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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘Quiet on Set’ exposes hidden secrets and the reality of Nickelodeon’s toxic environment

Elizabeth Larson

Kids today enjoy “Bluey,” “Cocomelon” and “Ms. Rachel,” but they’ll never experience the golden age of Nickelodeon.

During the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, producer and writer Dan Schneider created hit TV shows that boosted Nickelodeon’s ratings, including “All That,” “Drake & Josh,” “Zoey 101,” “The Amanda Show” and “iCarly.” Though he created stars out of many young actors, Schneider’s work at the station also contributed to the dark side of Hollywood.

The Max documentary, “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” released on March 17 and explores Nickelodeon’s toxic work environment during the Schneider era. Former cast and crew members tell their stories regarding Schneider and other employees, including cases of racism, sexism, inappropriate behavior and abuse.

I don’t usually watch documentaries unless required for an assignment or project, but I was always a “Nickelodeon kid.” I grew up waiting at night for new episodes of “iCarly” and “Victorious.” Even now when I’m bored, I watch Schneider-produced shows to relive my childhood and feel the nostalgia.

But, hearing the abuse stars have endured over the years and watching the documentary with full proof of who Schneider is disappointed me. I cannot think or watch my favorite shows without wondering how these child actors were really feeling.

Schneider created, produced and wrote his first children’s show, “All That,” a sketch-comedy show starring Amanda Bynes, in 1994. Though the cast brought laughter to their skits, there wasn’t any behind the scenes. The first episode of the documentary reveals major issues, including discrimination against some cast members, uncomfortable skits, sexism and Schneider’s alleged harassment of writers.

In 1996, 10-year-old Amanda Bynes was discovered by producers after a comedy routine at the Laugh Factory. By 2002, her career flourished. Wanting more hours to act as she got older, she asked for Schneider’s help to get emancipated since they were close. Bynes’ parents did not appreciate Schneider helping her, straining Bynes’ and Schneider’s relationship.

To make matters worse, In 2003, “All That” production assistant, Jason Handy, and “The Amanda Show” dialogue coach and actor, Brian Peck, were both convicted as sex offenders.

Devastatingly, former “Drake & Josh” star Drake Bell revealed in the documentary that he was abused by Brian Peck. Telling his story publicly for the first time, Bell recalls the gruesome sexual abuse he endured over six months in 2003.

Many who worked in this toxic environment were previously afraid to speak out about their experiences due to fear of consequences. Child stars tend to “act out” as adults and get into trouble with the law, but we don’t know their childhood trauma and how it projects into their future.

Watching Bell and his father get emotional broke my heart. At the hands of an abusive environment, he suffered pain and trauma that no child should ever experience. Even hearing the stories from crew and cast members makes me question if the industry is doing enough to protect children.

Nonetheless, Schneider continued to create hit shows during the mid to late 2010s, but received backlash for sexual jokes in “Zoey 101,” “Victorious,” “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.” Despite facing allegations, no action was taken until Nickelodeon parted ways with Schneider in 2018, due to the rise of the Me Too Movement and a cultural shift around abusive workplace behavior.

Nickelodeon kept Schneider employed for all that time just to profit from him and did not take into consideration the victims of his abuse.

After the documentary’s release, the public applauded Bell for sharing his story and advocating for sexual assault. “Drake & Josh” co-stars Josh Peck (no relation to Brian Peck) and Nancy Sullivan reached out to Bell to praise his vulnerability and strength.

On March 19, Schneider released a 19-minute video on his Youtube channel discussing the documentary. He apologized for his behavior and became emotional when recalling a moment where Bell’s mother called to ask for help with her testimony during Brian Peck’s trial.

Schneider’s response seems calculated. Why speak up now after years of proof and allegations? And why wait more than 20 years to apologize?

Former “Zoey 101” star Alexa Nikolas, who was featured in the documentary, released her own public statement regarding Schneider’s video.

“When someone doesn’t personally come to you and apologize, it’s not an apology,” Nikolas said. “If you hear about it through other people, it’s not really an apology, right?”

Not all former Nickelodeon stars have been equally appreciative of the new Max documentary. Actors Devon Werkheiser, Lindsay Shaw and Daniel Curtis Lee laughed and joked about “Quiet on Set” and how they were treated during a TikTok live video. The actors starred in “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” from 2004 to 2007 and co-host “Ned’s Declassified Podcast Survival Guide.”

It’s hard enough to tell your story. When abuse is made into a joke, it’s obvious why people don’t come forward. If we continue to discredit people’s stories, it will be harder to expose toxic environments.

“Quiet on Set” certainly exposed some hard truths about Nickelodeon and the ethics around exposing young and impressionable actors to potentially predatory adults. I highly encourage this documentary to anyone who wants to learn the truth about all that Nickelodeon was hiding.

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Samantha Nunez, Copy Editor

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