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‘Sam & Cat’ canceled after one season: Where did it all go wrong?

Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande as Sam and Cat. (Terry Doyle/Nickelodeon)

At first, it seemed like a great idea. Take two beloved actresses from two hit Nickelodeon shows; put them together in a spin-off produced by the network’s biggest hitmaker; and watch the ratings skyrocket. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, many things. What started as an excellent plan in theory took just about a year to fall apart, as Nickelodeon confirmed Sunday that “Sam & Cat” is officially canceled; the episode that aired Saturday night will serve as the series finale. It’s an unsurprising — but still unusual — conclusion to the very strange journey of one of Nickelodeon’s most popular shows, which has been plagued with problems since earlier this year.

In case tween-focused programming isn’t on your radar, the sitcom starred Jennette McCurdy as Sam from “iCarly” and Ariana Grande as Cat from “Victorious” (playing the same characters they did on their respective shows) as unlikely besties who start an after-school babysitting business. Both “iCarly” and “Victorious” were created by Dan Schneider, the brains behind some of the network’s biggest hits over two decades, including “All That,” “Drake & Josh” and “Zoey 101.” With Schneider in charge of “Sam & Cat,” it seemed like a no-brainer that this show would take off like his others did; the network ordered 20 episodes to start.

Except there were a few things working against everyone. When the show debuted in June 2013, McCurdy was known mostly for her work on “iCarly” and trying (without much success) to launch a country music career. Grande had some small roles before “Victorious” and was starting to make  inroads in the pop-music world. Either way, it seemed obvious that both actresses had bigger plans than another kid-friendly sitcom. It didn’t  help that McCurdy and Grande were also in their early 20s, a little older than usual for Nickelodeon stars.

But when about 4.2 million people tuned in for the “Sam & Cat” series premiere — the network’s best live-action debut in three years — executives saw dollar signs. Within a month, Nickelodeon doubled the order to 40 episodes for the first season. That’s a massive number of episodes, and Schneider said at the time it felt “daunting.” Plus, it left less time for both of his stars to pursue their side projects.

Regardless, they charged through; though by this past winter, things started to unravel. McCurdy went on a podcast and joked about her relationship with NBA player Andre Drummond, making fun of his kissing skills. A few days later, racy photos of McCurdy were posted across the Internet. (Drummond denied leaking the pictures.) At the end of March, McCurdy was conspicuously absent from the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, the network’s flagship event. Schneider received the network’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement award and was honored on stage by many young stars he had launched to stardom.

McCurdy later tweeted that there was a long story behind why she didn’t attend. “I was put in an uncomfortable, compromising, unfair situation (many of you have guessed what it is) and I had to look out for me,” McCurdy wrote. She clarified that it didn’t have anything to do with the risque photos, but instead “has to do with how [N]ickelodeon treated me.”

Nickelodeon had no comment on the tweets. In early April, word got out that “Sam & Cat” was going on “hiatus” even though there were still several episodes of Season 1 left to film. Rumors flew about a McCurdy-Grande feud and tension on set. TMZ reported that McCurdy was angry that Grande — who at this point had released a No. 1 album — netted a larger salary. Grande emphatically denied this, while reps for Nickelodeon blamed the break on an “unusually long production cycle” and insisted the show was not canceled. There was also no news about a Season 2 renewal; generally, Schneider’s shows are renewed like clockwork.

Then, there was simply radio silence — about the show, at least. Grande’s singing career exploded over the next several months, thanks to her smash single “Problem” (featuring rapper Iggy Azalea), making her more of a household name than ever.

Meanwhile, a few more episodes of “Sam & Cat” trickled out over the summer until Nickelodeon finally said this weekend that Saturday’s episode (the 35th of the order) would be the last. “Nickelodeon will not be producing more episodes of ‘Sam & Cat,'” a network rep told the Hollywood Reporter. “We are very proud of the show and its very talented cast and we wish them all the best.”

And that’s the abrupt end of the saga of “Sam & Cat,” which had all the ingredients for another long-running success. Instead, it’s a rare miss for Schneider, by far the shortest run for any of his shows over the last 20 years. But he’s moved on to the next project, as “Henry Danger” premieres later this month.

Grande posted a lengthy goodbye message and tribute to her character, Cat, on Facebook. No word from McCurdy, who has stayed under the radar the past several months.

“So the news is out about Sam & Cat. I felt it wasn’t my place to make any sort of announcement so I kept quiet until now,” Grande wrote in part, noting that the network launched her career. “I want to thank Nickelodeon for making a childhood dream of mine come true, for being a family to me, for being so accommodating and supportive of my multitasking with my music career, and for of course introducing me to many of my fans however many years ago.”