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Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV

Whether it be on TikTok, Youtube, or TV, many of the most famous and influential celebrities are teenagers and young adults. Countless children idolize these lifestyles of glamor and illustriousness, and some try to obtain similar stardom, though seldom do. Are their lives as glamorous and desirable as they are perceived to be, or are there things pushed under the rug that would make this way of life seem less like a dream and more like a nightmare? 

Many college students’ childhoods were characterized by watching Nickelodeon or Disney Channel, keeping up with Drake and Josh as they navigated brotherhood or the antics of Zack and Cody in the Tipton Hotel. The documentary series Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV provides a glimpse of the horrifying conditions for those who worked on such shows. Although the experiences of child actors, such as Drake Bell and Amanda Bynes, are the primary focus for the series, the horror continues as we learn about the traumatizing experiences that the writers underwent. Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen were two of these writers who worked with Dan Schneider, and they were the only writers for Schneider who were forced to split a salary. Schneider told them that he did not believe women to be funny, and ordered them to embarrass themselves in the workplace by forcing them to scream degrading phrases (such as, “I’m a slut”), asking them to give him massages, and telling Stratton to act like she was being sodomized. Kilgen eventually sued the production company for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and harassment in an attempt to prevent workplace harassment from continuing in the future. 

Despite Kilgen’s efforts to put an end to the inappropriate treatment, Schneider’s unethical and overtly sexual behaviors endured with much younger targets. Throughout his career, Schneider was notorious for including innumerable sexualized jokes in the shows for which he wrote. These include creating a character named Penelope Taynt for The Amanda Show, referring to an inappropriate anatomical location. He was also very infatuated with feet, as is evident when watching any of his shows. This fetish materialized in many different ways, including having a young Ariana Grande put her feet in her mouth on the show Victorious

Amanda Bynes has been outspoken for years about the abuse she suffered at Dan Schneider’s hand, but her assertions have been undermined by mental breakdowns and a history of substance abuse. A Twitter account not explicitly linked to Bynes, but suspected by many to be an alternate account, tweeted, “Can you imagine having an abortion at 13 because your boss impregnated you? Committed because your father touched you?” A particularly cringe-inducing scene between the two took place in a hot tub, where Schneider sat next to Bynes in an interview-style video that he himself wrote. 

One of the most shocking moments that came out of the series was at the end of the second episode, which covered two pedophiles on the set of the shows: Jason Michael Handy and Brian Peck. Handy sent sexually explicit emails to a child on The Amanda Show and was eventually convicted on counts of lewd acts on a child and distributing sexually explicit material by email. Brian Peck was a dialogue coach for Nickelodeon, and he was sent to jail for 16 months for child sexual abuse. In an emotionally-charged final scene, it was revealed that the child who was sexual assaulted by Peck was someone that many know from Drake & Josh and The Amanda Show: Drake Bell. Bell’s trauma and abuse by Peck was described in-depth in Episode 3: “The Darkest Secret” and Episode 4: “Too Close to the Sun.” Peck inserted himself into every facet of Bell’s life, including attempting to portray Drake and Josh’s father in the television series. After being sexually assaulted by Peck on numerous occasions, Drake Bell and his mother worked with police to acquire an admission of guilt from Peck and soon thereafter Peck was arrested. 

After the docuseries took the internet by storm, Dan Schneider took to YouTube to respond to the allegations by an interview with a former actor on one of his Nickelodeon shows. BooG!e, who played T-Bo on iCarly, did an interview with Dan Schneider where he addressed the issues brought up by the series. Schneider, with regards to past misconduct, said, “There are definitely things that I would do differently. The main thing that I would change is how I treat people and everyone. I definitely at times didn’t give people the best of me. I didn’t show enough patience. I could be cocky and definitely over-ambitious, and sometimes just straight up rude and obnoxious, and I’m sorry that I ever was.” 

In the video, Schneider addressed his relationship with Amanda Bynes and inappropriate jokes that he inserted into Nickelodeon jokes. He even suggested that these jokes should be now cut from episodes that continue to be watched.

A fifth episode, entitled “Breaking the Silence,” is scheduled to be released on April 7, and it will star Drake Bell, Shane Lyons, and other child stars. Investigation Discovery said, "Building off the revelations explored in the first four episodes, award-winning journalist Soledad O'Brien will lead the conversation in the new episode to discuss where the industry can go from here.” 

The documentary series thus far has illuminated the injustices that have gone unchecked and the culture that has made such actions commonplace. It is now paramount to foster an environment that protects child actors, promotes healthy work dynamics, and prevents a documentary series like this from having to be made ever again. 

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