'Dora the Explorer' hits puberty, gets fired, sues Nickelodeon

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'Dora the Explorer' hits puberty, gets fired, sues Nickelodeon

Thu Oct 07, 2010 @ 04:17PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Dora-The-Explorer1 "Dora the Explorer" actress Caitlin Sanchez is only 14. But she just filed a very grown-up multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Nickelodeon, MTV Networks and Viacom.

Two years ago, Sanchez was hired to take over playing the lead character's voice on Nickelodeon's hit veteran animated series. She was paid $5,115 per episode.

Now Nick has dismissed her from the role because's she's reached puberty and her voiced changed.

Sanchez claims she was promised a cut of Dora's lucrative merchandising revenue and is questioning the network's practices in hiring minors.

Amd_caitlin_sanchez-1The teen says that she signed an "unconscionable" contract without the advice of an attorney and that her parents and her agent were given 22 minutes to sign the deal or lose the "Dora" gig.

The 35-page complaint itself goes into much more intricate detail about what allegedly happened. Reps for the network are said to have made promises that she would reap substantial compensation from merchandising and residuals on the billion-dollar brand. Instead, Nickelodeon allegedly "used convoluted payment deduction clauses and additional free services provisions to underpay Caitlin for her acting and recordings, force her to work hundreds of hours marketing the Dora Brand for free ... and withhold her residual payments and merchandise percentages, all contrary to what she was originally promised."

The damages add up to "many million dollars," according to the lawsuit.

Actors without much leverage sign bad deals all the time, so what might make this lawsuit something to be taken seriously?

According to the girl's attorney, John Balestriere of Balestriere Fariello, the contract was never submitted to a court for approval, as are most Hollywood deals involving minors.

Some lawyers find this surprising, if true.

Joel Hecker, an attorney at Russo & Burke in New York, says it's standard procedure for companies in N.Y. to submit contracts with minors to a court for approval. By doing so, should a dispute ever arise over its validity, the contract is usually given the benefit of the doubt.

While Hecker said he'd need to know all the facts, he labels Nickelodeon's possible failure to submit a contract with a minor to a court as "unprofessional."

A spokesperson for the network wouldn't comment on this aspect of the case or its protocol in handling contracts with minors. Instead, Nickelodeon issued this statement:

"The claims being made are baseless. Unfortunately, Caitlin's voice changed and she was no longer able to portray the Dora character, as happened with the actress who originated the role. Caitlin's contract was extensively negotiated through her agent and in compliance with her union. She was well-compensated for her work and for personal appearances. We have enjoyed working with Caitlin on 'Dora the Explorer' these past three years, and we did in fact offer her a contract for other work with us."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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