AP Photo/Nickelodeon, Mitchell Haddad
Devon Werkheise, center, in the role of Ned Bigby, with actresses Christian Serratos, left, and Lindsey Shaw are seen in a scene from Nickelodeon's series-based TV movie "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide to Field Trips, Permission Slips, Signs and Weasels." The film airs on the kids channel at 8 p.m. MDT June 8.

LOS ANGELES — He's the star of one of the most popular kid shows on television but — just like his series once did — Devon Werkheiser manages to keep a low profile.

In the actor's case, growing up has had something to do with keeping him under the celebrity radar. Werkheiser has gone from 12 to 16 while playing Ned Bigby, school slacker extraordinaire and star of "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide." Those years have been a time in which he's shot up several inches, listened to his voice change and, toward the end of the current season, decided to grow his hair long.

"It kind of keeps me incognito most of the time," the friendly, self-effacing Nickelodeon star says with a chuckle. "But kids who really know the show, they recognize me."

Which means his days of public anonymity could be numbered. After two seasons of slowly building an audience, "Ned's Declassified" has become this season's breakout hit among the 14 and under set, regularly landing in the top five among live-action kids shows watched by that age group.

That top-dog status is being cemented with a "Ned's Declassified" TV movie (airing June 8 at 8 p.m. EDT), one in which viewers will finally learn whether Ned and Jennifer "Moze" Mosely, his protector, best friend and confidante — and his would-be, could-be, probably should be girlfriend — will finally come to their senses and become a couple.

"There are several twists and turns. I cannot reveal any of them. I really can't," giggles 18-year-old Lindsey Shaw, who plays Moze. "But the viewers will be pleasantly surprised. Scratch that. They'll be very shocked."

"Ned's Declassified" has been mildly shocking in its approach since Day 1, having been constructed more like an animated show than a live-action comedy. There are bright, flashy colors, quick cuts and camera effects that sometimes have Ned, Moze and Cookie, their nerdy comrade in arms, racing through the halls of their fictional James K. Polk Middle School at lightning speed.

Shown in back-to-back segments of 15 minutes each, the 30-minute show doesn't try so much to tell a story as lift chapters from Ned's survival guide, which he describes in first-person to the camera as the chaos his advice invariably creates unfolds all around him.

"It's almost like a cartoon, and kids love that," says 16-year-old Daniel Lee Curtis, whose portrayal of Cookie also has let him pass under the celebrity radar. Hiding behind gadgety glasses, this teenager of a thousand facial expressions (all of them geeky) is all but unrecognizable when he switches to his real identity.

"I go to public school," says the 10th grader from Long Beach." Some of the girls at school go, 'Wow, Daniel, you were such a nerd. ... ' I say, 'I was just acting. I'm not really like that,"' laughs Curtis who, minus the glasses and the deer-in-the-headlights expressions, is a strapping high-school football player.

Not that the show is all belly laughs, says Werkheiser, who adds there are serious issues addressed in episodes that examine every aspect of school — from problems with lockers and backpacks to trying to sneak out of classes to desperately wanting to keep in touch with friends who move away.

"I think for a lot of the kids it's really fun to watch because it actually does help them in school and give them real tips in life," he said. "Your parents always try to tell you every little pearl of wisdom in life, but this show does it in a more kid-friendly way, with big jokes and weasels and explosions and screaming."

When "Ned's" (which airs daily at 6 p.m. EDT, among other times) debuted on Nickelodeon in 2004, it arrived amid a cluttered field of hit kid shows, including the Disney Channel's "That's So Raven" and "Lizzie McGuire" and Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101" (which stars Britney Spears' sister, Jamie Lynn). Also debuting that year was "Unfabulous," starring Julia Roberts' niece Emma.

"Ned may have gotten a little overshadowed by the stardom of Emma Roberts and Jamie Lynn Spears," Marjorie Cohen, Nickelodeon's executive vice president for development and original programming, says of the show's slow start.

"Ned's" three stars say the show really began to establish itself when they got to know each other and began interacting like the real friends they became.

"I just recently saw Devon. We got a chance to swim together," says Curtis, who added he became fast friends with his co-stars when the three were "trapped together" on the set for hours each day.

"I learned pretty quickly that we had no choice but to become friends," he quipped.

The real-life camaraderie that developed as the three were moving into their teens is something Shaw believes the audience can sense.

"I think the secret to its success is that every day we went on set we didn't look at it as work," she said of the show. "We were all hanging out with our friends. It was one big hangout, and we'd kind of film a TV show on the side."

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