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Silence on the set: former child stars from Nickelodeon are claiming they experienced abuse and a toxic environment.
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Silence on the set: former child stars from Nickelodeon are claiming they experienced abuse and a toxic environment.

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Even in a time of increased awareness and caution due to the exposure of sexual offenders like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, the #MeToo movement, and the Adult Survivors Act, Hollywood still has the ability to surprise us. This week, a new scandal rocked the entertainment industry, specifically Nickelodeon, a well-known children’s television network.

The whirlwind was a four-part documentary called Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, streamed over two consecutive nights on the Investigation Discovery network.

The findings exposed the idea that creating children’s TV shows was solely a positive experience. Rather, it illuminated a detrimental environment within the studio, where child actors were subjected to sexual and emotional exploitation during the 1990s and early 2000s. It also brought attention to the sexist and racist behavior of those in positions of authority.

At its heart was the once-lauded producer Dan Schneider, a man hailed as the “Norman Lear of children’s television” for his creation of hit programs such as iCarly, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101 and Victorious, before his 2018 fall when the first allegations came to light.

Six years later, following the release of a docuseries, Schneider released an apology on YouTube on Tuesday. He expressed remorse to those he may have offended during his 25 years as the dominant and untouchable leader of kids’ television for Nickelodeon. He vowed to do better in the future.

Some of the victims have experienced on-set pedophilia, leading to long-term psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and mental breakdowns. Simply apologizing is not sufficient; they want to see change and responsibility from the industry, which previously ignored predatory actions.

“A lot of the people that are talked about in the documentary, and the networks we’re talking about, are still in existence, they’re still engaged in the same programming, so I would hope things will change, that it will overhaul how Nickelodeon works,” said Scaachi Koul, a popular-culture journalist and consultant for Quiet on Set.

Ultimately, my hope is that this situation will prompt a thorough reassessment of how these children are hired and utilized. Realistically, I don’t believe they will completely eliminate this program, but I do hope it will push them to reconsider their methods.

“There are a lot of people involved in the story who should have a conversation with themselves about what they could have done, what they failed to do. When it comes to children, you should be able to ask for accountability forever. Until you get it.”

This is not the initial documentary to raise concerns about Schneider’s relationship with his young cast, including Amanda Bynes, who was 13 years old and wearing a bikini when they were filmed in a hot tub together. It also addresses the use of sexualized jokes involving child actors.

In her 2022 autobiography, Jennette McCurdy, who starred in iCarly alongside a young Ariana Grande in its spin-off Sam & Cat, retold the story of how she was encouraged to drink alcohol before legal drinking age by a figure she did not initially identify as Schneider. This person also gave her a shoulder massage and put pressure on her to wear a revealing bikini on the show when she was only 15 years old.

Past scenes featuring Grande, being around the same age, have faced questioning as well. This includes one scene where she was trying to extract juice from a potato she was holding.

Quiet on Set is able to bring together scattered events and stories from a troubling time in which Schneider held much power. This book provides a thorough examination of his mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, that contributed to the unchecked mistreatment and exploitation of children.

In the episode, the spotlight is on Drake Bell, known for his roles on The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh. He shares his experience as a victim of Brian Peck, a dialogue coach who was convicted in 2004 for child sexual abuse and served 16 months in prison.

Bell, now 37, revealed how he was groomed by Peck while starring on The Amanda Show, and how it went unnoticed until it was too late. Bell says his later troubles including alcoholism, bankruptcy, and a conviction for child endangerment stem from the trauma.

Drake Bell, right, and his Drake & Josh co-star Josh Peck (unrelated to Brian Peck) in August 2004.View image in fullscreen

In addition to Peck, there was another sexual offender named Jason Handy, who was a production assistant for All That and The Amanda Show. He was convicted in 2004 of molesting two young girls and received a six-year sentence. The docuseries also highlights his story.

One of the employees at Nickelodeon, Ezel Channel who is an animator, was sentenced to over seven years in prison in 2009 for sexually assaulting teenage boys at the studio.

Apart from Bell, a number of ex-child actors also shared their personal accounts in the documentary series. Bryan Hearne, an African American performer from All That, revealed his experience of being subjected to racial abuse and then dismissed from the show after his mother spoke up. Giovannie Samuels, another former child star, disclosed that she was often seen as the only Black member of the cast. Additionally, Alexa Nikolas, known for her role in Zoey 101, made an appearance in the documentary and even released a lengthy response to Schneider’s apology through her own livestream.

She stated that it wasn’t true accountability. Instead, it was a way to avoid important discussions that were brought up in Quiet on Set. She perceived it as him using the sympathy card, focusing on himself, and portraying himself as the victim.

In 2018, at the age of 58, Schneider left Nickelodeon following McCurdy’s disclosure which led to an internal investigation. While no instances of sexual misconduct were discovered, Nickelodeon’s parent company, ViacomCBS, stated that he had a tendency to have outbursts and use verbal abuse.

Schneider expressed in his video that viewing Quiet on Set was challenging as it brought to light his previous actions, some of which were humiliating and remorseful. He acknowledges the need to apologize sincerely to certain individuals.

He stated that the jokes in his performances were never intentionally sexual in nature.

“Each piece was originally created with a younger audience in mind, but now there are adults revisiting them 20 years later with their own perspective,” he explained.

According to Variety, Nickelodeon released a statement stating that it is unable to confirm or deny allegations of past behaviors on their productions.

The company stated that their main concerns are the welfare and best interests of not only their employees, actors, and crew, but also of all children. They have implemented various measures over the years to ensure that they are meeting their own high standards and meeting the expectations of their audience.

According to Mary Robertson, who co-directed the documentary, Quiet on Set goes beyond the narrative of a single network’s inability to protect children, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

The speaker remarked that as a society, we are currently engaging in more self-reflection and gaining a better understanding of the negatives associated with being famous.

“For Quiet on Set, our focus is on understanding the impact that the extreme highs and lows can have on child actors, as they are still children.”

We examine the significance of their presence in an environment that values and enjoys them. They are able to partake in enjoyable activities such as singing, dancing and making jokes. However, they also face challenges when boundaries are unclear and it can be difficult for them to express themselves and feel at ease.

Source: theguardian.com