'Head of the Class' actor now creating at Nick

A former child actor who appeared in “Head of the Class,” Dan Schneider has built a tween empire at Nickelodeon, creating such lineup staples as “The Amanda Show,” “What I Like About You,” “Zoey 101″ and “Drake & Josh.”

While he seems to have remained in touch with the tastes of kids ages 6-14, Schneider, 41, says the appeal of his shows is always rooted in the casting.

“I don’t write a word until we have the cast set,” explains Schneider, who works his way past “the kid actors who deliver their lines in a kind of ‘look how cute I am’ manner. I tend to avoid kids who are overly trained but don’t seem like real kids anymore.”

Schneider says he’s careful to create a low-pressure atmosphere in his casting sessions, where the youthful participants are at least asked about their day before jumping right in. He doesn’t necessarily expect the young actors to “nail it” the first time. “As a child actor, I hated it when you walked through door, and right away, whoever was running the audition would say, ‘OK, turn to page six,’” he says.

This thought-out approach to talent yields the short-term benefit of filling Schneider’s immediate casting needs and also creates a rather deep Nick bench of supporting thesps who have gone on to headline their own skeins.

For example, Schneider gave “Amanda Show” regulars Drake Bell and Josh Peck the keys to “Drake & Josh,” later promoting one of its players, Miranda Cosgrove, to his latest creation, “iCarly.”

“There’s not one little role, even if it has only a few lines, that we don’t look at seven or eight actors,” Schneider notes.

Recent breakthrough: For the week of Sept. 10, “iCarly,” “Drake & Josh” and “Zoey 101″ were the top three shows with tweens and teens on all of TV.

Role model: “Ron Howard. Watch ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ — he was cute and appealing, but he was also a great actor.”

What’s next: “iCarly,” which stars Miranda Cosgrove as the producer of her own Web series.

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