Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” might be geared toward teens and tweens, but the half-hour sitcom became a cultural phenomenon beyond its core audience.
Its self-referential humor, top-notch guest stars and carefree attitude have claimed a global viewership. Celebrating its 100th episode and heading into the final stretch of its five-season run, the laffer has left its mark on TV history.
Since its 2008 international debut, “iCarly” has been among the top 10 shows in markets including the U.K., Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, South Korea, Mexico and Singapore. The skein has been referenced on shows including NBC’s “Community” and Fox’s “House,” but nothing speaks to the show’s influence better than Michelle Obama asking to appear, in part to address the issue of military families.
A guest star in “iMeet the First Lady,” she told the cast and crew that the Obama family always watches the show at the White House.
“This little show that we make in this soundstage, this box, on Sunset Boulevard, it’s on in the White House,” says Dan Schneider, series creator and exec producer, in disbelief.
In “iCarly,” teen Carly Shay lives with older brother and guardian Spencer in a Seattle apartment. In the upstairs loft, she teams with best friends Sam, Freddie and Gibby to produce the hit Web show “iCarly.” While they spend much of their time performing for their loving fans, they also deal with the everyday ups and downs of adolescence, not to mention a host of wacky adventures.
Despite the grand absurdity of the gang’s wildest adventures, Nick original programming and development prexy Marjorie Cohn says the characters make it all feel attainable for younger viewers.
“The beauty of the show is that it makes it seem like the average teen can do it,” she says. “I’m not sure a kid can open a secret restaurant in an unused school basement, but everything seems completely plausible.”
The credibility is no doubt aided by the actual iCarly.com, complete with silly polls and extra bits consistent with the fictional Web show’s sense of humor. In fact, star Miranda Cosgrove says viewers often think the show’s events are real.
“Kids come up to me often and say, ‘I like your Web show,’ ” Cosgrove says. “A lot of the young kids think that it’s real, that our characters actually live in Seattle and that we have a Web show that’s popular.”
The aspirational, anything-goes atmosphere of the show is underlined by the lack of parental figures. Carly’s father serves overseas in the Air Force, her mother is out of the picture, and Sam’s single mother (guest star Jane Lynch) is an uncaring nightmare.
Schneider says the Shay household reflects a weekend he spent with his sister at Tufts U. in Boston when he was 13.
“I had a great relationship with my parents, but there’s something about hanging out with your older sibling that just has a whole new level of cool for a kid,” he says. “I just remembered how liberating that was and how it made me feel very grown-up.”
In “iCarly,” viewers find a parallel world, with everything an exaggerated version of its real-life counterpart. This Schneiderverse includes vaguely familiar parodies including Pear products (with all names bearing a “Pear” prefix), Inside Out Burger and B.F. Wangs.
The show-within-a-show nature of the series in particular allows Schneider to lovingly poke fun at “iCarly” itself. In “iStart a Fan War,” the writer-producer tackled the real world Creddie and Seddie shipper camps, divided on whether Freddie should date Carly or Sam. In the episode, the characters experience the rabid intensity of their fans at a Web convention.
Says Schneider: ” ‘iCarly’ gives me the luxury of addressing the fans directly. It was a sort of loving nudge to the fans saying, ‘We’re just a fun little sitcom to make you laugh.’ This isn’t a heavy-duty soap opera.”
Still, Schneider and the cast would be lying if they said they ignored what the fans have to say. All active on Twitter, they appreciate the instant feedback of viewers.
“You can just say, ‘Hey do you guys like this?’ And they’re going to be honest,” says co-star Jennette McCurdy. “I don’t think I have a fan out there who will not tell me if they don’t like something.”
Schneider hopes his show is “a half-hour of ice cream and roller coasters.” As his longest-running sitcom nears its end, he knows he has made an impact the way he knows best — a quality show.
“I realize we’re not curing diseases with ‘iCarly,’ and we’re not doing Shakespeare. It’s not an Academy Award-winning film, but it has definitely touched people universally,” he says. “That’s the goal with TV, to make something that everybody likes and that gets remembered forever.”
‘iCarly’ has friends in far-flung places | Memorable moments for the ‘iCarly’ supporting cast | Schneider’s passion for TV is unyielding | Cosgrove eyes college, comedy in bright future |