Dan Schneider's Exit From Nickelodeon Leaves Many Answered Questions

If you've watched any teen-oriented television in the past twenty years, you've likely watched at least one show created by Dan Schneider. For nearly 20 years, he's created a string of tween-age live action shows for Nickelodeon, ranging from "All That" to "Henry Danger." And Monday night, that long-running business relationship ended when Viacom and Schneider's production company released a joint statement announcing Schneider's exit from the network. The split was described as amicable, but it seemed like a puzzling move. It's similar to NBC suddenly announcing they've cut ties with Dick Wolf and plan to go a new way in the future. Most observers would suspect there's more to the story than is being released by the two parties involved. And that reaction has certainly taken place with this split.

So why is Nick making this move now?

Part of the decision is clearly the result of pure business decisions. His show "Game Shakers" was just canceled and as Nellie Andreeva reported in Deadline, Schneider had a reputation for being difficult to work with:

I hear at the meeting Schneider also was told that, with his other Nick comedy, Henry Danger, on hiatus, another show (I hear it’s Austin & Ally creators Kevin Kopelow and Heath Seifert’s new Nick series, Cousins for Life),would move into the production space in the Nickelodeon-owned Burbank studios which has housed Schneider’s series exclusively for the past few years. Sources say that Schneider objected to the prospect of having to share the office and production space with the non-Bakery show. 

One ongoing issue for Nick executives has been recurring budget over-runs on Schneider's Bakery productions. Those concerns (along with slumping ratings) were reportedly the main factors in the cancellation of "Game Shakers" and the uncertain future for a new animated series featuring the "Henry Danger" characters. But the money issues were not the only problem several current and former employees I spoke with cited as issues that lead up to the formal split. Schneider has long been considered difficult to work with and has used the success of his shows as a bludgeon with the network. He's angrily dismissed complaints about the difficult working conditions on his sets and I was told he had threatened to temporarily shut down productions over what he considered to be "interference" from the network. Former employees describe shouting tirades on set that at times had left actors shaken and/or crying. One production staffer I spoke with on Wednesday said that Schneider "sometimes forgets these are teenage kids, not veteran comedy actors."

But the biggest issue with Schneider is the one everyone I spoke with is unwilling to discuss - even anonymously. For years, Schneider has been dogged by rumors of inappropriate behavior with some of his teen stars. I won't recount the best-known ones here, because I have no idea whether any of the rumors are even somewhat accurate. But much has been made of his unsettling public fascination with the feet and toes of some of his young female stars:

And several actresses from his shows have commented at least tangentially about the allegations. Amanda Bynes discussed some problems she had with a producer widely believed to be Schneider in a now-deleted Twitter thread, And Jennette McCurdy posted a troubling video she originally recorded on Persicope in 2013, in which she appeared on camera with her face smeared with lipstick, saying "Hey Dan Schneider, I know you’re watching my Vine....Look what you’ve done to me."

For years, there have been persistent rumors of some sort of inappropriate behavior taking place on several of the Schneider-produced shows. You don't have to look far online to find people posting about it, although it's always second or third-hand rumors. It's also complicated by the fact that some people cynically have a sordid reaction to any writer/producer who chooses to work almost exclusively with under-aged kids. 

At this juncture, I honestly can't determine what may or may not be the truth. A long-time co-worker of Schneider told me on Wednesday that the rumors were just "made-up Internet stories, like those people who still believe the world is still flat. Some people want to believe the worst of Hollywood and he (Schneider) is an easy target." A production company employee argued the rumors were false, but likely sparked by Schneider's intermittently difficult behavior. "If this discussion was about whether or not he was an asshat, I'd have a completely different reaction."

But the rumors have continued and they are likely also driven by the vaguely unsettling sexuality of many of Schneider's shows. Having one female holding a sausage and asking her female friend if she'd "like to be slapped in the face with a sausage" is an odd scene to see being performed by two under-age girls. Yet that level of sexual innuendo was common on the shows. It was couched by the network and Schneider as just "fun," but it can often be creepy to watch as a viewer.

As I was writing this piece, I received an email from a former Nickelodeon star who asked to remain anonymous. She declined to get into details about her time as a co-star of one of Schneider's shows. But she did say that while her experience "wasn't terrible," her co-star's experience was different. "But that's her story to tell." 

The only other thread I can add to the story at this time is that I was told by multiple people I've interviewed in the past 48 hours that Schneider's production company had settled at least three complaints over the years from people who complained about working conditions on one of Schneider's shows. Both Viacom and Schneider's production company have declined requests for a comment or to verify the allegations. And it's not clear exactly what form the complaints took.

So at this point, both fans and foes of one of the most influential teen television producers of all-time are left with a central question:

What's the truth about Dan Schneider?