Nickelodeon's History Of Kids TV Is Tough Viewing


It would be difficult to watch “Quiet on Set:  The Dark Side of Kids TV,”  a five-part documentary on the Investigation Discovery Network and Max, under any circumstances.

Shockers about the widespread abuse -- from sexual assault of minors to racism and sexism in the workplace -- are so intense and heartbreaking that they come with a trigger warning.

But seeing what happened to the kid performers at Nickelodeon in the 1990s and early 2000s is especially excruciating and darkly ironic, because that cable channel was seen as a bright new light for kids, capturing the pulse of the kind of programming that children in the under-10 and preteen set delighted in.

Shows like “All That” and “Kenan & Kel” and their spinoffs were catnip for cool kids, and they featured then-unknown, wildly talented actors who became colossal stars.



Although some horrors had become “open secrets”  around Nick’s Los Angeles production facilities, no one reported them until a decade or so ago, when disturbing clips of sexualized young female stars started appearing on You Tube.

One exposed a then-16-year-old Ariana Grande in “Victorious,” a Nickelodeon show that debuted in 2010. Grande was filmed while lying upside down on a bed, pouring water all over her body and mouth, and making moaning sounds.  Another had her making similar sounds by groping a potato. Cast member Jamie Lynn Spears repeatedly had green goop squirted in her face in a suggestive way.

The clips also came from shows like “The Amanda Show,” “iCarly,” “All That,” and “Josh & Drake,” all created by the boy wonder/showrunner Dan Schneider.

He would stand to the side of the set, laughing hysterically with his flunkies while his juvenile male fantasies were acted out by children.

Otherwise, he’d be getting massaged after pressing professional women on set, who had other jobs to do, to become his masseuses.

Twitter ended up killing him, because Schneider drew attention to himself by posting photos of the feet of his female stars, something he did not find odd -- but others did.

Schneider was fired in 2018, only because #MeToo had given young women who previously thought they had to stay silent the confidence to come forward and report the pervy creep.

In 2022, new allegations about Schneider’s toxicity surfaced in an investigation by Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor.

The producers and director of “Quiet on Set” partnered with Taylor (who is featured in the doc) to expand on that reporting.

Schneider got his first “created by” credit for “The Amanda Show” with Amanda Bynes, after another Nickelodeon producer discovered the supremely talented kid at a comedy club.  Schneider cast her on “All That,” his breakthrough sketch comedy show. Even at 10, Bynes had a startling ability as both a comedian and character actor to pull off complicated bits.

Sadly, she was an unstoppable star extinguished early by Schneider, who reportedly later helped her running away from home and attempted emancipation from her parents.  As an adult, along with other abused kid actors, Bynes has had drug problems and behaved erratically. The damage is palpable. I now feel nothing but compassion for her.

Drake Bell, who started on “The Amanda Show” and then got his own spinoff, “Drake & Josh,” is given an entire episode of “Quiet on Set” to tell his traumatic sexual abuse story for the first time.

Brian Peck, a dialogue and acting coach 20 years his senior, abused Bell as a young teen. “I was just trapped, he said. “I had no way out…The abuse was extensive, and it got pretty brutal.”

Peck had befriended Bell and started invading his life -- inviting him to his house, getting him special treatment and treats.  Bell’s divorced dad had become his manager and was a devoted parent. The father started sensing that something was off with Peck and wanted Bell kept away from him.

Peck responded by using his power to manipulate Bell into dropping his father as manager and allowing himself to step into that role. Bell and his dad barely spoke for years as a result, but have recently patched up their relationship.

Peck progressively got so sickly obsessed with the teen that Bell’s mother finally called police. Peck was arrested in August 2003 and ultimately sentenced to 16 months in prison after pleading no contest to two counts of lewd acts upon a child 14 or 15 by a person 10 years older.

He was also required to register as a sex offender.

For the trial, many Hollywood biggies wrote Peck letters of support. Even more brain-boggling, after Peck was released from prison, he got a job at Disney.

In total, there were three sex abusers arrested who worked at Nickelodeon at about that time.

After the documentary aired, Schneider issued a sniveling apology that still failed to take complete accountability.

Nickelodeon came up with its own blah-blah boilerplate of a statement. “Our highest priorities are the well-being and best interests not just of our employees, casts and crew, but of all children, and we have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards,” the company said in a release.

But the problem is that many of these kids, and their parents, fail to speak out because they’re relying on the money that the kids make.

Mary Robertson, one of the documentary’s co-directors, told The Hollywood Reporter she thought “Quiet on Set” was much more than the story of just one network and its failure to keep children safe.

“I think we’re in a moment as a culture where we’re reflecting more often, and perhaps understanding more deeply, the downside to fame,” she said.

There’s already been a seismic reaction to “Quiet,” with more people coming forth.

Let’s hope the doc starts something important by illuminating the outrageous behavior that kid actors are forced to face, and gets new safety standards enforced.<

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