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Dan Schneider

My Interview With Dan Schneider: A Haunting Reflection 16 Years Later

Home / Experience / My Interview With Dan Schneider: A Haunting Reflection 16 Years Later

By Melanie VanDerveer on March 24, 2024 at 5:31 PM EDT
Updated on March 27, 2024 at 5:12 AM EDT

After watching "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV," many suppressed memories came flooding back. Maybe they weren't so much "suppressed" as they were just lost in the shuffle of my busy life, but now they are back and in bold letters...

As I'm getting ready to move, I'm going through boxes of old things I've saved from my 19 years in this house. I found a few binders filled with old newspaper stories from my very first journalism job and there it was - my interview with Dan Schneider.

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'TV Show Creator Appeals To More Than Just Tweens'

Dan Schneider in the newspaper
Melanie VanDerveer

Back in 2008, shortly after starting my career as a newspaper reporter at the Pocono Record's weekly paper, Eastern Pocono Community News, I got the opportunity to interview Dan Schneider, the creator of "Drake & Josh," "iCarly" and so many other hit Nickelodeon shows that my kids loved to watch.

Because of my kids' love for "Drake & Josh" specifically, I set out to interview him about his shows and why they appeal to all ages. To my surprise, I easily scored an interview with not just him, but also his wife, Lisa Lillien, who was better known back then as "Hungry Girl."

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A few people have asked me what that interview was like now after hearing all of the allegations that were brought to light in the docuseries. I honestly can't remember much of the interview, which was by phone, but a few anecdotes come to mind.

One thing that stands out from that interaction was being able to recite some of the sayings my young sons had learned from "Drake & Josh" and used to quote to other people, and Schneider got a kick out of it. Other than that, I remember it wasn't a very long interview, but I had no complaints at the time.

Hindsight is 20/20. This now turns into a very valuable life lesson. You just don't know what's really going on in someone's life. They can be sweet and kind to the public but behind closed doors, they can be monsters.

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My Thoughts After Watching The Docuseries Are Different Than Those From 2008

Nickelodeon Allegedly Sent Actors Computers With 'Child P-rn On Them'

After watching the docuseries, I started to feel the ick about talking so highly of someone who was doing such terrible things, that obviously were unknown to the general public back then. So, I unearthed my story and read through it, and OMG! (That's literally all I could muster up after reading the story.)

As I began to scan through the aged ink on the page, which were my own words, my heart sank after the first few sentences...

The story starts out, "Kids are very impressionable, especially that 'tween' age so who they idolize should be a positive role model." I had to take a second to process what I just read. The next line of the story is, "No one knows this better than Dan Schneider, the creator of many positive 'tween' shows on Nickelodeon."

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It took a few minutes for me to be able to process that, knowing what I know now from watching "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV." The story goes on to talk about how he came up with the idea for "iCarly" and why he wanted his shows to appeal to parents as well as kids.

"I hear from parents a lot that they watch the shows, like 'Drake & Josh' and 'iCarly' with their kids. I like the idea of providing family entertainment," he said during our interview.

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I Also Interviewed Nathan Kress And Drake Bell

Nathan Kress
Melanie VanDerveer

Not long after I started writing for the weekly paper, I was offered a staff position at the daily paper. It was there that I had the pleasure of interviewing Drake Bell and Nathan Kress, at different times and for different reasons.

Bell was part of a festival that was coming to the Poconos in the fall of 2009, so I interviewed him ahead of his performance. He was 23 at the time. Our interview was supposed to be at the arena before his show, but he missed his flight the night before and was going to arrive late, so we ended up doing a phone interview.

I remember him being an amazing interview; very kind, answered all my questions in detail, and it was just like chatting with a friend on the phone! It's remarkable to reflect on how composed and genuinely pleasant Bell appeared during our call, especially with the hindsight that he had endured unimaginable abuse from Brian Peck years before. He carried this burden silently, unknown to us all...

My interview with Kress was also on the phone, but his PR team set me and my kids up to meet him during his appearance at the Steamtown Mall in Scranton, PA in December 2009. What I remember about his interview was very similar to Bell's. He was also super friendly, excited to answer my questions and fun to speak with overall.

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My Youngest Son Was A Child Actor For Seven Years

Jesse VanDerveer
Melanie VanDerveer

Not only did I have a little bit of insight into the child actor world through the interviews I conducted for work, but I also was a "Momager" to my youngest child, Jesse, who started acting at the age of 7. Given this context, watching 'Quiet On Set' was profoundly unsettling for me, especially since my own child entered the industry at the same age when so many children faced abuse.

The short version of the story is he really enjoyed Halloween - dressing up and playing a part. After getting an opportunity to spend a night acting in a local haunted house, Hotel of Horror in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, he realized that acting was something he really wanted to pursue. He asked me if he could be an actor, and I told him if he's okay with possible rejection and wouldn't get upset if he doesn't get a job, I'd submit him for a background job. I gave him the whole speech that "he probably wasn't going to get the first part he is submitted for" etc. and he said he was fine with it.

I decided...why not?

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He had a good attitude about it and maybe nothing will come of it, but maybe something will. I submitted him for a background job on "The Mysteries of Laura" with Debra Messing and the very next day I got a call from casting asking if he could be on set the following day! That began a seven-year long journey in television, movies, runway, and music videos.

While you wouldn't know him by just hearing his name or looking at a photo of him because he did a lot of background and indie roles, he had quite the run in the industry. He was really taking off and it seemed like he could possibly be close to a big break if we just keep going; but it was tough. We lived two hours outside of NYC and I had to drop everything to run in and out of the city for auditions often. He also did a lot of work that required wardrobe fittings, rehearsals and long days of shooting. But neither of us complained. It was a fun journey.

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There Were A Few Things I Noticed During Jesse's Acting Adventure

Jesse VanDerveer and Donnie Wahlberg
Melanie VanDerveer

A lot of people who didn't know us very well would find out Jesse was acting at such a young age and voice their opinions loudly. One person told me to my face that I'm a horrible mother for allowing my son to be in that environment and literally told me she bets everything that he develops a drug addiction when he's older.

Some told me I was letting him grow up too fast, because when you're a working child actor, you are growing up a little faster. There's no denying that. But it's what he wanted, and I was super involved. For the most part, everyone around us was really supportive and here for the adventure.

Thankfully, we never had any real issues on any sets. We were on different sets all the time, but many of the production assistants were the same regardless of what show he was working on. He filmed eight episodes of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" so we got to know their production staff and crew pretty well.

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Being Told To Leave My Son On Set...

Jesse VanDerveer
Melanie VanDerveer

The only time we ever had a near issue was on the set of the TV show "Gotham" when he was doing a small background role. He was one of only two or three kids on set that day. They were filming in an alley in Queens and the space was tight.

As they prepared to film Jesse's scene, a production assistant informed me that I had to leave, insisting I needed to go wait out on the street. I refused.

They insisted there was no place for me, but I stood firm, declaring I would not leave my son's side, even if it meant being hidden behind a plant. Overhearing our exchange, another crew member approached, supported my stance, and affirmed my right to remain within sight and sound of my son at all times.

I took that whole exchange as the production assistant just being new and never working with kids before, so I didn't think much of it after that. I never thought anything funny was happening, but it was just a reminder that I wasn't going to let my son out of my sight while on set because anything can happen. The docuseries has since proved those thoughts to be true and it makes me really happy that I always followed my intuition.

My son's acting career came to a screeching halt in 2019. He was considered a "must join" for SAG and we weren't ready to join the union because that would have locked him out of non-union jobs. The initiation fee was also more than I had to give at the time so we were stuck at a crossroads. Then the pandemic started and shut everything down.

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It was a fun journey while it lasted. We learned a lot, have great memories to share and it definitely helped him to have the amazing work ethic he has now as a young adult. After seeing the docuseries and hearing all the child actors speak their truths, I'm sort of relieved that we had the limited experience we did and that it ended on a good note...

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