How one man killed Nicktoons… and his potential downfall
I remember practically being raised by Nickelodeon cartoons. Not to say anything against my parents, but Nicktoons, as they were often referred to, were a very prominent figure in my adolescent years growing up. From '90s cartoons like Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and Hey Arnold! to cartoons of the early 2000s, such as ChalkZone, Danny Phantom, and Avatar: The Last Airbender¸ classic Nickelodeon cartoons bring a wave of nostalgia that, sadly, contrasts sharply with the current state of Nickelodeon. There are only five cartoons currently listed as regular programming on Nickelodeon today: Welcome to the Wayne, Bunsen is a Beast, The Loud House, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and of course, Spongebob Squarepants. While these shows have varying levels of quality (I’ve enjoyed a few episodes of The Loud House, and Spongebob is reportedly much better in season 9 now that the original script writers have returned), it’s safe to say that Nickelodeon is nowhere near the cartoon powerhouse it was back at the turn of the millennium.
Many “cartoon connoisseurs” like to blame the amazing success of Spongebob Squarepants on the decline of all other cartoons on the channel, as well as a general shift away from TV animation during the mid-2000s (remember Cartoon Network even went through the infamous "CN Real" phase). While I don’t think this is entirely inaccurate, this theory fails to look at the big picture.
The theory goes something like this: Nickelodeon had lots of great cartoon programming from the 90s and early 2000s. Then, Spongebob Squarepants was greenlit and became an instant hit. The popularity of the first three seasons and the first movie have even encapsulated meme culture. Nickelodeon saw how insanely marketable and popular the yellow square became, and began milking it for all it’s worth. The channel even refused to let the show die after the original creator, Stephen Hillenburg, departed from the show after creating the standard 60 episodes and the theatrical movie. Stephen returned in 2014 to work on the second movie, Sponge Out of Water, and has since helped bring back some quality to the show. But throughout the period between the two movies, Spongebob sank to critical lows in terms of quality and humor, though still maintaining its massive popularity. As Spongebob’s popularity grew, other Nicktoons slowly grew unpopular or ended naturally after exhausting their creative material. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon was hesitant to greenlight and/or maintain other shows that didn’t live up to the hype that Spongebob created. This led to the infamous story of Adventure Time being pitched to the channel’s Random Cartoons! block twice, before eventually becoming a hit on the Carton Network.
As I said before, this theory has some merits. Spongebob’s popularity certainly did initiate a revolution in Nickelodeon that lacked creativity or risk-taking (see the change from Nickelodeon Studios pre- and post-2005). But what this fails to recognize is the general trend towards live-action children’s sitcoms that now permeate Nickelodeon. And the primary producer for these live-action “comedies” is none other than Dan Schneider himself.
Image from TV Series Finale
Dan Schneider is now more infamous than Butch Hartman at Nickelodeon Studios, sitting as the executive producer for classic comedy hits such as Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, The Amanda Show, and All That. Currently, Schneider has two shows airing on Nickelodeon, with a third coming in 2018. Schneider has created/produced 11 total shows for Nickelodeon in the past two decades.
Image from the Sam and Cat Wikia
Now Nickelodeon has always had live-action shows in its repertoire, and actually started out as primarily live-action programming before the explosion of cartoons that persisted in the 90s that made Nick a household name. Schneider helped produce some of these hit comedies, such as All That, Kenan & Kel, and The Amanda Show. But during the early-mid 2000s is when his prominence at the Nickelodeon Studios began to grow, along the same time as the Nicktoons began to decline. Schneider and his production company, Schneider’s Bakery, began working on Drake and Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious between 2004 and 2010.
Now, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, and I’m not insinuating that Dan Schneider made it his mission to replace the Nicktoons atmosphere with his decreasingly-funny “kidcoms”. However, I can easily imagine an environment where Nickelodeon is so focused on making a quick buck that they go with shows they feel comfortable airing that are less risky. That is why they stuck with Spongebob for so long and greenlit fewer cartoons, and it also explains Schneider’s prominent rise as a tried-and-true live action producer. Nickelodeon has now dug itself into a hole, relying too much on “cheap” and “safe” entertainment, allowing competitors like Cartoon Network and Disney XD to dominate in the cartoon industry, with breakout hits like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Without a major change in direction, Nickelodeon may never revive the success of the Splat-era Nicktoons. But what catalyst could incite such a drastic change?
Well, as it turns out, Dan Schneider.
This is based off of mostly rumors, of which there are multiple and are not necessarily unfounded. An article from Redstate reports that the next big Hollywood sex scandal after the revelations of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey could be surrounding Schneider and his time at Nickelodeon Studios. Rumors about alleged foot fetishes, hiding more than his fair share of sexual innuendos in his show scripts, all the way to possibly being the biological father of Jamie Lynn Spears’ child. There are even suggestions that executives higher up in the Nickelodeon and Viacom chain helped legally cover for Schneider whenever allegations became court cases. Again, most of these claims are just rumors, but we’re starting to see a trend of behaviors like that of the Harvey Weinstein rumors that turned out to be true. As Redstate reports:
If Schneider is the monster people seem to believe he is, some things do fall into place. Jamie Lynn Spears was on track to eclipse her older sister in fame when she dropped out of Hollywood in “disgrace” because of her unplanned pregnancy. To this day she has never said a word about the real father of her child (and kudos to her for bringing her baby into the world). Amanda Bynes is an extremely gifted performer but tragically lost contact with reality for a while. She went on a now infamous twitter rant blaming her parents for basically making her a prostitute. It makes a lot more sense when you put it in the context of a Dan Schneider.
If these rumors turn out to be true - and I’m not claiming they are pure fact or fiction - it would be devastating for Schneider and Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon would likely have to hastily dissociate from Schneider, similar to how Netflix handled House of Cards after Kevin Spacey’s allegations came to light and he basically admitted they were true. This would leave Nickelodeon in a tough situation, having relied so much on shows created and produced by Schneider in recent years. In order to successfully rebrand, similar to how Subway rebranded after Jared’s scandal came to light, it would be in Nickelodeon’s best interest to move back towards Nicktoons. They likely wouldn’t kill off Spongebob, but it could usher in a new wave of Nicktoons as Nickelodeon and Viacom work to move away from Schneider’s scandal…. IF all these rumors turn out true. These Dan Schneider rumors could be headline news if they are substantiated, unless Schneider releases a statement claiming to be gay, in which all bets are off.
Even if they aren’t substantiated, I think Nick should still begin moving back towards cartoons. Having a diverse palette of shows would help protect Nick in the event of another big scandal, instead of the channel trying to play clean-up in the aftermath of a big story breaking. It would also signify to many fans of the Splat-era golden Nicktoons that Nickelodeon is working to restore itself to its former glory. Nickelodeon already appears to be heading in that direction, with TV movies of Hey Arnold!, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Invader ZIM being released in the next year or two, as well as the success of TeenNick’s primetime programming block NickSplat, which airs old 90’s shows and Nicktoons between 11 PM and 6 AM. But Hollywood’s trend into nostalgia territory is a discussion for another time…
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