Arts and Entertainment

Quiet on Set: Behind Nickelodeon’s “Golden Age”

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV is an expertly-produced docuseries that reveals the atrocities that happened behind the scenes during Nickelodeon’s “golden era,” begging the question: how do we protect kids in entertainment?

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What airs on kids’ television is one thing, but what lies behind the scenes is another story. Investigation Discovery’s 5-part docuseries, Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, tells this exact tale in excruciating detail. Featuring exclusive interviews with former Nickelodeon child actors and ex-Nickelodeon employees, this HBO series delves into the sinister side of Nickelodeon’s so-called golden age.

Nickelodeon’s golden age refers to a period between the late 1980s to early 2000s when the network aired some of their most popular shows, such as Drake and Josh (2004-2007), Double Dare (1986-1988), All That (1994-2020), and The Amanda Show (1999-2002). Seventy-nine million American households watched Nickelodeon in 2000, making it one of the most popular kids’ networks in America. Nickelodeon launched the careers of many famous actors, including Kenan Thompson and Ariana Grande. Even since this golden age, Nickelodeon has produced popular shows like Victorious (2010-2013) and Henry Danger (2014-2020).

That being said, Quiet on Set reveals that conditions behind the scenes of these iconic shows were not so “golden.” By using video interviews with former Nickelodeon employees, Quiet on Set creates the image of a personal connection between the audience and the interviewee. The chronology of the interviews was well thought out. For example, regarding acting in a sketch called “Sugar & Coffee”—where two talk show hosts consume sugar and coffee—Kyle Sullivan says, “The sketch required, like, a ton of, like, physical work.” His co-star, Giovannie Samuels, follows with, “Sometimes, we would choke [on the sugar].” Accompanied by the interviews are images and videos of the featured actors when they were on set, and clips taken from Nickelodeon shows, both of which help substantiate the claims interviewees make against the network. Quiet on Set also features journalists who provide a broader, third-party perspective that contextualizes the personal stories of the actors.

All interviews were shot in distinct “behind the scenes” sets, which not only helps immerse viewers, but also sets the tone that the information being presented was originally meant to remain secret. Another subtle tactic the show uses to influence the emotions of its audience is its soundtrack: whether it be a violin solo, a hip-hop beat, or a simple piano melody, the instrumentals are never the focus of the show, instead acting as an enhancer. The camera angle shifts to close-ups of the cast’s faces to highlight the most emotional portions of the interviews, and further emphasize that the actors, like the viewers, are all human.

The show reveals that Dan Schneider—a creator, writer, and producer for many Nickelodeon shows—was a key perpetrator behind the toxic and oppressive environment within Nickelodeon. Female writers Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen reported that they had to split a salary while working for The Amanda Show and were sexually harassed in the writers’ room. Furthermore, Schneider propagated racist stereotypes on set. An example is how Black actress Raquel Lee Bolleau was told by Schneider to “keep [her] cool” when she grew angry after being spat in the face multiple times by her white coworker for a gag. Schneider reasoned with her that her coworker was “the star of the show.” Under Schneider, Nickelodeon shows often featured scenes of child actors performing sexually suggestive acts, making innuendo-packed jokes about feet, or having their faces shot with some liquid—all in the name of comedy. 

However, Schneider was not the only individual on set threatening children’s safety. In the studio, there were three child predators. One of them was Brian Peck, the dialogue coach of child actor Drake Bell, who starred in the show Drake & Josh. Despite being hugely successful in the film industry, Peck was arrested in 2003 for sexually abusing a child. This child was later revealed to have been Drake Bell, who was 15 when Peck (37 at the time) sexually abused him. As a result, Peck faced 16 months in prison and registered as a convicted sex offender for his charges. Yet, after serving his time, Peck was allowed to continue to work in the kids’ entertainment industry and was later hired by Disney despite his status as a sex offender.

These revelations were shocking to viewers, many of whom had been the children who were watching these shows. Not only does it feel wrong to have liked the program in the first place, but one feels guilty for having supported shows with such cruel development processes. That being said, this guilt is unprecedented. Viewers were children at the time, and thus should not have felt responsible for the protection of other children; those should have been an adult’s responsibilities. As a viewer, continuing to like these shows is not morally wrong. Nonetheless, actively allowing Nickelodeon to continue profiting off of these shows proves that products of exposed abuse can go without punishment. 

Quiet on Set has brought to light the trauma behind the scenes of Nickelodeon in an emotionally sensitive, attention-grabbing, and brutally honest style. Now the most important question is: what should be done about it? Not only has children’s television remained a prominent genre, but there has been a rise in online child and family influencer content. Here, kid’s media has waded into uncharted (and unprotected) territory. Family vlogging channels exposed for child abuse already exist (famously including 8 Passengers, FamilyOFive, and Fantastic Adventures). There are few regulations and even fewer checks in place to protect these children, so once again, the public remains completely unaware of what happens behind the scenes, creating the risk for another exposé like Quiet on Set in the future.