'Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV': 6 key takeaways from the documentary


Beginning in the late ’90s, Nickelodeon flourished with back to back hits in the kids’ television space with shows like “All That,” “The Amanda Show” and more. Sitcoms like “Zoey 101,” “Drake & Josh” and “iCarly” followed, making the network a kids’ entertainment powerhouse.

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” the upcoming ID documentary series airing over two nights beginning Sunday, pulls back the curtain on this golden era of children’s television to reveal that the realities behind the camera were nowhere near as perfect as one would hope.

The series spotlights prolific TV creator Dan Schneider and, as those who previously worked for him allege, his abuse of power; the multiple convicted pedophiles who worked on his hit Nickelodeon shows; and more about what happened behind the scenes through interviews with former child actors, parents and crew members. One of the biggest revelations, as revealed in a teaser, is former Nickelodeon star Drake Bell speaking about the abuse he says he endured from Brian Peck, an actor and dialogue coach on a number of Schneider-created shows, who was convicted in 2004 of child sex abuse.

These are some of the key takeaways from “Quiet on Set.”

Schneider’s female employees allege he discriminated against them

Jenny Kilgen and Christy Stratton share their experiences as the only female writers on the first season of “The Amanda Show,” a sketch-comedy series that was designed to showcase the comedic talents of Amanda Bynes — then a young, rising star — but was, in their telling, a nightmarish place for women to work.

When Kilgen and Stratton were both hired, they thought it would be their big break, only to learn that they would have to split a single salary. When Kilgen called the Writers’ Guild to ask about this policy, Schneider allegedly threatened her, saying she would never work at Nickelodeon again. They also say that Schneider played mean-spirited pranks and treated the women in degrading fashion. In one incident in the writers’ room, Kilgen alleges that Schneider asked Stratton to lean over the table and pretend to be sodomized. She initially resisted but eventually gave into the pressure. “I think of that poor girl and what she had to go through,” Stratton says. “I would not do that today.”

Stratton was fired from the show after Season 1; however, Kilgen was brought back for Season 2, but she says Schneider demanded she work 11 weeks of the season for free. She quit after four days on the job, when she alleges Schneider made a humiliating joke about her working as a phone sex operator. “There was no way I was going to be the only woman in that f— world with him,” she recalls. Kilgen filed a gender discrimination complaint against Schneider’s production company, and she eventually settled. “I knew that this was the end of my career,” Kilgen says. Schneider’s TV empire continued to grow.

Child actors were asked to perform risque material and gross dares

In “Quiet on Set,” numerous colleagues and former cast members allege that Schneider tested boundaries by writing off-color jokes and creating provocative visual gags that were clearly out of place on a show aimed at — and starring — children. In one of the more stark examples, he created a character called Penelope Taynt — as in the bawdy slang term for the perineum — who was played by Bynes on “The Amanda Show.”

The series also shows footage of other scenes from Schneider’s shows and clips he uploaded to the web in which underage actors were inappropriately sexualized, including a sequence in which future pop superstar Ariana Grande doused herself in water while she’s seen lying upside-down off the side of a bed and another in which she attempted to “milk” a potato by squeezing it with both hands. “All That” cast member Leon Frierson also recalled wearing a costume in character as a superhero named “Nose Boy,” whose costume had a phallic-looking nose on each shoulder and who sneezed clear, viscous “snot” all over a female cast member’s face.

Other former cast members on “All That” say they were uncomfortable with the gross and sometimes dangerous challenges they were asked to perform, as part of a segment called “On Air Dare” that was modeled after the reality competition show “Fear Factor.” Bryan Hearne recalled a stunt in which he was completely covered in peanut butter that was then licked off his body by dogs — something that he now likens to “an awkward fantasy from a freaky dude.”

“The thing that was most uncomfortable was having to watch your fellow cast mates be essentially tortured,” Hearne says. “If there’s anything on set that I wish I could have yelled ‘stop,’… it’s the ‘On Air Dares.’”

According to cast member Kyle Sullivan, “There was this weird dynamic where they were taking something that exists in an adult context, like ‘Fear Factor,’ and transmogrifying it for kids. When you do that, it’s actually an inappropriate thing to do.”

Hearne, who is Black, also recalled how someone likened his skin color to “charcoal” during a conversation about a costume, and was cast in sketches that played on racist stereotypes. The overall atmosphere, say the former child performers in “Quiet on Set,” was one in which they didn’t feel comfortable speaking up or setting boundaries.

A Nickelodeon crew member described himself as a ‘pedophile, full blown’

Jason Handy was a crew member on “The Amanda Show” and “All That.” One of his primary duties as a production assistant was escorting young performers on set and greeting their families. In the documentary, “All That” star Giovonnie Samuels describes him as a “goofy white guy from Nebraska” who would sometimes join her Bible study sessions. “He appeared to be this really nice, genuine person,” she says.

The truth was much darker. A woman named MJ recalls how Handy befriended her daughter — a performer on “The Amanda Show” identified only as Brandi, who was then 11 — and sent her an email containing a photo of himself, naked and masturbating. Handy also befriended a 9-year-old girl who appeared in the series “Cousin Skeeter” and, while playing video games in her bedroom, repeatedly tried to kiss her.

In 2003, law enforcement officers searched Handy’s home and found an enormous trove of child pornography, along with journals in which he described himself as “a pedophile, full blown” and wrote about his struggle to find “a victim to rape.”

Brandi participated in the investigation and testified against Handy, who was sentenced to six years in prison on two felony counts, including one count of lewd acts on a child, and a misdemeanor in 2004. (He was arrested again in 2014.) But, says Brandi’s mother, MJ, “There was never any apology to Brandi herself for what happened. Everything got swept under the rug.”

Schneider was very involved in Amanda Bynes’ life and career

At one time, Bynes was arguably one of Schneider’s biggest up-and-coming stars, and “Quiet on Set” attempts to shed some light on her story and relationship with Schneider. But without Bynes’ involvement, some aspects, including whether the relationship affected her as an adult, remain unknown.

What is established, however, is that after Bynes is discovered, she is immediately considered Schneider’s new “favorite.” Former “All That” cast members recall how they were often told Bynes was with Schneider working on ideas. Former crew members also shared how Bynes was able to genuinely make Schneider laugh.

But others also commented on the unusual closeness between the two. While nobody alleges any specific misconduct, they do point out situations that seem at least a bit problematic in hindsight — including scenes Schneider scripted for the two of them, like a hot tub scene where he’s fully clothed and she’s in a swimsuit, in “The Amanda Show.”

The series also asserts that Schneider was not only heavily involved in Bynes’ professional life but in her personal life as well, including trying to help Bynes get emancipated from her parents. “The Amanda Show” is what helped kick off Schneider’s prolific kids’ TV career after all, and by all accounts, co-creating the sitcom “What I Like About You” for the WB in 2002 was supposed to help launch Schneider’s career in TV for adult audiences.

Drake Bell reveals he was the child abused by Brian Peck

One of the biggest revelations on “Quiet on Set” is about Bell, who worked on “The Amanda Show” and “Drake & Josh,” and comes forward to tell his story about being abused by Peck.

Peck, who had worked as an actor and dialogue coach on a number of Schneider-created shows including “All That” and “The Amanda Show,” was convicted of child sex abuse in 2004. At the time, the identity of Peck’s victim, described as a child actor, remained unknown.

According to a number of Peck’s former co-workers interviewed in the series, including former child actors, Peck was charismatic, well-liked and trusted. Because of this, people appeared to overlook some glaring red flags, like how Peck boasted about having been pen pals with convicted serial killer and sex offender John Wayne Gacy. Peck even showed off a clown painting he said was gifted to him by Gacy, who was known as the “Killer Clown,” during one of his parties.

(In front of the camera, Peck was known for playing Pickle Boy, a character on “All That.” That the character only seemed to exist for a phallic punchline was also overlooked by most during the show’s run.)

In his interview, Bell details how Peck befriended him by playing up a shared interest in classic Hollywood. Peck became Bell’s acting coach and gradually wedged himself into Bell’s life and career, despite Bell’s father’s objections (he also appears in the documentary). Bell would often spend the night at Peck’s house in between auditions and other work obligations.

“He had pretty much worked his way into every aspect of my life,” says Bell. Because of this, Bell felt trapped and kept the ongoing abuse, which occurred at Peck’s home, a secret for six months.

Peck’s famous friends sent letters asking for leniency after his conviction

After Bell is eventually able to come forward about the abuse, Peck is arrested on 11 counts of child sexual abuse in 2003. Because he was a minor at the time, Bell is referred to in court records only as John Doe. Even other child actors who had worked with Peck didn’t know the identity of the victim.

Peck, on the other hand, made a lot of friends in Hollywood over the years and turned to them in support for his sentencing after he was convicted in 2004. Unsealed court documents reveal that Peck got 41 letters from supporters asking the judge for leniency in his sentencing. At least some of the letter writers also appeared in court to support Peck on the day of his sentencing.

Some of the people revealed to have written letters on Peck’s behalf included actors James Marsden, Taran Killam, Alan Thicke, Rider Strong and Will Friedle. “Growing Pains” actor Joanna Kerns, who wrote one of the letters, said it was “based on complete misinformation” and that she “never would have written the letter” had she known what she does now. (Strong and Friedle did not participate in “Quiet on Set,” but have recently addressed in a podcast how they were misled by Peck and regret what they did.)

Peck was sentenced to 16 months in prison and was required to register as a sex offender. Yet he still found work afterwards on shows like Disney’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.”



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