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Saturday, May 2, 2009

30 Questions - 30 Answers from Dan

Hey you guys!

Last month, my friends at Live Journal (at the Groovy Smoothie community) put together a list of 30 questions for me. I answered all 30!

Now, I thought I'd post the questions and my answers again, for my Twitter followers. I wrote all answers myself, personally...

Before you go on, I feel I should warn you! This might only be interesting to the iCarly "super-fans" out there. If you're just an occasional, casual iCarly viewer, you might find this stuff really boring. My suggestion is: scroll through all the questions, see which ones are interesting to you, and read those answers only.

Or, if you are an iCarly super-fan, feel free to read 'em all!

30 QUESTIONS: ANSWERED BY DAN SCHNEIDER

QUESTION #1: Is there an episode or season limit for how long iCarly can continue being produced?

DAN: No, there really are no limits. I'd say there are FOUR main factors in determining how long a series continues.

(A) Ratings: If a show isn't drawing a big enough audience, the network will cancel the series. Luckily, that's not a concern for iCarly, because it's currently the most popular TV show on all of Nickelodeon and Disney. In 2008, iCarly drew significantly more viewers than Hannah Montana. And iCarly continues to climb even higher above the pack in 2009. So, ratings is not an issue for iCarly.

(B) Number of episodes needed: I have no idea how the network decides when a series has made "enough" episodes. "The Amanda Show" was a big hit, but the network pulled the plug after only 41 episodes. Very weird. All That was a also a big hit, and I think we made close to 150 episodes of that series. Currently, I think we've shot 52 or 53 episodes of iCarly. We'll definitely make at least 70 episodes. And there's a good chance we'll make more after that -- but it's not definite.

(C) How long the cast wants to continue: When a series begins, the network makes a contract with the stars to perform in the series for a number of years, or seasons (cycles). When those contracts expire, the actor has the choice of continuing with the series, or not. Sometimes, an actor will feel they've had enough -- and they'll want to move on and do other things (new TV shows, movies, whatever). Other times, they'll want to continue with the series, and then their agent will negotiate a new deal with the network, for the actor to appear in more episodes.

(D) How long I want to continue: Just like the actors, when I begin a new series with a network, my contract requires me to make a certain number of episodes (as long as the network wants me to keep making them). Then, at some point, my contract expires. When that happens, I have the option of "stepping down" as the showrunner. If I choose to step down (leave the show), the network would then make a choice -- they'd either hire another showrunner to replace me on iCarly, or they could just cancel the series. But... let's just say... I really LIKE making iCarly.

QUESTION #2: Since the instructions on the scripts for gestures and expressions are written very basic, is there a certain level of freedom the actors get to interpret them, or does the director generally ask for something more specific?

DAN: Every writer has his/her own style of writing scripts. Some scripts are vague. Mine are very specific. When I write a scene, I visualize that scene clearly in my head. I "hear" the lines as they should be delivered. And I "see" the action in my head. So I take a lot of time and effort to write my scripts in a way that makes my creative intentions very clear to everyone: the actors, the director, and the production team. (As my wife often says, "When I read your scripts, I feel like I've seen the episode.")

The gestures and expressions you are referring to are called "parentheticals" or "readers". For example, take a look at this line of dialogue:

FREDDIE
(SUSPICIOUS) What were you doing with my laptop?

In that line, the reader "suspicious" tells Nathan that the line should be delivered suspiciously. A writer adds the reader when it's not 100% obvious how a line should delivered. The line "What were you doing with my laptop?" could be an innocent question. Or it could be delivered as a panicked question. But in this case, the "reader" directs Nathan to deliver the line with a suspicious flavor.

When it's obvious how a line should be delivered, there's no need for a reader. A writer can OVERUSE readers, which you don't want to do. On average, for every line of dialogue I write, I'd guess that one in six has a reader.

As I said, I write my scripts very specifically. My scripts have lots of readers in the dialogue, and lots of specific moves/actions for the actors to make.

Also, the director adds a LOT. The director helps the actors make sure a scene is playing correctly, in terms of blocking (where the actors "go" in a scene), and in how the dialogue is delivered.

But ON TOP of all this, the actors bring A TON of their own creativity to the scenes. Very often, the actors will say a line, or make a physical move in a scene that I never imagined, and often it's great.

Some actors surprise you more than others. Jerry Trainor, for example, often completely blows me away (in a GREAT way) by taking some line of dialogue and delivering it with a hilarious twist I never would have thought of. I love it when that happens!

And all the actors on iCarly do this, to some extent. When I come to see the run-throughs, I'm sometimes SURPRISED by something that the actors and director have come up with on their own, during rehearsal, and sometimes it's awesome and I use it in the show.

In short, if an actor has an idea they want to try, the director and I welcome that. I'll often say, "Sure, let's try it." Sometimes ideas work, sometimes they don't.

QUESTION #3: How did you get into the business that you are in now? What kinds of things did you do leading up to the production of All That to help you get where you wanted to be?

DAN: I started off as an actor. I was never a hugely famous actor, but in the 80's and early 90's, I was pretty well known for playing a character named "Dennis" on an ABC television show called "Head of the Class." It was a hit show, usually in the Top 20. The show ran for 5 years. (To this day, I'm usually stopped a few times a week by someone saying, "Hey! You're that guy...")

After Head of the Class ended, I was cast in another TV series called "Home Free". I played "Walter" -- the best friend of the star, Matthew Perry. Home Free was a cute show, but it only lasted one season. The next year, Matthew Perry was cast as "Chandler" in Friends.

It was around then -- 1994 -- that I wrote a new TV show for Nickelodeon called "All That" -- sketch comedy for kids/tweens/teens. I looked at writing/producing All That as a "little side job" -- something fun to do until I got my next acting role.

But All That became a hit. And then, I wrote/produced a new TV show for two of the All That stars, Kenan and Kel. Next thing I knew, I was writing and producing TWO shows -- All That and Kenan & Kel.

And then... a big moment happened in my life, in 1996. I was offered the lead role in a new TV pilot. At that time, I was in the thick of making All That and Kenan & Kel. I had to decide if I wanted to go back to acting, or to continue writing and producing television. You can figure out which road I chose. I loved writing and producing so much, I passed on the acting role and kept writing/producing.

All That would continue to run all the way through 2005 (ten seasons). And I went on to make The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, What I Like About You, Zoey 101, and iCarly.

And let me tell you -- the fact that I started off as an ACTOR, starring in a TV show myself -- has made me a MUCH better writer and producer. Having lived in front of the cameras for many years gives me a huge advantage in running a show from behind the cameras.

QUESTION #4: Are all of your shows written with at least one specific actor in mind in the beginning?

DAN: Mostly, but not always. I began writing All That in 1993 before any of the stars had been cast. And I've written another TV pilot without knowing who was going to play the leads. But with MOST shows, yes, I knew who was going to star in the show before I even began writing my first outline. I've created most of my shows for a specific star or stars.

Fun Tidbit: I wrote "Sam" specifically with Jennette McCurdy in mind. She had guest-starred on Zoey 101, and I loved her and thought she was a major talent. So when I was creating Carly's best friend Sam, I knew that Jennette would LIKELY play that role.

QUESTION #5: How does one get a job working for Nickelodeon?

DAN: That's too hard to answer because there are an infinite number of ways. If you asked every single person at Nickelodeon how they got their job, you'd hear hundreds of different stories. There's no "set path" to follow.

QUESTION #6: Have you seen some of the various “pairings” the fans support online? What do you think about them?

DAN: Yes. I think you're referring to the new term I've learned this month: "Shipping". Right? Well, yes, I have seen some of the various "pairings" that the fans support online. I find it all very interesting. And I find it flattering that the fans embrace these characters to the point of caring and speculating about where they might go, creatively.

QUESTION #7: Do you have any favorite television shows that you watch outside of your work?

DAN: Sure! I'm not sure if you want to know my classic favorites, or current ones, but I'm guessing you want to know my current ones. Off the top of my head, I'll say (in no particular order): South Park... The Simpsons... The Big Bang Theory... American Idol... and (surprisingly) I'm also kind of into real life crime shows like American Justice, Cold Case Files, and even America's Most Wanted. I love seeing REAL bad guys get caught.

QUESTION #8: How do you feel about Sonny with a Chance on the Disney Channel and its similarities to All That?

DAN: I haven't seen the show, but a few people have contacted me saying that it's trying to copy a lot of what I've done in the past, like All That, The Amanda Show, and iCarly.

And here's some information you might find interesting...

When Drake & Josh ended, and Nickelodeon and I decided I would make a new TV series starring Miranda Cosgrove, my original idea was that she play a "normal" girl who, in a twist of fate, gets cast to star in her favorite TV show.

I even wrote the script. I called it "Starstruck". The pilot I wrote (and turned in to Nickelodeon) was about Carly, a regular girl who gets cast to star in her favorite TV show.

Nickelodeon loved my Starstruck pilot script. But then... one night during a casual meeting in my den (me, my wife, and my good friend Steve), I decided that it would be MUCH COOLER for Carly to create HER OWN show -- a show she could run herself, her own way, and do whatever she wanted to do -- A WEB SHOW.

So, I threw out my Starstruck script in November of 2006 and, during December, I wrote a brand new pilot called "iCarly". We shot the pilot in January of 2007. You guys know the rest of this story. ;)

There are people who have asked me if I'm mad that the Disney Channel "stole my idea" about a girl who gets cast in her favorite TV show. No, I'm not mad. I have no proof they stole it. But it was no secret that I was writing "Starstruck" -- I worked on that premise for a full year with Nickelodeon. And generally, everyone in the entertainment business knows what everyone else is doing. But whether Disney was "inspired" by my Starstruck idea or not... I just think of that old saying: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

QUESTION #9: How come the iCarly.com website is not up-to-date in countries outside the United States?

DAN: I have no idea. I oversee iCarly.com here in the U.S. -- but I don't even know who manages the foreign versions of the website. Perhaps the episodes are being shown in other countries at a different pace than here in America. If the episodes are lagging behind, I suppose the website should, too.

QUESTION #10: How long has Spencer been taking care of Carly by himself?

DAN: Since Carly was 12. However, we've never established this fact in a episode.

QUESTION #11: Will Spencer ever get a girlfriend that doesn’t end up crazy and/or temporary?

DAN: I've considered giving Spencer a regular girlfriend, and I've discussed this with my writers. In some ways I think it could be good, but in other ways, I worry it might alter the dynamic of the show. Also, I really have fun thinking of new, interesting girls for Spencer to meet and interact with. If I give him a steady girlfriend, it limits those possibilities. Also, there's another aspect to this question which is too involved to get into right now (too much to type). I'll just say it concerns how the network handles the reruns.

QUESTION #12: Does Jerry do a lot of improv with Spencer? How is Jerry similar to his character?

DAN: I wouldn't say Jerry does a lot of "improv" because the writers and I are very careful with how we write the scripts, and all the actors respect that. The dialogue is almost always spoken as written. BUT...

Jerry makes LOTS of his own of CREATIVE CHOICES in terms of his actions and HOW he delivers his lines. And oh my GOD, that dude is TALENTED.

As a writer, you always hope an actor won't "tank" (ruin) the jokes you write. But with Jerry Trainor... he takes a funny line in the script and makes it TEN TIMES FUNNIER. Always. I think Jerry could easily end up being a huge movie star in hilarious movies.

As for the last part of your question, "How is Jerry similar to his character?" -- I'd say both Jerry and Spencer are FUN to be around. Funny, silly, a bit crazy, warm, friendly, and extremely nice. And I'm not just being diplomatic in saying that. I mean it with all sincerity. Jerry is a fantastic actor and a great guy. He always makes the set a FUN place to be. Everyone who works on iCarly -- the whole cast, crew, and staff -- would agree with that 100%.

QUESTION #13: You’ve recently revealed that we’ll learn more about Freddie’s father in a future episode, but what about the other missing parents such as Carly’s mother or Sam’s father? Is there any particular reason you chose to give the characters families with mysterious missing links?

DAN: I doubt we'll be learning about Freddie's father in any future episodes. Actually, I don't think that we'll learn anything about those "missing" parents you mentioned -- because they obviously aren't a significant (or living) part of their families anymore, and there's no real "fun" or "funny" way to write a story about that.

If iCarly were a drama I might feel differently. But on a comedy, I don't feel inspired to write about parents who are out of the picture. It's kind of a "downer" area.

As for why I've made the choices to have "mysterious missing links"... first, I wouldn't put it that way. I just think having single parents opens a show up to more possibilities because more dating can go on, which is usually fun to write. For example, I couldn't do a story like iHurt Lewbert and have Mrs. Benson be interested in "Lewb" if she were married.

Another reason is: on Nickelodeon, the audience expects my shows to be about teenagers and their lives, so it doesn't make sense for me to go casting lots of adults on a show I'm making for a younger audience.

But I'm certainly not opposed to two-parent families. I grew up in an AWESOME two-parent family myself. And... on my new Victoria Justice show, her character DOES live in a home with BOTH her parents.

QUESTION #14: Did you ever decide what Sam got arrested for or were the details skipped since it is part of the ongoing joke about her entire family having criminal records?

DAN: In future episodes, you may very well learn what things Sam did in her past that caused her to get arrested. The good news is, she's never done anything TOO bad. Sam's a mischievous kid for sure, but Sam would never hurt anyone or anything that didn't deserve it. She's a bad-ass, but she's got a good heart.

QUESTION #15: Will we ever see some of the “faceless” characters that are mentioned on the show?

DAN: I assume you're asking mostly about Sam's mother and Socko. Again, keep watching! I don't want to be a spoiler by answering this question specifically.

Now, here's a question for you: Do you WANT to see them? Or is it more fun to never see them and let your imagination do the work?

QUESTION #16: Can anyone in the building use the elevator the Shays use?

DAN: Great question! The building that Carly lives in was not originally designed to be an apartment building. It was originally a commercial (business) building. Later, the building was CONVERTED into an apartment building. That's why the elevators in Bushwell Plaza are a bit odd for an apartment building.

There are actually multiple elevators in Bushwell. If you walk into the lobby, pass the stairs, keep going, and turn left, you will reach the main elevator. This elevator can take you to any floor -- but NOT into people's apartments.

But some of the apartments ("lofts", as they're called) have CARGO elevators that run through them, like Carly's apartment does. Those special elevators are NOT accessible by just anyone. Obviously, it would be very dangerous if anyone who walked into Bushwell off the street could just wander into the Shay's apartment.

To use the cargo elevator that runs all the way up through Carly's loft, you must have authorization. You have to be allowed in by Lewbert, or Spencer, or Carly. Otherwise, that elevator will not open inside the Shay's loft. Also, Carly and Spencer have a special magnetic key which allows that cargo elevator to open inside their apartment.

Many elevators in office buildings and hotels work like this. They won't stop on certain private floors without a special key, card, or some kind of authorization.

QUESTION #17: What grade levels attend Ridgeway High School?

DAN: I don't think that's ever been established in an episode, but in my head, Ridgeway High School is for grades 9 through 12. But there is an adjacent "lower school" next to it for grades 6 through 8.

QUESTION #18: What does Mrs. Benson do for a living?

DAN: That will be revealed in a future episode. Also, Mrs. Benson does occasionally work as a part-time nurse.

QUESTION #19: Does Mr. Shay give Spencer money for living expenses or does he depend on his art to support them?

Yes. But he's not "Mister" Shay -- he's a Colonel in the U.S. Navy. When Colonel Shay went off on his current mission and left Spencer in charge of Carly, he set up a financial arrangement with Spencer.

The loft they live in at Bushwell is fully paid for by Colonel Shay. And he also provides Spencer with an allowance to support Carly -- to buy stuff like food, clothes, school books, supplies, etc. But Spencer must earn his own spending money. He's not completely supported by his dad.

QUESTION #20: What day of the week is the iCarly broadcast on? Do they do it more than once a week?

DAN: This has never been clearly stated in any episode. However, if you pay close attention to enough episodes, you can do some "calender math" and figure it out.

However, keep in mind... Carly, Sam, and Freddie can do whatever they want with iCarly. If they have a good reason, they will switch web show nights, on occasion. But there IS a regular night and time when the iCarly webcast usually happens (once a week).

Question #21: Will we ever get to see the second floor of the Shay loft or Carly’s bedroom in particular? What about Freddie’s apartment or Sam’s place?

DAN: I feel sure you WILL see Carly's bedroom at some point. It's funny -- I've never intentionally avoided setting a scene in Carly bedroom, it's just never been necessary. And yes, Carly's bedroom IS on the second floor, under the iCarly studio.

It's possible we'll see Freddie's apartment, or at least his bedroom.

As for Sam's house... you WILL be seeing a SMALL PIECE of it in an upcoming episode that we've already shot. You'll see it in a split screen -- a phone conversation between Carly and Sam. (Bonus! In the Sam shot, you'll see a nice surprise, too! EPIC!) I'm not sure if we'll see more of Sam's house in the future. Perhaps. It depends on whether or not I write an episode (or scene) that takes place there.

Question #22: Where did the idea for Spaghetti tacos come from? Is there a specific recipe?

I came up with the idea for spaghetti tacos. Just "making dinner" isn't that interesting -- Spencer is too fun and cool to JUST make a normal dinner, right? I figured he'd be creative with his cooking. So, I made up "spaghetti tacos" because they sound fun and good -- and that dish just feels very right for Spencer. Don'tcha think? :)

As for a recipe, we did publish one on iCarly.com, but I've never tested it. My online team (that runs iCarly.com) invented the recipe. One day when I have time, I'll try making it and see how they taste. Maybe I can tweak the recipe a bit to make them achieve total awesomeness. Then, you know what I'd love to do? I want to invite the whole cast over, and shoot video of us all MAKING the spaghetti tacos, showing you exactly how to do it, step by step. Then I could post the video on YouTube. Would you wanna watch?

Question #23: Where did the hobo jokes come from?

Finally! I get to respond about my obsessive use of the word "hobo". Haha. Okay, here's the deal. When I first started making All That (like in the first season), one of the writers handed in (to me) a sketch that had a character called "Homeless Guy". And he was referred to as "Homeless Guy" in the dialogue. Well, I felt it was insensitive to make a joke about a homeless guy. So, I changed it to hobo. I loved it. It's just a funny word. And I've probably used the word "hobo" in every TV series I've done since, multiple times.

I've received a couple of complaints about this over the years -- from people who say that "hobo" is simply another word for homeless man. I disagree. I'd always been taught that a HOBO is someone who makes a personal choice to live a wandering life, usually on a railroad car. That's a hobo's CHOICE (to live that kind of life). Some dictionaries agree with my distinction, and others don't. But to ME, a hobo is just a guy who likes to roam the country, usually by railroad car. Baked beans also seems to come to mind.

So, a hobo may be homeless -- but it's because he chooses that lifestyle. C'mon... touring the country by rail? Meeting new people all the time? Adventure? Baked beans? Maybe not such a bad choice. :)

Question #24: Can you tell us why Drake & Josh ended when it did?

Sure. We'd done the show for a long time. Drake had worked with me at Nickelodeon for seven years. Josh six. (They both started on The Amanda Show with me.) By season 4 of Drake & Josh, the boys were around 19 years old, and the network already had 60 episodes. The boys were both ready to move on, and the network felt that 60 episodes was enough.

I'm happy that Drake & Josh went out at its PEAK of popularity. The final 2-parter "Really Big Shrimp" (which I wrote as sort of a series farewell) got our highest rating ever. So, Drake & Josh was never canceled. We all just agreed the time had come to move on. It was really sad to say goodbye to that show. (P.S. I have the Drake & Josh living room COUCH in my house!)

Question #25: Would you ever ask Drake or Josh to do a guest role on iCarly if there was a character that would fit one of them?

I absolutely DO have plans to bring Drake and Josh on iCarly! I have a pretty cool idea cookin' for them. It's not definite, but if it happens, I'll make sure it ROX.

Question #26: Are there any plans to release Drake & Josh in full seasons on DVD?

I really have nothing to do with that. If you want me to find out, let me know and I'll see what I can dig up for you.

Question #27: Will iCarly only be released on DVD in volumes or is there a chance it will be released as full seasons in the future? Do you negotiate with a vendor personally or is someone else placed in charge of that?

Again, I have nothing to do with that stuff. I don't know any more about it than you know. Do you want me to do some investigating and report back?

Question #28: Approximately how many hours go into writing a single episode script? How long does it take to film an episode?

Wow. Okay... by "writing" an episode I assume you mean the time from when a story is first pitched (suggested) to the time we print the table draft? That's a really tough question to answer. If you asked songwriters how long it takes to write a song, most would tell you that some come really fast, and others take a lot more time and effort. Same thing with writing scripts. But if I had to give an answer of how long it takes to write an AVERAGE episode... if you combined all the hours... probably about 40 hours? It's really hard to figure out. My final rewrite, which I do either alone or with one other writer, takes about 12 to 14 hours.

To film an episode is a week-long process. Monday morning, the actors read the script aloud -- as a performance. The writers and I listen, and then we go make changes. Usually we'll need to make cuts because the table drafts are almost always too long -- sometimes up to 6 minutes over -- so we have to cut stuff out of the script.

The actors rehearse on Monday -- usually a light day of rehearsal. Then on Tuesday, they rehearse all day, then show us a run-through on Tuesday afternoon -- the whole show from beginning to end. The we (the writers) rewrite.

Wednesday is a repeat of Tuesday. The actors rehearse all day, then show us a run-through on Wednesday afternoon -- the whole show from beginning to end. The we rewrite again, and create the final SHOOTING draft.

Then we shoot the show all day Thursday, and all day and Friday.

As you can see, it takes one week (Monday - Friday) to film one episode of iCarly. And sometimes, when we run out of time, we don't get the whole show shot -- we'll "owe" a scene that we'll have to shoot later. But we all try hard not to let that happen, 'cuz it's kind of a bummer when you leave on Friday night owing a scene. It's more fun to walk out knowing you've got another complete episode in the can.

Question #29: When do you film the videos that get put up on iCarly.com? Is there a day set aside for them or are they filmed in between episode scenes?

We have special days set aside when we shoot the "Awesome Extra" videos exclusively for iCarly.com. We shoot with a much smaller crew because we want the iCarly web segments to have a more "down and dirty" look (more home grown, if ya know what I mean).

Question #30: How does it feel to be in charge of such a successful show? Did you have high expectations for the success of iCarly from the beginning or has it been surreal for you seeing the ratings go up?

It feels great to be the guy in charge of iCarly because I'm truly proud of the show. And I really love the stars -- all four are SUCH nice, fun, good people (and I SWEAR I'm not just saying that -- THEY REALLY ARE!). So, coming to work every day is a blast.

To your second question: From the beginning, I was pretty sure iCarly was going to be popular. I've made lots of shows, for a long time, and I learn more with every one. But what made me feel extra confident about iCarly was THE CAST -- all four of them are SOOO good and funny. And Miranda was already a popular actress because of her role as "Megan" on Drake & Josh. So yeah, I always felt iCarly would do well.

But YES, it IS surreal to see iCarly's ratings continue to rise. They're even surpassing the ratings Drake & Josh used to get, and that show was a huge hit. Seeing iCarly continue to climb higher is kind of insane and, to quote the theme song, feels "so wonderful". :)

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And there are my answers to the first 30 questions. Right now, I'm working on answers to a whole new batch of questions. As soon as I post them, I'll let you all know.

If you found this interesting, and think this kind of stuff might be interesting to your friends or people you know, please tell them to follow my Twitter: @DanWarp. I appreciate it!

Thanks for reading, and for watching my shows!

--Dan :)

P.S. Please let me know if you found these Q&A's interesting or boring! You can comment here, or you can reply to my Twitter: @DanWarp.