Pop Culture Press review of Quiet on the Set Docuseries

Quiet On Set Reveals the Horrors Faced by the Child Stars of Nickelodeon

Review of the docuseries Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV

Between March 17 and 18, Investigation Discovery aired a disturbing but necessary four-part docuseries interviewing crew members, actors, and parents associated with an empire of children’s entertainment: Nickelodeon. Beginning in 1979, Nickelodeon was launched as the first-ever children’s television network, parented by Paramount Global Networks.

The network quickly dominated household television sets, captivating young audiences with its major selling point being a network where kids are the stars of the show. Nickelodeon’s massively successful shows are responsible for launching the careers of famous actors such as Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson, and Jeanette McCurdy, and pop stars like Ariana Grande.

Undoubtedly one of the most popular and profitable children’s networks, in recent years the company and its affiliates have come under fire for suspicious insinuations of innuendo and inappropriate power dynamics explicitly portrayed in their shows.

If you’ve ever seen an episode of iCarly or Victorious, especially as an adult viewer, you might wonder why so many of the child actors are playing with their feet or why there are so many running gags containing miscellaneous liquids squirting on the faces of the show’s stars.

Particular scenes from these shows have even been compared to pornographic material based on some of the sounds and gestures the actors were scripted to engage in. Many across the internet, documented these questionable moments on Youtube and TikTok and linked these findings back to Dan Schneider, one of the most recognizable names in children’s television.

Schneider rose through the ranks after joining Nickelodeon in the early 90s and becoming the head writer for an SNL-style sketch comedy show for kids starring kids, All That. Many All That stars including Katrina Johnson, Giovonnie Samuels, Bryan Hearne, Kyle Sullivan, and others were featured in the docuseries telling their stories of working on the shows and with Schneider.

Shortly after the success of All That, and upon the discovery of a young Amanda Bynes, Schneider and his colleagues formed The Amanda Show which ran on Nickelodeon from 1999-2002. During this time, Schneider had solidified himself as a creative visionary for children’s entertainment. He also started exerting his power more over his employees.

These are the primary focuses of the first two episodes of Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV. Through insightful interviews directly with former Nickelodeon stars and crew members, the jovial persona of Dan Schneider slowly crack open for the world to see.

In addition to the unsettling nature of what was allowed on many children’s shows fronted by Schneider, the behind-the-scenes treatment was especially grueling as told by The Amanda Show’s only two female writers Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen.

The former writers recounted being subjected to humiliating demonstrations formulated by Schneider, many that were sexually explicit, and voiced out in the open in front of their male coworkers. The two also acknowledged Schneider’s retaliatory threats after Kilgen informed the WGA that Schnider was splitting the two women’s salaries, violating the guild’s conditions.

Crew members were also asked to work long hours and were constantly degraded by Schneider when they didn’t fit his standards. Former editor for The Amanda Show Karyn Finley Thompson remembered being hauled off to the hospital after collapsing under the pressure of work and yelling “I’ll be right back,” when Schneider’s team questioned how the show would get done.

These first-hand testimonies accompanied by diligent journalistic commentary from writers Scaachi Koul and Kate Taylor, elucidate the truly erratic and inappropriate behavior of Schneider. What was even more disturbing was how the showrunner was continuously enabled by executives who refused to compromise the monetary values of Schneider’s ideas.

While the first two episodes deliver painful information and allow audiences to look at these shows and those who created them through a new and illuminating lens, the final two episodes uncover even more ghastly truths about the television network.

Drake Bell starred in Josh and Drake from 2004-2007
Credit: Investigation Discovery

Credit: Investigation Discovery

In 2003, actor, producer, and dialogue coach Brian Peck was arrested for engaging in lewd acts with a minor. In 2004, Peck was sentenced to 16 months in prison and had to register as a sex offender. At the time, the child who was 15 at the time of the abuse was only ever referred to as John Doe for protective purposes.

At the tail end of episode two when the All That cast members discuss Brian’s sudden absence and wonder who his victim was, Nickelodeon superstar Drake Bell appears before the camera, an expression of discontent on his face. In the docuseries’s third episode, Bell reveals himself as the John Doe victim.

Chronicling his career as a child actor with his father as a corroborator, Bell tells his harrowing story. The filmmakers don’t avoid Bell’s excruciating retelling, letting the audience take in the actor and singer’s long pauses, and inability to describe the abuse in full detail.

We see Bell’s father break down and recall the vile manipulation at the hands of Peck who singled out Bell when he first appeared on The Amanda Show and worked to drive a wedge between him and his father who suspected Peck as a predator early on, so that he could subjugate the then 15-year-old actor to horrendous crimes.

This shocking revelation two decades after the initial abuse is wholeheartedly the most disturbing but crucial aspect of the docuseries. If hearing Bell’s story isn’t gut-wrenching enough, infuriation is evoked when it’s made known that Peck’s industry influence still managed to land him a job working on another children’s television show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Bell also notes the amount of support Peck received on the date of the sentencing. Kate Taylor reads countless defense letters for Peck after petitioning the court to release the documents for the series. Many notable actors including James Marsden, Rider Strong, Taran Killam, and others expressed support for the convicted sex offender.

The fourth and final episode in the docuseries acts very much as a wrap-up of all the presented information with a heartfelt ending shot of Bell and his father walking shoulder to shoulder, talking about brighter days ahead. But is this a viable reality? Can children ever really be truly safe in such a voyeuristic, demoralizing industry?

According to many of the parents spoken to in Quiet On Set, the answer is no. Many of the former child stars also express how their experiences impact them today, Sullivan even saying that his time at Nickelodeon has caused him to “trust people less.”

The unfortunate fact is the provisions in place for child actors have not stopped this behavior from perpetuating. According to a recent article from backstage.com, “…there is no federal law protecting child actors.” Though the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938, the entertainment industry is not required to adhere to this act.

Many child actor labor laws are left up to the state. Currently, 17 states “do not regulate child entertainment laws,” the article continues. In the state of California minors who are 16 or 17 are allowed to be on set without the supervision of a parent or guardian. The fact that this age is close to the age that Bell was when he was abused is even more disheartening.

Quiet On Set stands in a precarious and dichotomous position. On the one hand, it’s truly fascinating to hear about the terrifying inner workings of one of the most beloved children’s television networks. On the other hand, the docuseries structures the imperative nature of child entertainers’ well-being at the forefront of its story, a subject requiring relentless care.

As conversations about the dehumanizing practices of Hollywood and the treacherous work environment they produce rise, we must consider those who are extremely vulnerable. Further evaluation and investigation must be conducted when regarding the media our children are consuming and the children who are involved in creating that media.

If we are genuinely striving for brighter days, we must be unafraid to hold the entertainment industry accountable and make room for those who have been harmed to be outspoken. Quiet On Set is consequently just another vessel for this conversation at the moment. Hope can only be fostered at the installation of positive change, not the expectation of it.

Pop Culture Press