Viacom cabler will rely on hitmaker as it seeks to rebound

In the effort to stem the ratings slump at Nickelodeon, the kidvid cabler is turning to its most reliable live-action hitmaker: Dan Schneider.

The prolific producer has struck a hefty three-year development pact with the Viacom cabler. The first project under the new pact is “Sam and Cat,” which aims to build on the fanbase by uniting characters from two past Nick comedies from Schneider: “iCarly” and “Victorious.”

Schneider has been a pioneer in integrating Web content and social media into the fabric of his shows. He’ll be doing much more of that in the future as producers in all genres look to harness the power of second-screen activity to drive buzz and engagement among fans. For Nick shows, getting traction on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms is vital to reaching its core tween and teen aud.

“I’m always trying to bake Web elements into the DNA of my shows,” Schneider told Variety.

He first began playing with TV-to-Web plugs back in 1999 on Nick’s “The Amanda Show,” when star Amanda Bynes’ character would frequently reference the AmandaPlease.com site that featured related show content.

“When we set out on a new project, we’re not just creating a TV show, we’re creating a multiplatform (property),” Schneider said. “But as powerful as the Internet is, it’s still not more powerful than TV. It all starts with the show.”

“Sam and Cat” stars Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande as characters they played on “iCarly” and “Victorious,” respectively, who launch a babysitting biz. Production on 20 episodes got under way earlier this month, and the show is set to premiere later this year.

Schneider, who started in the biz as an actor, boasts nearly 445,000 Twitter followers. When new episodes of his shows air, he’s usually live-tweeting along with some of his actors in an effort to make fans feel like they have a personal connection to the cast and producers.

Schneider’s roster of past Nick shows include “All That,” “Kenan and Kel,” “Drake and Josh,” “Zooey 101.” He produced the Bynes sitcom “What I Like About You” for the WB Network from 2002-06 but otherwise has stayed in the Nick stable. After such a long tenure, he has the kind of control over his shows that he knows would be hard to command anywhere else.

“There are very few people in the entertainment business who have the level of creative control that I do,” he said. “Nickelodeon has always been generous in giving me a lot of latitude.”

Schneider, repped by WME, is also committed to the tough assignment of courting the oh-so-fickle tween demo, as well as the challenge of working with actors who grow up on air. He prefers the specificity of developing for the Nick crowd because it has such broad reach with its target audience despite its recent viewership declines.

“Even with very popular (adult) primetime shows, you can’t count on everyone to have seen them,” Schneider said. But when a show hits big on Nick, “You can be sure that there isn’t a kid in the country who hasn’t at least heard something about it,” he said.

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