Voice of ‘Dora The Explorer’ sues Nickelodeon, says she’s owed millions; network denies claim

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Teen voice of ‘Dora The Explorer’ sues Nickelodeon

NEW YORK — A teenager who gave voice to the spunky heroine of Nickelodeon’s “Dora The Explorer” says the network cheated her out of millions of dollars by underpaying her for work on the groundbreaking children’s cartoon series.

Caitlin Sanchez, 14, didn’t get the fees she was due for reruns, recordings for DVDs and other Dora products and hundreds of hours of promotional work, she and her family said in a lawsuit filed against Nickelodeon and its corporate parents.

“They took advantage of her,” her lawyer, John Balestriere, said Thursday.

Nickelodeon said Caitlin’s claims were baseless, and her contract was extensively negotiated.

“She was well-compensated for her work and for personal appearances,” network spokesman David Bittler said.

“Dora The Explorer,” now in its 10th year, has become a cartoon icon and a cultural force.

Its bilingual Latina protagonist is a first on U.S. children’s television, a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a household name for countless families, and even a figure in the nationwide debate over immigration after a doctored photo of her behind bars as a suspected illegal immigrant made the rounds online this year.

And she’s also a brand that averages 1.9 million viewers for each episode and has generated more than $11 billion in sales of related toys, books and DVDs worldwide since 2002.

Caitlin has been the voice of 7-year-old Dora since 2007, leading its audiences on whimsical adventures that also help its young viewers learn English and Spanish. She replaced the character’s original voice, Kathleen Herles.

The Fairview, N.J., teen had done some acting work before “Dora,” including on episodes of NBC’s “Law and Order: SVU” and “Lipstick Jungle.” But the cartoon series marked a big break for the then-12-year-old, who told The Associated Press this summer that she was thrilled to do the job.

“It’s really an honor to play an icon,” she said.

That honor has come at a price, her lawsuit says.

She and her family were pressured into signing an unfair contract quickly, without consulting a lawyer, and then were subject to “three and a half years of exploitation and lies,” according to her suit. Filed Wednesday, it seeks unspecified damages.

While she made $5,115 per episode, she wasn’t paid or was grossly undercompensated for at least 160 extra hours of recording work, and at least 400 hours of promotions, marketing and interviews, her lawsuit said. While traveling the country to talk up the show, she got only $40 a day, it said.

She also wasn’t paid her due share of profits from Dora merchandise and her residuals, or rerun fees, for at least 325 airings of her “Dora” episodes — even as Nickelodeon executives told her she’d played a big role in the show’s success, according to her lawsuit. One said there had never been “a more high-profile face to a voice,” the lawsuit said.

While some new episodes featuring Caitlin’s voice haven’t aired yet, she’s not expected to voice anymore, her lawyer said.

Bittler said her “voice changed and she was no longer able to portray the Dora character,” but the network had offered her other work. Balestriere said he’d told the network Thursday he didn’t foresee that, but she remained open to it if the dispute about her previous pay is resolved.

Meanwhile, she is going on with a typical teenage life, he said.

“This was an opportunity for her, but she’s doing well in school and could be just fine if she doesn’t do any acting anymore,” Balestriere said.

Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom Inc.

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