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“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV”: Nickelodeon’s Golden Era Gone Dark

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Trigger Warning: This article contains a discussion of alcoholism, depression, trauma, sexual abuse, and anxiety.

If you were a kid from the late ‘90s to the late 2000s, there’s a pretty good chance Nickelodeon was one of your most-watched channels. With popular shows such as “All That” and “Drake & Josh ”, Nickelodeon was a treasure trove of hit kids shows and young talent. 

In the late 90’s Nickelodeon created the sketch comedy show “All That,” run by Dan Schneider. Rumors of Schneider’s inappropriate on-set behavior began to circulate in 2017 during the #MeToo movement, and in the Discovery documentary “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side Of Kids TV”, viewers learn the truth.

“All That” had an edgier tone, pushing the boundaries of children’s television, often for the worse. Schneider put cast members in inappropriate costumes and included sexual innuendos as well. Former cast member Katrina Johnson spoke out in the series, alleging executives commented on her weight as she matured and was replaced by Amanda Bynes. Castmates described Bynes as “flawless” and “standout”.

Years Later, Schneider created “The Amanda Show” another sketch comedy series that starred Amanda Bynes. “The Amanda Show” had many female writers who were taken advantage of in the writers’ room. One major revelation was that he made female writers split wages. The writers didn’t find out until years later that it was against the Writers Guild of America rules. 

Schneider would comment on the female writers, claiming they couldn’t be funny. Writer Christy Stratton discussed Schneider’s behavior in the documentary, stating that, “working with Dan is like being in a toxic relationship”. 

This becomes apparent as the series progresses and female writers describe his behaviors, like how he would pay them to do degrading acts because he knew they were underpaid. Actors on the show also described how competitive the on-set environment was, claiming that if they were on Schneider’s bad side, he would slowly remove them from the show. 

But Dan Schneider wasn’t the only problem at Nickelodeon. Production assistant Jason Handy, who worked on “All That” and “The Amanda Show,” was arrested for child pornography. Handy was in charge of all the children on set and at times sent explicit photos to the children via email. This remained a secret until years later, but Handy’s acts didn’t stop there. In 2003, Police searched Handy’s house after being tipped off about his behavior, and found over 10,000 images of child pornography. Police also found journals where Handy admitted to everything. Handy was sentenced to 6 years in prison and one account of misdemeanor.

Brian Peck, also known as Pickle Boy on “All That”, was a dialogue coach for many actors on Nickelodeon shows, mainly Drake Bell. Peck was described as very well-liked, loved by parents, trusted, and always around. In August of 2003, Peck was arrested on 11 counts of sexual assault against a minor. That minor was Drake Bell, most known for his leading role in “Drake & Josh“, another Schneider creation. “Quiet on Set” is the first time Bell has gone public about Peck. 

Bell began working closely with Peck as an acting coach and the two developed a close friendship. For most of his early career, Bell’s father played the role of his manager, but as Peck and Bell got closer, Peck drove a wedge between Bell and his father and forced him out of the picture. Peck had worked his way into every aspect of Bell’s life. Throughout the series, Bell painfully recounts numerous accounts of Peck sexually assaulting him, and how the abuse became extensive. After sentencing, Peck was sentenced to 16 months and had to register as a sex offender. The series petitions the court to reveal the 41 letters of support Peck got from actors such as James Marsden, Taran Killam and Rider Strong. The series speculates that they were given misinformation about the case due to their heavy support of Peck and victim-blaming Bell. 

The appeal of Nickelodeon is that it took the formula of adult shows and translated it into a kids’ world which gives them an unsettling feeling to many. “Drake & Josh” was the kids’ version of “The Odd Couple”, “All That” was “Saturday Night Live”, and “On-Air Dares” was “Fear Factor”. Cast members of the second generation of “All That” would compete in disturbing dares such as being covered in peanut butter and licked by dogs or getting covered in worms. Cast members spoke out during the docuseries saying that this show made them severely uncomfortable, but were scared to speak up. 

The docuseries shows numerous examples of on-air and behind-the-scenes moments where Schieder put the young cast members in uncomfortable situations. Alexa Nickolas from “Zoey 101” described a scene in which she felt uncomfortable but didn’t know why, years later when watching as an adult, she realized how inappropriate some of the situations were. Both crew and cast members were very uncomfortable with Schneider’s behavior and kept quiet until the #MeToo movement. An unnamed costumer took the initiative to report Schneider’s behaviors to the union and an internal investigation was launched. Schneider was removed from sets but still was able to keep his role as showrunner, which is unheard of. Soon after, Schneider split from Nickelodeon. 

Shortly after the docuseries was released, Schneider’s YouTube channel posted a 20-minute-long interview between Schneider and BooG!e, who played T-Bo on “iCarly”. The interview allows Schneider to speak on the topics discussed in the docuseries. Schneider apologizes and takes ownership of his past actions.  The interview felt tone-deaf to audiences, who claim it was just a response directly after Schneider was exposed through the series.

The fact that a whole dynasty of children’s television was toxic and dangerous for child actors is terrifying to think about. Towards the end of the series Bryan Hearne, who was a cast member on “All That”, expresses how the Nickelodeon environment affected him. He said that working for Dan Schneider has affected him physically and mentally into his adulthood, and now struggles with alcoholism due to the trauma he endured on set during his childhood. The American Addiction Center states, “When they [child actors] are young, they can lose their self-worth, and turn to alcohol and drugs as a means to self-medicate in order to have the feeling of value. This may not happen to everyone, but this is what she’s observed and experienced”. This is not a specific incident to Nickelodeon, other child stars who struggle or have struggled with substance abuse include Jodie Sweetin, Amanda Bynes, and Lindsay Lohan. 

In 2021 Bell was charged with disseminating harmful matter to juveniles and attempted child endangerment. The victim, who was 15 at the time, said Bell exchanged explicit pictures online and engaged in sexual conduct with the minor on several occasions. Though these instances were heavily in the news in 2021, the media has resurfaced this case due to the docuseries’ popularity. Social media users also call for stars such as Ariana Grande to speak out on their experiences, though Grande has never commented on her treatment on Schneider’s shows. 

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” brings to light a very important topic surrounding the dangers that Hollywood has on its young workers. These dangers are not specific to Nickelodeon and happen across the board. There must be more safety measures in place to protect child actors in Hollywood, and the docuseries does a fantastic job bringing this conversation to the table. 

Episode five drops on April 7.

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About the Contributor
Elizabeth Ippolito
Elizabeth Ippolito, Executive Producer: #THAT, Television Beat Reporter
Liz Ippolito is a Grad student studying Cinematic Production Management and recently graduated with her bachelors in TV, Film, and Media Arts with a Minor in Media Studies. She is from Oradell New Jersey and is returning for her second year as the Executive Producer on #THAT. Ippolito also serves as the Television beat reporter for the station.

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