By Emily Rome
June 08, 2013 at 06:30 PM EDT
Terry Doyle/Nickelodeon
  • Movie

The worlds of popular Nickelodeon shows iCarly and Victorious first met in summer 2011 on a special three-part episode called “iParty with Victorious.” But in that crossover, there were two key characters who never got to meet — iCarly‘s Sam Puckett and Victorious‘ Cat Valentine.

Now the two girls who often stole the spotlight in their original Nick shows will have plenty of time together, in their new show, Sam & Cat, which airs its series premiere tonight. It’s a crossover spin-off that continues the stories of the two characters in their post-iCarly and Victorious lives — both aired their series finales last year. In Sam & Cat, the duo meets when Sam travels from Seattle to talk about the web show at Hollywood Arts, Cat’s high school. They eventually become friends, and when Sam transplants permanently to L.A., they become roommates and start a babysitting business together.

Sam’s real-life alter ego, nearly 21-year-old Jennette McCurdy, admits that she was initially “not the most enthusiastic” about the idea of continuing to play the character she had embodied for six years, but once she heard that the new show would be a spin-off with Cat Valentine, she was on board, largely for the opportunity to work with Cat’s portrayer Ariana Grande and to see what happened when these two different-as-night-and-day characters were tossed in new situations together.

Brash, sarcastic Sam and sweet, innocent Cat have “worldviews on opposite ends [of the spectrum], and that’s what makes them the perfect fit,” McCurdy told EW. “They see things in each other that they don’t have any of in themselves. That helps them be better as a team than they would be individually since they’re such strong personalities.”

That means Cat learns a bit about how to push past her naiveté and take responsibility (which is especially important now that she’s doing a lot of babysitting). And where Sam would have been met with playful come-backs to her brazen teasing on iCarly, she now gets responses from Cat like, “Oh, that’s great! I love you!” Grande explained. So Sam softens a little as she spends more time with her new roommate.

So will fans start to see Cat toughening up and getting street smart?

“No, not even close, no, never,” Grande said with a laugh at the thought.

And Cat’s soft voice and bright demeanor aren’t going anywhere either, especially as long as Grande’s voice coach has anything to say about it. Grande, who’s almost 20 (she and McCurdy share a late June birthday), also has a blossoming music career. Her singing teacher has told the actress that it’s healthier for her voice to speak higher than her naturally lower register. Every time the cameras are about to start rolling on the set of Sam & Cat, Grande delivers an instant morph into high pitch-voiced, doe-eyed Cat. But the actress is glad that she’s always able to morph right back.

“When people meet me, they’re like ‘Oh, you don’t actually talk like that.’ I’m like ‘No, thank God I don’t actually talk like that,” she said.

Though Cat’s speaking voice remains the same on Sam & Cat, there’s no singing on the show, which Grande says was another reason she was drawn to the new series.

“I feel like since Hannah Montana every show was trying to do music because that was what was cool,” Grande told EW. “I like [making a show without singing] better, to be honest. It feels like we’re just doing a sitcom, and it’s not confused with people trying to be pop stars or anything. It’s just a sitcom, and I love that. It’s classic, funny TV.”

Sam and Cat’s L.A. adventures begin shortly after Sam rides into town on her motorcycle, and they meet when Sam rescues Cat from a garbage truck. Among the guest stars set to appear in upcoming episodes are British cousins Sophia Grace Brownlee and Rosie McClelland of viral video and Ellen fame. Created by Dan Schneider, the same producer who originated iCarly and Victorious, Sam & Cat premieres on Saturday, June 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Read more:

‘Sam & Cat’: First look at the girls’ room in ‘iCarly’/’Victorious’ spin-off; Plus exclusive video

Ariana Grande finds ‘The Way’ to pop success?

‘iCarly’ star Jerry Trainor’s EW Pop Culture Personality Test

  • Movie
Complete Coverage