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'Quiet on Set' docuseries details rampant abuse on Nickelodeon TV show sets

Drake Bell, left, and Josh Peck joke around on the set of the new children's television show "Drake & Josh," at the Nickelodeon Studios in Los Angeles. Bell's story of sexual abuse during his Nickelodeon tenure is a focal point in the new docuseries "Quiet on Set." (Reed Saxon/AP)
Drake Bell, left, and Josh Peck joke around on the set of the new children's television show "Drake & Josh," at the Nickelodeon Studios in Los Angeles. Bell's story of sexual abuse during his Nickelodeon tenure is a focal point in the new docuseries "Quiet on Set." (Reed Saxon/AP)

Inappropriate behavior, sexism, bullying, racism and sexual abuse are all among the allegations brought against Nickelodeon staffers in the new docuseries “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.”

The five-part series focuses on longtime producer Dan Schneider, claiming he and others created a harmful environment for child sars. And these allegations aren’t new; in her 2022 memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” Jennette McCurdy described the toxic atmosphere she faced when working at Nickelodeon’s “iCarly,” largely at the hands of someone she only referred to as “The Creator.”

A major revelation in the series comes from Drake Bell, who starred in “The Amanda Show” and “Drake & Josh” as a child. Bell opens up about being sexually abused by former dialogue coach Brian Peck, who was charged and convicted in 2003. At the time, Bell’s name was kept confidential.

Peck was one of three predators discovered to be working on Nickelodeon lots. He served 16 months for his conviction in Bell’s case, then got hired by Disney Channel.

The series has already seen high streaming numbers, with Investigation Discovery saying the first four episodes have garnered 16 million viewers. This audience reaction informed the network’s promises of a fifth bonus episode set to air on April 7.

“The story is huge,” says Slate culture reporter Nadira Goffe. “It’s definitely blowing up everyone’s social media.”

Watch on YouTube.

5 questions with Nadira Goffe

What are some of the allegations that come up in the series?

“A lot of the allegations about the onscreen content revolve around jokes that we maybe laughed at when we were children, but in hindsight are now being viewed as thinly veiled sexual innuendos.

“In particular, one example is from Leon Frierson, who was an earlier actor on ‘All That’ — which was sort of [‘Saturday Night Live’] for children — who tells of when he was forced to play a nose-themed superhero character on the show… for which he was donned in classic superhero tights that were befitted with phallic looking noses on his shoulders. And the punchline or end of that sketch involves those phallic noses shooting a snot-like goo at the face of another character.

“In addition, Bryan Hearne, another Black male actor who was the only Black male actor during his tenure in ‘All That’’s later seasons, details a sort of racially discomforting environment. For instance, he recounts being cast as a Girl Scout cookie dealer in a sketch, which mimicked a drug dealing scenario.”

What about the sexual jokes that included young female actors?

“There’s a tendency that the documentary posits within Schneider’s content for years across all of his shows to over-sexualize young girls and young female characters.

“Particularly in the docuseries, I think one of the most glaring examples is of now-mega pop star Ariana Grande, who was a star on the show ‘Victorious’ and then ‘Sam & Cat.’

“‘Victorious’ had extra online content you could watch online, and these were sort of like fake video diaries or vlogs, and the documentary shows a supercut of Ariana Grande in that extra content doing things like putting tomatoes in her bra, or massaging a potato in a sexual manner, or pouring water on herself in a sexually suggestive manner.”

How has Nickelodeon responded after this series dropped?

“Nickelodeon has a statement that repeats for every episode that basically says, though we cannot corroborate or negate allegations of behaviors from productions decades ago, currently, they investigate all formal complaints as a part of their commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace environment free of harassment and over the years, they’ve adopted numerous safeguards to ensure that they’re living up to their own high standards.

“I do think that a lot of this docuseries seeks to not only call out Schneider but to call out a sort of alleged negligence of Nickelodeon as a place that employed children, but did not necessarily treat those environments as places that employ children, did not put in the proper protections for these kids did not maybe allegedly do the background checks they should have done.

“A lot of this docuseries is separating itself from Schneider and just pointing to a larger culture of TV sets and Hollywood being unsafe for children.”

Where does Schneider land at the end of all this?

“The thing that is sort of confusing throughout the apologies/statements that Schneider gives is that he does apologize for his behavior, but he also is adamant that he did not have unilateral power for the things that happened on set, that everything he did was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults and newnand network executives on both coasts.

“There’s a sort of push and pull of him acknowledging wrongdoing, but then also saying, ‘Hey, it wasn’t just me.’”

What has the response been from people who are older now but grew up on these shows?

“One thing that’s sort of unsettling is that the allegations are still unfolding. Not only is there a fifth bonus episode coming, but other actors from that time period are taking to TikTok and social media to talk about their experiences, particularly an actress from the show, ‘The Naked Brothers Band,’ which was not a Schneider show, but was from the same era and on Nickelodeon.

“She makes a TikTok expressing her negative experiences where she was 14 or 15 at the time and for a scene was forced to kiss someone that she says was 30-plus years older than her.

“I think for me and my age demographic who are targets for these shows and who have a history of loving this stuff are still sort of trying to process all of the information and are finding it sort of hard to do so.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.