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The dark underbelly of “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” is shrouded in mystery

The official poster for  the new documentary television series “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.” The documentary exposes the horrors that occurred behind the scenes at Nickelodeon. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Contains spoilers for the documentary television series “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” (2024). 

For generations, children’s programming has long been a source of joy, nostalgia and child-like wonder for audiences. With imaginative storytelling and clever, sitcom-style comedy, these shows have left an indelible mark on all of our hearts, even after they have ended. 

Yet, behind the scenes, there lies a dark underbelly shrouded in mystery. The ongoing five-part documentary television series “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” (2024) shares many child actors’ on-set experiences while also leaving certain stories untold. 

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” delves into producer and popular Nickelodeon showrunner Dan Schneider, who has worked in children’s programming since the 1990s and has worked on shows such as “All That” (1994-2020) and “iCarly” (2007-2012). The series comes six years after the #MeToo movement, which resulted in dozens of Nickelodeon employees sharing their experiences of working with Schneider. 

However, numerous controversies surrounding Schnieder’s time on the popular children’s network have been exposed, shaking the world of children’s television as we know it. “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” peels back the layers of Schneider’s tenure at the network, shedding light on several allegations and issues that have long been the subject of scrutiny.

The documentary features interviews with former Nickelodeon child actors, their parents and crew members who closely worked on a variety of Schneider-led series. While these shows had a notable influence on children in the audience, the documentary uncovers disturbing truths that the child actors faced behind the scenes while working on these shows. 

The ongoing “in plain sight” moments showcase clips from various Nickelodeon series, where Schneider often wrote in disconcerting adult jokes and sexual innuendos to be acted out by minors. This includes featuring actors in revealing bikinis or leotards, Ariana Grande’s character in “Victorious” “milking” a potato and deriving the name of Amanda Bynes’ character Penelope Taynt in “The Amanda Show” after the perineum.

Additionally, the allegations made by two screenwriters of “The Amanda Show” are shocking displays of an absence of professionalism in the workplace. In the first episode of the documentary, writers Jenny Kilgen and Christy Stratton recount their experiences with Schneider while working on “The Amanda Show.” They share instances of gender discrimination and sexual pranks. Schneider’s inappropriate behavior toward his female staff bled into his toxic and harmful behavior around the child actors on his sets.

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” further explores Bynes’ rapid rise to fame after starring in “All That” in 1996. Her career was further expanded by “The Amanda Show” and “What I Like About You” — the latter launching her into mainstream stardom, becoming one of the most famous 16-year-olds of the time.

However, the series explores Bynes’ tumultuous journey with the fame thrust upon her at such a young age, including her attempted emancipation from her parents and a perceived closeness with Schneider as described by former staff members. Despite the examination of Bynes’ career, the former actress reportedly chose not to participate in the documentary. As a result, the series lacks first-hand testimonies from Bynes’ friends and family members, leaving gaps in her story of struggle and fame.

One of the most jolting revelations in the documentary is when, for the first time, “Drake & Josh” star Drake Bell describes how dialogue coach Brian Peck manipulated and sexually abused him while he was working on “The Amanda Show.” Bell details his growing, disturbing relationship with Peck, including his parents’ negligence in the situation and Peck’s obsession with him. Peck was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse in 2003 after “The Amanda Show” ended.

Bell’s experiences are a catalyst for broader conversations surrounding the repercussions of a lack of supervision and protection of children in the entertainment industry. It sheds light on the potential dangers posed by hiring individuals who later turn out to be child predators within show business — a concern underscored by the disturbing arrest of former production assistant Jason Michael Handy, who described himself as a “pedophile, full-blown” in his private journal.

Through Bell’s testimony and the reveal of Handy’s actions, the documentary raises awareness about the urgency for protective safeguards to ensure the well-being of child actors.

Subsequently, Schneider has responded to “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” via a YouTube interview with “iCarly” actor BooG!e. In the video, Schneider admits and apologizes for making his female staff uncomfortable, stating his embarrassment for his previous actions. He further states that some jokes from his older shows should be cut in future airings, saying, “I definitely owe some people a pretty strong apology.”

The documentary, in addition to the media’s spotlight on Bynes, has raised concern surrounding the rise and fall of child actors. However, it falls short of addressing the devastation of actors’ lives and the lack of protection for child stars. Children are not supposed to lose their innocence at the age of 10.

This controversy has led to widespread discourse, particularly on social media, regarding industry practices concerning child stars, the loss of innocence and the toll of fame. Society as a whole must take action to combat the emotional and physical damage inflicted upon child stars.

A poignant exploration of the societal impact of children’s programming, “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” is more than just a documentary — it showcases the dark behind-the-scenes struggles child actors face when they are not protected. Yet, as a society, we find ourselves grappling with unanswered questions while striving to confront these revelations and find solutions to these issues.

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About the Contributor
Clare Gehlich
Clare Gehlich, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Clare is the Assistant Arts and Culture Editor for The Statesman and a senior journalism major with a minor in political science. Since transferring to Stony Brook University in 2022, she has written for both Herald Community Newspapers and WSHU Public Radio.
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