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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All That! Happy 20th Anniversary!

All That's 20th Anniversary 
April 16, 2014

It's hard to believe that today – April 16th, 2014 – marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of All That – the first TV show I ever wrote and produced.  

We filmed the All That pilot (the first episode) back in early 
1994.  In some ways it seems like yesterday.  I​n other ways it seems like a lifetime ago.  It was such a wonderful experience, and little did I know that it would change the course of my life, all in great ways.  

Since people have been asking me how it all got started, here's how it happened...

Back in the late 1980's and early 1990's, I was one of the stars of a popular TV show called Head of the Class (ABC) – I played a high school student named Dennis.  One of the other stars of the show was Brian Robbins – he and I became great friends while we worked on the show.

Brian and I even wrote an episode of Head of the Class together, just to see if we could do it.  To our surprise, the executive producers liked our script and bought it.  Next thing I knew, we were filming the episode we had written together.  It was a great feeling.  I loved creating a story, writing it, and then seeing it come to life on television.

During our run on Head of the Class, Brian and I were asked to co-host the 2nd Annual Kids' Choice Awards.  I didn't know much about Nickelodeon at the time, but we thought it sounded fun, so we said sure.  

The awards show was produced by a very talented guy named Albie Hecht.  Brian and I got along well with Albie, and we struck up a friendship that continued after the Kids' Choice Awards.  We even talked about creating a project together, but we couldn't (at that time) because Brian and I were under contract with Warner Bros. and ABC for Head of the Class.

By 1993, our friend Albie had become a high-level executive at Nickelodeon, and he had been talking with Brian about possibly making a new show.  Brian suggested bringing me in, and Albie agreed.  Brian then called me and we met at Art's Deli, one of our favorite lunch places in Los Angeles.

At that time, I had a solid acting career going, but I was between gigs.  So, when Brian talked to me about the idea of us creating a new TV show for Nickelodeon, I thought it sounded like a fun "side job" – just something to keep me busy for a while.

We started talking about creating a sketch comedy show.  I always loved sketch comedy, 
so the idea of creating that type of show was exciting for me.  The fact that it was going to be for a young audience just made it a bit more challenging, because we'd have to keep all the comedy kid-appropriate.

Once we had a basic concept for the show, the next logical step was for me to write the pilot script (for the first episode).  But we decided to proceed a different way.  

We knew that, for a sketch comedy show, casting was extremely important.  In fact, we felt casting was so crucial that we decided I would not write the pilot script until we had our whole cast in place.  That's unusual in television.  Almost always, you write the first show (the pilot), and then you hire the cast.

But for All That, our plan was to search the country for the best kid comedy actors we could find.  Then, once we had our cast, I would write the script, tailoring the sketches to the specific actors' comedy strengths.  We wanted to create characters and sketches that would be perfectly suited for the kid actors we hired.

We did a nation-wide talent search and got very lucky.  We didn't just find "good" kid comedy actors – we found incredible ones.  Every kid we ended up hiring for the original All That cast turned out to be fantastic: Josh Server, Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, Katrina Johnson, Lori Beth Denberg, Angelique Bates, and Alisa Reyes.  We couldn't believe how confident and hilarious they all were, as performers.  And every one of them was hard-working, professional, nice, and fun.

With the cast in place, I started working with a few other talented writers, and soon we had a script.  As head writer, I did my best to create great characters and make everything as funny as I could.  By January of 1994, we were all at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida, filming the pilot for All That.  We had a blast!

After we made the All That pilot, some time went by and I didn't hear much of anything.  I was hoping the show would be picked up, meaning that the network would like the pilot and order more episodes.   

But then I heard that the show "hadn't tested great."  Whenever you make a new TV pilot, the network tests the show with focus groups.  So, for All That, they got a bunch of kids – boys, girls, different age groups – and let them watch the pilot.  Then, moderators asked them questions – sort of like a "group review" of the show.

I actually still have the results from those tests.  Basically, the company who ran the testing wrote a report that wasn't too great.  Their opinion was: Kids probably wouldn't like this new sketch comedy show for kids.  But luckily, the people at network decided to give us a chance, anyway.  They picked up the show, and we all flew back to Orlando to write and produce the first season.

All That premiered on television on April 16th, 1994.  The show was an instant hit, thanks to the fans who tuned in every Saturday night to watch the insane adventures of Superdude, Coach Kreeton, Ear Boy, Ross Perot, Ishboo, the Island Girls, Randy & Mandy, the Loud Librarian, Pierre Escargot, Repairman-man-man-man... and much more.

I figured we'd maybe make 30 or 40 episodes of All That and then that would be it.  Never in a million years did I think the show would run for TEN SEASONS, and spawn many more new TV series.  I don't think any of us thought All That would become part of kids' and teens' pop
 culture the way it did.

And now you're probably thinking, "But Dan!  What ever happened to the Big Ear of Corn?"  You'll be happy to know I saw him just a few days ago (no kidding – I really did).  He's retired now, enjoying his life in a nice, air-conditioned storage facility, not too far from my home.  He sends his best, and thanks you all, THE FANS, for watching and liking All That for so many years.

So do I.

​Happy 20th Anniversary!!!

Dan Schneider

P.S.  To see some of my personal photos that I took myself during the first season of All That, CLICK HERE :)