Dark Times: 'Quiet on Set' Documents Years of Child Exploitation at Nickelodeon

March 21st, 2024 1:16 AM

No matter how much you hate Hollywood, it is not enough.

This week, the 4-part docuseries Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV aired on Investigation Discovery (ID) and was available for streaming on Max. The program chronicles years of horrors at Nickelodeon that included multiple convicted pedophiles on set, creepy sexual innuendo in television shows and interviews with former child actors who are still processing traumas.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Nickelodeon was a cultural juggernaut. The television station launched huge tween and teen television stars, from Amanda Bynes to Ariana Grande, and premiered reliable hits. Nickelodeon's biggest hitmaker was a creator named Dan Schneider.

In the early years of his Nickelodeon career, Schneider was sued for discrimination and sexual harassment by two female writers, Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen. Their complaints included an accusation that he demanded Stratton simulate sodomy in front of the male writers in the room.

Nickelodeon settled with the women, then proceeded to give Schneider even greater power and control over more shows.

Schneider's scripts included using child actors in scenes and scenarios with obvious sexual connotations. The documentary's clips from episodes of All That, The Amanda Show with Amanda Bynes, Victorious with Ariana Grande and many others are jaw-dropping. You have to wonder who in Hollywood greenlit some of the scenes back then.

One of the actors, now an adult, describes his discomfort as a child at wearing a penis-decorated costume while squirting liquid in a woman's face.


Then there are the clips of an underaged Ariana Grande in suggestive situations for the show Victorious.


What sort of a middle-aged guy writes such scenes for a teen girl?

The documentary also covers the rise of Amanda Bynes under Schneider's wing. Schneider created a character named "Penelope Taynt" for Bynes' series The Amanda Show. According to Stratton and Kilgen, the name "Taynt" was an inside sexual joke by Schneider, playing on the word for the perineum.


The most horrifying parts of the documentary involve the convicted pedophiles who worked on the sets of Nickelodeon shows. Pedophiles included a production assistant named Jason Handy who targeted child guest stars. After being found with thousands of copies of child pornography in his home, he was sentenced in 2003 to six years in prison.

Then there is child molester Brian Peck, who played "Pickle Boy" in the show All That. 


Peck repeatedly raped Nickelodeon actor Drake Bell, who starred in All That, The Amanda Show and Drake and Josh. Police officers recorded Peck confessing his crimes while on the phone with Bell. According to Bell, Peck's side of the courtroom was filled with Hollywood industry supporters at his sentencing in 2004. Oddly, the scandal of multiple convicted pedophiles targeting child actors at a major studio received comparatively little Hollywood press back then. I wonder why.

After Peck completed his jail sentence, Disney hired him to work on their tween hit The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. The company only fired him after media exposure, claiming they were unaware of Peck's criminal background.

Actors like Bell and Bynes would go onto have years of destructive behavior in adulthood. Bynes spent time in a mental hospital and much of her adult years under a conservatorship. Bell has grappled with addiction, bankruptcy, and multiple convictions of his own, including for child endangerment.

It is impossible to walk away from this documentary without feeling rage at a Hollywood system that endangers children. Tinseltown's long history of child exploitation has continued for nearly a century from Judy Garland to Brooke Shields to the actors chronicled in Quiet on Set.

Nickelodeon fired Schneider in 2018. At that point, his shows no longer dominated tween pop culture anyway. Nickelodeon itself is no longer culturally relevant, which is probably why a documentary like this finally happened.

If Dan Schneider and Nickelodeon were still churning out money-making hits, Hollywood would still be playing a game of "see no evil, hear no evil" in all likelihood.

Hollywood has always been a cesspool behind the scenes, but after watching this documentary I also wonder how adults in the broader culture ignored the flashing red flags during these decades. Did parents not notice the way these popular shows sexualized the kids in them? Why did the lives of the young actors on the screen not matter?

Long before TikTok transmitted sludge into developing adolescent brains, channels like Nickelodeon were inserting troubling images into children's homes. The cultural war against childhood innocence goes back generations.