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'iCarly' gets ready to say an 'iGoodbye'

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 8:51 p.m.

Miranda Cosgrove, the sprightly star of Nickelodeon's “iCarly,” is sitting on the floor of the show's fictional Ridgeway school set during a lull in production — practicing lines and adjusting the collar on her bright blue jacket. Try as she might, though, she can't ignore the inevitable.

Looking up at her character's locker that towers above her — a veritable landmark among the tween-set — the brunette wunderkind summons a cornball glance at co-star Jennette McCurdy sitting beside her. “Think of me fondlyyyy/ when we say goodbyeeee,” the twosome mirthfully croon to each other, calling up a ballad from “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The charmingly goofy off-screen moment between the friends and costars mimics the shenanigans viewers have come to enjoy on the teen-centered show about three pals who produce a popular online series. But the clownish antics are in the closing stages: After five seasons, one of the network's preeminent shows is wrapping its run. On this June day, Cosgrove and McCurdy are in the thick of the show's swan song, filming the one-hour send-off, “iGoodbye,” which will run Friday.

For the generation that grew up on “iCarly,” this was a show that spoke its language - before “Gossip Girl” or “Awkward” tried to do the same. The half-hour comedy, from Nickelodeon sire Dan Schneider, soared to popularity in no small part because of the way it converged the television and computer screen — a radical notion in 2007. It was a well-timed concept that resonated with a young constituency mesmerized by cellphones, computers and iPods. The show was also unusual in portraying young children on their own with no parental nemeses or guardians.

The ending of one of its longest-lived hits comes at a crucial time for Nickelodeon. The network — which also will lose hit teen sitcom “Victorious” (also created by Schneider) — saw its audience levels fall nearly 30 percent over the past year, a drop reflected in “iCarly's” performance.

By its second season, “iCarly” had overtaken Disney's “Hannah Montana,” the seemingly untouchable ruler of tweens, as TV's No.1 series among kids (ages 2 to 11) and tweens (ages 9 to 14). Its current season is averaging 3.2 million viewers, down nearly 32 percent from the previous season. It now clocks in at No. 7 among kids and No. 3 among tweens, with Disney stalwart “Good Luck Charlie” taking up the crown.

Not that the “iCarly” universe is totally imploding. In keeping with its tradition of launching spinoffs, the network will feature two offshoots from the show: In “Gibby,” Noah Munck carries on his role as the oddball teen, with viewers following him as he gets a job at a recreational center and winds up becoming a mentor to four middle-school students. In “Sam & Cat,” McCurdy resumes her role as Sam and will be paired with “Victorious” character Cat (Ariana Grande) for the show in which the duo become roommates and start a babysitting business. And Jerry Trainor, who plays Carly's older brother Spencer, will appear in the comedy “Wendell & Vinnie.” The network also will continue to show “iCarly” in reruns.

“It's weird to think of it as being a pioneer, in some ways, because technology becomes so ubiquitous and we adapt so quickly to new tools,” said Shelley Pasnik, director of New York-based Center for Children and Technology. “But when you look back to when it first began, it was a time when young people were still getting accustomed to the personal broadcasting via YouTube, Tumblr ... it rode that wave. But it didn't lose its resonance with the everyday concerns, anxieties and aspirations of young people.”

The “iCarly” fictional web show-within-the-show was often as spontaneous as what actual teenagers are generating on the Internet. There was Carly and her friend Sam's famous outbursts of random dancing — luring first lady Michelle Obama to take part when she guest-starred — or that time they made spaghetti tacos, inciting an army of kids to demand a new entree.

When the friends are not holed up in Carly's attic producing the show, they're at school dealing with the travails of youth: annoying teachers, high school dances, love triangles, etc.

The entertainment carried over to “iCarly's” website, supplying media-hungry tweens with online videos, quizzes and blog posts between episodes (now de rigueur for almost all TV shows).

“It wasn't just something that you watched through the TV,” Cosgrove said. “You could also communicate back to the ‘iCarly' world. I think that was something that was very new to kids and that appealed to them.”

The 19-year-old, who got an early start starring as a 10-year-old band manager in 2003's Jack Black comedy “School of Rock,” is more soft-spoken and docile than her fictional persona. Like many a child star, she has parlayed her “iCarly” stardom into a singing career — albeit a more subdued one than her peers Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

“In the episode, we're all moving on,” Cosgrove said. “It's sad because it's kind of the same as how it is in real life. We all kind of grew up and had our childhoods on set, and now it's time to leave it behind.”

Cosgrove, at the time of the interview, was just a couple of months away from starting her first semester at University of Southern California to study theater (her followers on Twitter, @MirandaCosgrove, have since been along for the ride as she has chronicled sketch class achievements and library encounters.)

The finality of it all was not lost on Schneider. He conducted exit interviews with the cast on his own — an “audio scrapbook,” as he called it — asking questions such as “What's your favorite episode?” and “If ‘iCarly' were going to be erased or destroyed forever and you could only save one (episode), which would it be?”

“I just wanted to have it because ‘iCarly' was something really magical,” he said. “And not just for us involved in making it, but a generation of kids. I know that when these kids are in college, they'll have ‘iCarly' as a point of reference. Sort of like the way some kids had ‘Saved by the Bell.' We'll be a form of nostalgia and that's really cool.”

Yvonne Villarreal is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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