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Brewster Bear Facts

Nickelodeon’s “Quiet on the Set” Reveals a System in Need of More Reform

The deep dive on the dark side of children’s T.V. – TRIGGER WARNING
Dan Schneider accepting a kids choice lifetime achievement award. (Photos courtesy Max)
Dan Schneider accepting a kids choice lifetime achievement award. (Photos courtesy Max)

If you were a child from the 90s to the 2010s, you most likely watched many different shows that came from Nickelodeon. You saw all of the different jokes and fun experiences that the cast members would have. From a viewer’s perspective, that’s what Nickelodeon was: fun. However, due to the recent documentary, a much darker picture has come to light, changing our perspective on what these shows were at their core and what the actors experienced.

The documentary revealed pervasive workplace toxicity for all employees on the set, including writers, actors, and the film crew. Employees endured various types of verbal and even sexual abuse that ruined the lives of many. These actions were perpetrated by adults with power over the careers of many. Even adults who witnessed instances of abuse were afraid to say anything for fear of reprisal.

In the beginning of the show, gender discrimination, along with wage discrimination, was investigated. Two female writers, Jenny Kilgren and Chrissy Stratton, were hired by Dan Schneider to work on The Amanda Show. For both of the women, the job seemed to be a dream come true after they had been working towards it for so long. However, very early on, they saw their dream turn into a nightmare. Both of the women were told that they would be hired, but on one salary: one that they would have to split. That was only the beginning. They would be on set with Schneider, who would ask different female workers for massages weekly, if not daily. He would monopolize the time of his writers, despite the time of day. There was an understanding that the word ‘no’ would not be taken lightly. Chrissy Stratton learned this after asking to leave a writing session late on Sunday night to go to a concert. Her contract was not renewed for the next season of The Amanda Show, despite her experience. Jenny Kilgren was, however, in her own words, “only able to last four days before quitting.” It was then that Kilgren learned that what Schneider had done with their salaries was illegal and against the union’s rules. She filed a lawsuit against Schneider and asked Stratton to write a letter of support, knowing that this could very well be the end of her career.

The documentary also unearthed a series of disturbing events that had been hidden for 21 years. Jason Handy, a production assistant, was caught texting with minors and in possession of letters and clothing from minors. One of these girls was Brandi, a guest star on The Amanda Show. After her time on the show, Handy continued to reach out to her, and they created what Brandi’s mom thought was a professional friendship. Handy would promise to get Brandi on another show he was working on. This all changed when Handy asked if Brandi would meet him at a mall alone, and he sent her lewd images of himself. This was when Brandi’s mother saw the dangers in his behavior and ended the relationship. A short time later, cops would seek out the family to ask questions regarding Handy and his actions as he was caught abusing other minors.

In addition to Handy, there was another man from Nickelodeon who was put behind bars for even more egregious behavior with minors. In the early 2000s, there was a dialogue coach by the name of Brian Peck who worked on The Amanda Show alongside young stars including Drake Bell. Peck was also on the set of All That, where cast member Shane Lyons shared that Peck sexually harassed him by asking many inappropriate questions. Peck was around Bell constantly, to the point where Bell’s father had a gut feeling that something was wrong with Peck. Bell’s father would place himself as a buffer between his son and Peck, which Peck did not take kindly to. Bell was fooled by Peck into changing his manager from his dad to his mom. As his mom was not fond of driving, Peck essentially took up the role of Bell’s manager. Bell was spending extended periods of time with Peck, including overnights at his home. It was during these overnights that Peck sexually assaulted Bell. When this all came to light, a criminal investigation was conducted. Numerous people in Hollywood wrote letters of support for Peck, many using words or phrases that put blame on the victim as excuses for Peck’s actions. When Bell entered the courtroom, he saw Peck’s side full of support from various people in Hollywood; his side consisted of just his family, a scene, Bell stated, that has been burned into his memory forever. Recently, a few people have spoken out, stating they were unaware of the charges Peck was facing, but Bell has revealed that not one of them has reached out to him personally. This is the very first time that Bell has spoken out about his story, as the court records were sealed. This was also the first time a name has been given to the “John Doe” that Peck abused twenty years ago.

Schneider together with Miranda Cosgrove at a Nickelodeon event.

Bell stated that he often questions why his case with Peck was not a bigger deal. Two men who worked for Nickelodeon were found to be child abusers, and it all gets hidden. Why did people not ask more questions afterwards? Why were people not concerned with the behavior that had seemed to end with Handy’s arrest? When reflecting on the situation, it is confusing how two people can be arrested for the same heinous crimes within a short amount of time, and there is not a more thorough investigation.

In another instance, child actor Bryan Hearne and his mother Tracey witnessed firsthand what would happen if you went against Dan Schneider. Hearne’s mom was on set with her son and started to notice things that made her uncomfortable. Certain jokes were inappropriate, and certain actions were racially motivated. Tracey was not going to sit back and watch her child be treated unfairly, so she spoke out against the actions of Schneider. When it came time for Hearne’s contract to be renewed with the show, he was told that he had been dropped. Hearne blamed his mother for his subsequent firing, believing that her actions angered Schneider and got him cut off. This was the beginning of a giant rift that formed between Hearne and his mother, which was only healed by their participation in the documentary. For decades, Hearne felt that his mother’s actions got him fired, but was able to see it in a new light when the actions of Schneider and others on set came to light. Instead of feeling angry towards his mom, he felt grateful, as some parents did not speak up for their child, and the consequences were unimaginable.

Another story of abuse from Nickelodeon was that of Amanda Bynes. Bynes was discovered in a comedy club by Katrina Johnson, who was a cast member on All That. Johnson was there to do a show, and Schneider showed up to support her. It was there that Schneider discovered Bynes and cast her in All That. Bynes was the new star, Johnson stated, and she was subsequently pushed out of the show. Bynes became more and more popular, even starring in her own show called The Amanda Show. This would bring her closer and closer to Schneider. Those who starred alongside her on All That remember knowing that Bynes was Schneider’s favorite, and that she would always spend time alone with Schneider. Bynes declined to be interviewed for the documentary; however, it is believed that she suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of Schneider. Bynes chose to emancipate herself from her family, started to drink and party regularly, which led to a few DUI’s, and was hospitalized for a mental breakdown and then diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Schneider took a wonderfully talented young girl and put her through unthinkable work environments, which led to her subsequent exit from the spotlight.

Schneider with Amanda Bell on the set of one of his T.V. shows.

Many different cast members from all different shows, including Raquel Lee, Alexa Nikolas, Giovonnie Samuels, and Bryan Hearne, discussed different jokes that Schneider asked them to perform, which made them uncomfortable. However, for many of them, it only truly clicked when they were adults and started to reflect back on what they went through, with many of them stating that, as a result, they would never allow their children to be child actors. They reflect back on their TV shows and are disappointed about the lack of action from the adults in the room, who were the people who should have spoken out but did not.

Despite not being on the show physically, Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, gave the audience an insight into another form of abuse perpetrated by Schneider. Despite not being named, McCurdy often references an extremely abusive director that she had to work with who had very similar qualities as Schneider. This has led the public to conclude that she is speaking about her experiences with Schneider and how they affected her and the actors around her.

The documentary was an opportunity for many former young stars on Nickelodeon to speak up about their trauma and finally share their story about the horrors they endured and survived. This was their chance to finally share with the world what some of them had kept secret for over twenty years. However, this was also a call to action. Under the current laws, background checks are not required for employees on a set with children if a parent or guardian is present. This is how, despite being thrown in jail for his actions, Peck was able to get a job on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody just a short time after his release. It did not matter that he was on the list of registered sex offenders or that he had done unspeakable things to a young actor. He was able to continue working as background checks were not necessary.

In the 20 years since these incidents occurred, the laws have improved, but more changes are needed. We need to continue to improve the laws that protect these children. For many of them, being on TV is a dream. They were able to achieve their dreams, and we need to enhance the laws to ensure that these dreams do not turn into nightmares.

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