On the rare occasion a child stars in a show, rolling eyes and shoulder shrugs usually pass for acting.
On those even rarer occasions when a child performs with aplomb, people ought to take notice. In the case of Miranda Cosgrove, Nickelodeon, tweens and teens have. They have watched her for four years since she showed up as Megan, the impishly demonic younger sister on "Drake & Josh."
Cosgrove stars in Nick's Saturday night hit "iCarly." The sitcom relies on the formula of a show within a show but gives it a modern twist: "iCarly" cleverly weaves in the Internet.
In the pilot, Carly (Cosgrove) and best friend Sam (Jennette McCurdy) record middle-school classmates auditioning for the talent show. Freddie (Nathan Kress), a neighbor who has an unrequited crush on Carly and serves as their technical adviser, records their reactions to classmates, then posts their comments online.
A Web show (inside a TV show) is born. And so is a star.
What's made "iCarly" such a big deal among tweens and teens is that they can submit video of themselves showing their talents, and these can wind up on the show. To give an idea of how wildly popular iCarly.com is, in December, the site's videos were watched 21.7 million times, says Jana Petrosini, senior web producer. Since the show and site launched in September, 56,352 kids have uploaded videos to the site. Since the site went live, it has received 65 million page views.
"We are not competing with the Internet; we are using the Internet," says Dan Schneider, creator and executive producer. "Many shows in television have tried to do a Web element, and usually it's dumb. 'iCarly' has set the bar in television and Internet. I don't think there is better example. That may be the most significant thing about it."
It may not be the most modest statement, but it is true. Of course the vehicle needed the right actress.
Cosgrove manages to be sassy without being obnoxious, poised while retaining a certain amount of uncertainty, which is pretty standard for someone of 14. A Californian, she comes across as shy and sweet but not a pushover. She giggles easily and defers questions about the show's direction to her elders.
"It's cool how the show throws in and incorporates the Internet," she says. "I have been on the Web site a few times."
Yet she doesn't pretend that any of her ideas are behind it. "It's mainly run by a few professional people," she says. "The characters have blogs, and I'm reading what my character says."
Carly is a self-contained teen who lives in Seattle with her wacky older brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor, "Drake & Josh"). As with so many Nick shows, authoritative adults are nonexistent. Carly's parents are in the military and deployed. Spencer is old enough to be her guardian, even if he is nutty.
"That's Nickelodeon, because it's where kids rule," Trainor says. "Adult responsibility comes in smaller doses. In real life on the set, I try to be the fun-loving older brother."
With that comes privileges such as scaring the girls, which Trainor did while shooting the Halloween episode.
"There's a scene where they are frightened and run into the closet, which had three walls and no back," Trainor says. "I told Dan [Schneider] 'I am going to hide in there.' I was carving a pumpkin with a chain saw. It had no blade. And I went in and put on the wig and had the chain saw. They run screaming toward the closet, and I just fired up the chain saw, and they shot across the room, and Dan actually had his mini hand-held camcorder and was there filming it. It was epic! They went from fake scared to legitimate terror."
In true big brother fashion, Trainor cracks himself up over this memory.
Though he and Cosgrove both worked on "Drake & Josh," they didn't have scenes together because he played Crazy Steve, the psycho usher in the movie complex where Josh worked. Like others who work with Cosgrove, Trainor is impressed by her maturity.
"When you talk with her, she has such an understanding of the natural follies of life, and she doesn't take herself too seriously, and she sees the inherent ridiculousness of things," Trainor says. "I will make a buffoon of myself, and she will just chuckle. And that kind of maturity many people never learn that or they take things seriously to a fault, but she finds that balance."
Schneider recalls why he cast Cosgrove in "Drake & Josh."
"I knew I wanted a little sister who was somewhat torturous of Josh, but I didn't want the typical bratty nyah-nyah that we have seen a million times," he says. "I wanted someone cool and smart in the way she would torment them. Before I cast, I will talk with them. She seemed very together and very mature and cool. The word 'cool' comes to mind. I just felt I could write for her -- that she could be a terror to Drake and Josh."
Schneider says he deliberately steers away from overly polished young actors. Though Cosgrove started acting very young, she wasn't the typical kid actor. As can happen in Los Angeles, she was discovered. At 3, she was playing, singing and dancing around tables at a fair, when she was scouted. She modeled and worked in commercials, then landed a part in "The School of Rock."
It was around that time that she switched from public school to being home-schooled and tutored on set. The only activity she misses are dances, but pals invited her to one.
"It was a little corny because I am not the best dancer," she says. "When I first walked in, the other kids were whispering, and my friends couldn't care less. It wasn't too bad after a little while; everyone just forgot about it. I am going to crash all of their proms and stuff."
For now, Cosgrove wants the writers strike resolved so she can return to work. Like the show's audience, she loves the videos teens submit. The two that resonate with her are the boy who squirts milk out of his eyes and the girl who hangs 20 spoons from her face.
Incidentally, Cosgrove has a hidden talent: "I can shake my eyes," she says, giggling. "It's really weird. I think I have an extra eye muscle, it looks like everything's moving."