On the other hand, he wasn't discouraged by his own parents when at 18 he told them he was moving out West from Memphis, Tenn., to pursue a career in comedy. "The way I see it, you've got to encourage everyone so the good ones try."

Schneider cast Justice in "Zoey 101" when she was 12 and knew early on that he wanted to develop a show around her. "Of course, she's gorgeous and can sing and dance and all that, but she's also really funny, and my business is comedy. She's like a young Goldie Hawn," he said.

"Victorious" inspires kids "to be confident, to be true to themselves. No one's a celebrity on the show," Justice said. During the filming of one scene in an upcoming episode, Justice's character, Tori, gets into a heated argument with a snobby movie star on a film set where Tori is an extra. The exchange ends in a high-pitched squeal and Tori being banished from the set. No special treatment here.

Though all the hallmarks of the fabulous life are in place -- the stars of "Big Time Rush" and "Victorious" are, in fact, all attractive, thin and well dressed -- the actors, and their alter egos, work overtime toward their goals.

" 'Big Time Rush' is much more about what happens the day after you win 'American Idol,' " Nickelodeon's Cohn said. "The guys' characters enjoy the perks of Hollywood, but we wrap everything in totally relatable stories." One of the first episodes revolves around the group fighting over the same girl; another, about them trying to get out of school work.

Hey, it could happen

Seated inside the boys' fictitious apartment, which has its own slide and big-screen TV, "Big Time Rush" executive producer Scott Fellows said his inspiration for the series was more the Monkees than "Entourage."

His daughter, 11-year-old PJ, wants to be a star too. But he isn't a fan of the get-famous-quick system that "Idol" has made the norm in the minds of the young. "I'm not happy about that. I like my stars coming up the old-school way. Kelly Clarkson is pretty solid, but the rest not so much," he said. "I have to tell PJ, 'Honey, it's not easy.' "

Still, he and Nickelodeon put together "Big Time Rush" (also the name of the band) through a similar nationwide audition. The two-year casting process yielded actors who had all been paying their dues.

Schmidt, 19, began acting when he was 6 and played a young Frasier Crane on an episode of "Frasier" and guest-starred in shows including "Gilmore Girls," "ER" and "CSI: Miami." James Maslow, 19, trained with the San Diego Opera and appeared on "iCarly." Carlos Pena, 20, acted in major musical theater productions such as "Titanic," attended the Boston Conservatory and most recently starred in "Making Menudo," MTV's attempt to re-cast and revive the once-popular Latin boy band via reality TV. It failed. ("Oh, yes, there is irony," Pena said.)

Logan Henderson, 20, the only member of the group without a major credit on his résumé, said that even with the flashy trappings, the show isn't about being a star so much as "seeing what it takes to get to that point. The band works hard at being a pop group," he said. "You can apply it to going to college or being an astronaut. It's about accomplishing something you want to do."

Also, Schmidt said, "It's really just a great big comedy. The priority is to make people laugh."

The same could be said for "Gigantic," a new scripted drama for Nickelodeon sister network TeenNick about what life would be like if, say, you were the kid of Brad and Angelina. Real-life celebrity offspring Grace Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep) and Gia Mantegna (daughter of Joe Mantegna) star as friends, one of whom is the daughter of movie star parents while the other herself is a rising star.

"Gigantic" is geared toward an older audience, but in keeping with the Nickelodeon shows, fame won't be portrayed as all fun and games.

"I grew up tangential to the industry and in my mind fame is a drug, and not necessarily a good one," said executive producer Marti Noxon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame. "It's not something that usually makes one happier or smarter or better. 'Gigantic' will explore that.

"And kids really are more skeptical than you think," she added.

denise.martin@latimes.com