.”
Schneider disappeared from the public eye for three years, but he resurfaced in a 2021 Times profile about his absence from children’s television. The Times broke the news that Nickelodeon had investigated Schneider in 2018 before cutting ties with him. But many felt that the profile — in which a smiling Schneider, photographed reclining under a tree, teased a comeback, saying he had written and sold a pilot to an unnamed network — read like a puff piece.
Liz Feldman, who wrote on “All That” as a teenager and is now the showrunner for Netflix’s “Dead to Me,” replied to a tweet about the article, writing: “I worked for Schneider 25 yrs ago. I can confirm inappropriate behavior was happening even then. #metoo.” Feldman declined to speak with Insider about Schneider.
Schneider maintains good relationships with many former stars, including Sean Flynn of “Zoey 101” and Lisa Foiles of “All That.” Former Nickelodeon actors say he also remains close with Grande, the most successful of the actors he plucked from obscurity, even attending one of the pop star’s concerts in 2019 at her invitation.
“I love Dan Schneider,” Foiles said. “He is a magic man. I think you can tell when something has had the Dan Schneider touch. He just has this level of comedic timing.”
Schneider’s pilot still hasn’t aired. Some who worked with him said it seemed unlikely that any network would hire him after the publication of McCurdy’s memoir. He’s spent the past year singing the praises of his former stars online, wishing them happy birthday on Facebook, congratulating Leon Thomas of “Victorious” on making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, and watching Grande on “The Voice.” But since the publication of McCurdy’s memoir, he’s gone dark on social media. He hasn’t publicly responded to McCurdy’s veiled allegations.
Some are optimistic that McCurdy’s book will have a domino effect bringing more to light about Schneider and Nickelodeon. Alpert hopes a reexamination of Schneider’s behavior draws attention to other “toxic male bosses” who have thrived in Hollywood. She said executives had long let bad behavior slide because so much money was at stake.
Nikolas recently held a protest outside Nickelodeon’s headquarters calling for the entertainment industry to better protect child actors.
“He’s not a good guy,” Nikolas said of Schneider, adding that countless kids have trauma because of him. “And Nickelodeon was just letting it happen.”
The goo, roughly the consistency of an egg white, was being squirted repeatedly on the teen actor Jamie Lynn Spears’ face.