The Biggest Revelations In The Nickelodeon Documentary, Quiet On Set: The Dark Side Of Kids TV

The documentary exposes a series of allegations of toxic and predatory behaviour on set - and makes for shocking viewing

Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes with Sponge Bob Square Pants (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

by Nikki Peach |
Updated on

Nickelodeon is known for being a leading creator of kids entertainment, but it's a channel charged with a dark past. In the new documentary series Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, several actors, staff and former child stars have spoken out against the abuse, inappropriate behaviour and toxic work environment they say is buried beneath Nickelodeon's bright orange exterior.

The channel that produced programmes like The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, All That, Zoey 101 and iCarly has dominated children's TV since the 1990s. But this series portrays a very different, sinister presence concealed on set.

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, which aired in the US last weekend, exposes a series of allegations of toxic and predatory behaviour on set including 'abuse, sexism, racism and inappropriate dynamics with its underage stars and crew'. And the man who created and produced all these shows, Dan Schneider, is at the centre.

The series goes on to raise questions about how this type of behaviour can be identified and avoided in future, and whether there are enough protections for child actors today (the answer is no).

Amanda Bynes with Drake Bell and Josh Peck (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

The biggest shocks from Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV

'Drake Bell was sexually assaulted on set'

By all accounts, the documentary makes for sobering and upsetting viewing. One of the biggest shocks came from Drake & Josh star Drake Bell who waived his anonymity and came forward as the child star sexually assaulted by actor and filmmaker Brian Peck – a man who was convicted in 2004 of a lewd act against a child and oral copulation of a person under 16.

'The All That cast experienced racism on set'

Bryan Hearne, who was on the sketch musical series All That for two seasons, said he had his skin compared to charcoal by senior staff on set and was always pushed to play 'drug dealers' and other racially charged roles.

He also described a series of stunts and costumes that made him feel uncomfortable while working on the show. In one scene, for example, a dog licked peanut butter all over his body and on another occasion he had to wear a tight-fitting costume covered in phallic symbols.

Other accounts from the show include a child who had to put a live scorpion in their mouth, and another who was asked to drink used bathwater.

'The Amanda Show launched a lawsuit over gender discrimination'

The hit show starring child star Amanda Bynes apparently only had two female writers, Jenny Kilgen and Christy Stratton, who claim they were forced to split a single salary for their work.

Kilgen also said she was forced to watch pornography at work, while Stratton (who was fired after a season) recalls presenting an idea at the writers' table while someone pretended to sodomise her.

Kilgen later filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Nickelodeon alleging she didn't receive equal pay. It was settled before going to court.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 13: Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Kress, Jerry Trainor and Dan Schneider at the MTV Summer 2007 TCA Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 13, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Film Magic)

'Hundreds of people were contacted for interviews'

The directors of the documentary, Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz, spent a long time scanning IMDB for actors, writers, producers and other staff on Dan Schneider's shows. 'We reached out to as many people as possible, many of whom, even if they weren't ready to speak, were really excited that somebody was actually going to take this seriously. They've seen attempts before that had never really landed.'

One notable person who does not feature in the documentary is child star Amanda Bynes. The former actor, now 37, was in a conservatorship for nine years until 2022. She has continued to struggle and was placed in a psychiatric hold in March 2023.

Robertson does not divulge any information about contact they had with Bynes, but she said: 'You see a lot of footage of Amanda from when she was on The Amanda Show, and you see her talent on full display.' She later added, 'There's a lot of new information about that story. But, you know, we want Amanda to tell her story in her own words.'

'The documentary was partly inspired by Jennette McCurdy's memoir, I'm Glad My Mom Died'

There was a series of events that prompted the creators of the documentary to follow through on the project. One of which was former star of iCarly Jennette McCurdy's best-selling memoir, I'm Glad My Mum Died, which recounted problematic events on set including auditions that made her feel uncomfortable, the psychological abuse she faced and her relationship with a 32-year-old co-worker while she was 18.

Another was a report on Schneider's toxic Nickelodeon sets by Business Insider journalist Kate Taylor, which serve as the basis for the documentary, in August 2022. And a third was the release of a YouTube video that compiled disturbing clips from Schneider's shows three years ago. The video has received 1.9 million views and shows Schneider with his arms around the young cast members including Ariana Grande, Miranda Cosgrove and Amanda Bynes.

'Brandi received an explicit image when she guest-starred'

When Brandi was a child star on All That, she said she received an explicit image sent from the then-Nickelodeon production assistant Jason Handy. In 2004, Handy pleaded no contest to two felony counts including lewd acts on a child and distributing sexually explicit material. He was released in 2009 and in 2014, he was arrested again on charges including indecent liberties with a child and sex offender registry violations.

Schwartz said, 'When I first reached out to Brandi, the girl that Jason Handy had solicited and sent the photos to, I didn't even know if I had the right address. And a week later, I got an email from her, and she was like, "You know, I've been waiting 20 years for the right time to talk. And I feel like this is a sign."'

Not enough has changed

Schneider has not worked for Nickelodeon since 2018 and he continues to deny all allegations of misconduct. However, the documentary's creators hope Quiet on Set will start a wider conversation about problematic work environments for children and the behaviour that allows them to continue.

Robertson said, 'I think we've made progress but you know, quite possibly, we had a long way to go. So I think that there's a broad sort of mushy thing that we can all engage in, which is just cultivating work environments that distribute power more evenly.'

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Director Dan Schneider attends the event Meet the Cast: "Nickelodeon's Game Shakers" at the Apple Store Soho on September 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Lizzy Sullivan/WireImage)

What has Dan Schneider said about the documentary?

What's perhaps most shocking is that Dan Schneider watched the documentary series and then decided to give a 19-minute video interview with BooG!E, who played T-Bo on iCarly.

He said, 'Watching over the past two nights was very difficult – facing my past behaviours, some of which are embarrassing and that I regret. I definitely owe some people a pretty strong apology.'

Schneider continued, 'When I watched the show, I could see the hurt in people's eyes, and it made me feel awful and regretful and sorry. I wish I could go back, especially to those earlier years of my career, and bring the growth and the experience that I have now and just do a better job and never, ever feel like it was OK to be an asshole to anyone, ever.'

Where to watch Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV in the UK

The documentary series is split into four episodes and is available to stream in the UK on discovery+ now.

Nikki Peach is news and entertainment writer at Grazia UK, working across pop culture, TV and current affairs.

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