[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ickelodeon announced in late March that it was parting ways with Dan Schneider, the producer behind several of its most successful and impactful kids’ shows.
Schneider was previously an actor; if you’re old enough to remember the old sitcom Head of the Class, he played troublemaker Dennis Blundin. Schneider since has become one of the most powerful producers in children’s television, creating All That, Drake and Josh, iCarly, Victorious, Sam & Cat, and Henry Danger. Schneider’s work, it’s fair to say, has been hugely important to multiple generations of kids.
Various Hollywood publications quoted a joint statement by Nickelodeon and Schneider’s production company that they will not extend Schneider’s current deal, and are allowing him to depart so that they may “pursue other opportunities and projects.”
Most of the Hollywood trade press’ stories about Schneider’s departure stuck to those facts, with additional allusions to clashes with management, Schneider’s shows going over budget, his alleged temper on set, changes in management at parent company Viacom, and the generally declining ratings performance of his current crop of shows, as opposed to those of a few years ago.
“Multiple complaints of abusive behavior”
However, the Deadline.com story, by reporter Nellie Andrews, stated all that, plus something else:
Among other things, I hear there had been multiple complaints of abusive behavior against Schneider filed by members of his staff… for years Schneider had been under a cloud of suspicion over the treatment of some younger stars of his shows. Among the things that have raised eyebrows are his tweeted photos of the toes of his young female stars.
That paragraph likely didn’t come as a surprise to certain observers. That’s because for many years, there’s existed something of an elaborate mythology online, about Dan Schneider and various misdeeds that he’s said to have committed.
The story goes that Schneider has allegedly done certain things to young women who have worked on his shows, over a considerably long period of time, with Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom always looking the other way. In addition, there are specific allegations about certain things he supposedly did to specific, well-known people.
These rumors are spread on blogs, on Twitter, on Reddit, and various other corners of the Internet. They’re backed up by evidence that includes social media posts by his shows’ social media accounts and by Schneider’s own Twitter handle, as well as various, “sexual” clips from Schneider’s shows. Often they’re accompanied by assertions that Schneider – an overweight man in his 50s who is often pictured on set with the teenaged female stars of his shows – simply “looks creepy.”
…if the allegations were true and it was all covered up by a huge corporation like Nickelodeon that regularly deals with kids, it would likely result in a scandal of the magnitude of Penn State…
These rumors have intensified as of late and against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement there’s been much speculation that Schneider would be the next domino to fall. And if the allegations were true and it was all covered up by a huge corporation like Nickelodeon that regularly deals with kids, it would likely result in a scandal of the magnitude of Penn State, USA Gynmastics, or even the Boston Archdiocese.
However, there’s one thing that’s important to point out – no one, to this day, has gone on the record to accuse Schneider of any type of abuse, including any of the specific people mentioned in the various rumors. No lawsuits or criminal actions have been reported and despite there being multiple top reporters at many different leading publications dedicated to investigating sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry (and often finding it), no one has written or reported any such expose about Schneider.
Indeed, reporter Kim Masters of the Hollywood Reporter, who has broken multiple stories in that vein in the last year, tweeted the night the Schneider news broke that she had indeed looked into such a story, but that “we pursued dozens of potential sources. We were willing to hear their stories off the record. Every single person said they knew nothing but had heard rumors. Those are not publishable.”
A subsequent piece by the site All Your Screens reached a similar conclusion: “All [former Nickelodeon employees] described a similar work experience: chaotic, often brutal hours and an immense amount of pressure from both Schneider and other producers. But while everyone had heard the same sexual allegations targeting Schneider, no one had any direct knowledge of any inappropriate behavior.” The same piece quoted an anonymous former Nickelodeon executive as stating that while Schneider “might have been an asshole to work with,” the executive was not aware of any accusations of sexual misconduct.
It’s highly likely that other reporters pursued the Schneider story as well, and also came up empty. This puts the lie to the often-alleged notion that the news media is “covering up” things it knows about Schneider. Even the Deadline story refers to accusers of abuse by staff, but does not say it’s against talent, or underaged people, or of a sexual nature, nor does it go any further than stating that Schneider has been “under a cloud of suspicion.”
None of this, of course, disproves any of the allegations – but it does show that the way these stories typically break, with floodgates of accusers speaking out, hasn’t been the case this time.
So on the one hand, the Schneider rumors resemble the rumors that led to a lot of the #MeToo-type stories that surfaced throughout 2017. There’s a famous, powerful man in the entertainment industry. There have been years of rumors, and a “whisper network,” spreading word that this person had committed terrible acts of abuse, and that various other individuals within a powerful corporate organization had covered such abuse up. In the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, and others, the rumors persisted online and off for years, and turned out to be true, followed by assertions that “everyone knew” what was going on all along.
Or is it Pizzagate?
But on the other hand, the Schneider accusations also look an awful lot like another genre of Internet-based abuse accusation: Pizzagate. That is, the bonkers, completely baseless conspiracy theory, advanced since the 2016 election, that Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats were running a child sex abuse ring out of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza parlor in Washington. It’s an insane theory, based entirely on partisan hatred and paranoid delusion, that had its start from the belief that certain innocuous emails leaked by Wikileaks used coded language to refer to their plans for childhood sexual exploitation.
If one looks at the Schneider theorizing, it’s based largely on anecdotal, circumstantial readings of tweets and out-of-context GIFs from episodes of iCarly and Sam & Cat, while large bodies of the theories are based on the dodgy belief that a certain anonymous Twitter account belongs to Amanda Bynes and a certain anonymous message board poster is actually, for some reason, Robert Downey, Jr. It’s online speculation that isn’t backed up by actual, solid, on-the-record accusations from alleged victims.
As for the tweeting of toes, it was bizarre, and certainly ill-advised. But it also doesn’t constitute proof of any pattern of actual abuse.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no small amount of overlap between Pizzagaters and Schneider theorizers: alt-right types. After all, they do have an established tendency of accusing Hollywood, as a whole, of carrying out child sex rings, and these accusations often contain a healthy dose of related anti-Semitism, sometimes directed at Schneider himself (I have no idea whether or not Schneider is Jewish).
So which one is true? I have no idea. I expect, with Schneider now gone from Nickelodeon, that the complete story will come out at some point, but then again more than a week has now passed and no significant subsequent reporting has thus far surfaced. As for the tweeting of toes, it was bizarre, and certainly ill-advised. But it also doesn’t constitute proof of any pattern of actual abuse.
Close to Home
There’s another reason why this particular story is of interest to me. I have two kids, and they both watch a lot of Nickelodeon. And with the exception of Spongebob Squarepants and a few other shows, the channel is pretty much all Schneider, all the time, even after the producer’s departure. Schneider’s various shows, from older ones like iCarly and Victorious to the present-day Henry Danger and Game Shakers, air virtually non-stop on the different Nickelodeon channels.
Does it give me pause that my kids are watching shows created by someone who may very well have done very bad things? For a moment, it does…
Does it give me pause that my kids are watching shows created by someone who may very well have done very bad things? For a moment, it does, and after the last year of stories of terrible acts perpetrated by once-beloved entertainers, it’s getting to be a bit of a familiar feeling.
But the truth is, Dan Schneider has not actually been “accused of sexual misconduct,” in the way that Woody Allen or Harvey Weinstein or Louis C.K. has. Those men were accused, directly, by women who say that the men actually victimized them. If someone has been accused of something by an anonymous third party with a conspiracy theory on Twitter or in the comments section of a blog, that doesn’t rise to the level of an accusation at all, but merely a rumor, or a theory. An accuser coming forward and telling their story in the first person is a credible accusation. An anonymous Reddit user throwing GIFs around is not.
If any of the worst rumors about Dan Schneider are true, and someone actually were to come forward with an allegation, that would certainly change things. But until then, the “Dan Schneider Thing” appears to be a lot less #MeToo and a lot more Pizzagate. It can’t be a #MeToo story if there’s no one there to actually say #MeToo.”