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The Sunflower

REVIEW: ‘Quiet on Set’ opens the door to hard conversations

Photo courtesy of Maxine Productions

The lights blind the kids on set. The creator is yelling at them, striking fear into them, as a female employee is forced to massage him. The whole set is uncomfortable and awkward. 

In the realm of investigative documentaries, navigating the delicate terrain of troublesome or traumatic events requires finesse. “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” courageously dives into the untold story of toxic and abusive environments lurking within the kids’ television of the 1990s and early 2000s. 

The episodes are available to watch by subscription on Max, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Each episode of the docu-series reveals distressing accounts from former child stars and crew members, shedding light on the imbalance of power in the industry. I could not help but be moved by the gut-wrenching narratives, all having the potential to spur real change. 

From the testimonies of individuals like Drake Bell, whose candid revelations shock viewers, to the conspicuous absences of voices like Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande. 

The two interviews would have been amazing for the storytelling of their experiences, but I am not surprised that McCurdy has not come forward in this documentary. She has previously discussed her experiences as a child actor in her book, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” and on her podcast, “Hard Feelings.” She painted a vivid picture of the industry’s darker corners, the storytelling unfolds with raw authenticity. It seems she spoke out on her own terms and is ready to move on. 

The absence of Grande leaves lingering questions. The documentary’s depiction of unsettling scenes involving young actors adds to the disquieting realization of what was once deemed acceptable for children’s television. I love her as an artist, but I am recognizing the impact she could have as a pop star speaking out on the behind the scenes to better the industry. 

Central to the narrative are the “in plain sight” moments, where clips from Nickelodeon shows under Dan Schneider’s reign are juxtaposed against the discomfort and coercion experienced by underage performers. The series illuminates instances where body image, skin color and inappropriate references pervaded the production environment, prompting reflection on the industry’s past transgressions.

“Quiet on Set” presents a compelling case against Schneider, revealing a pattern of allegations ranging from humiliating female employees to fostering inappropriate relationships and with child actors. 

Amanda Bynes is another missed interview from the series. Bynes was inarguably the closest to Schneider, even meeting with him outside the set. One scene featured a fully-dressed Schneider sitting in a hot tub with Bynes. It was weird. 

His crew included two now-convicted sex offenders, Jason Handy and Brian Peck. Handy, a production assistant, was sentenced to only six years in prison after pleading no contest to performing lewd acts on a minor, a child, distributing sexually explicit material and child exploitation. The mother of one of his victims made an appearance on the show, sharing her and her daughter’s experience. 

Peck additionally pleaded no contest to two charges related to sexual abuse against an anonymous child, now revealed as Drake Bell, known best from the sitcom show “Drake and Josh,” and was only sentenced to 16 months in prison.

With witnesses, detailed testimonies, a heaping amount of evidence, and even confessions, these criminals are able to walk on the street again. Peck, a literal abuser and pedophile, was free in less than two years and even found his way back into the television industry. 

For those who grew up watching Nickelodeon’s programming, “Quiet on Set” evokes a mix of nostalgia, intrigue and profound discomfort. The story of Bell in the third episode, “The Darkest Secret,” and his experiences during and after child acting had me teared up. The only reason I was able to avoid crying in my bed was because I had to split watching the episode in two sessions. 

Take the trigger warnings in the beginning of episodes seriously, and pause or take a break when wanted during this documentary, especially if you have any experiences with child sexual abuse. 

These revelations underscore the urgent need for accountability and reform in the entertainment industry. Yet, amidst the unsettling revelations, there is a glimmer of hope that this documentary can pave the way for justice and healing for those who endured trauma behind the scenes. 

Nickelodeon parted ways with Schneider in 2018. The TV channel paired with Schneider in a joint statement to Deadline, “Following many conversations together about next directions and future opportunities, Nickelodeon and our long-time creative partner Dan Schneider/Schneider’s Bakery have agreed to not extend the current deal.”

Following Schneider’s parting, the channel paid him millions of dollars. They sent him on his merry way after all of his chaos — a giant PR stunt wrapped in a nice orange bow and sent away in an explosion of green slime. 

“Quiet on Set” serves as a poignant reminder of the need to confront the darker chapters of our favorite shows growing up. It challenges us to argue with the systematic issues that perpetuated harm with the child TV industry.

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About the Contributor
Piper Pinnetti
Piper Pinnetti, Reporter
Piper Pinnetti is a reporter for The Sunflower. Pinnetti previously designed content for The Sunflower's Instagram. Pinnetti is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism with the hopes of pursuing a career in writing. Pinnetti uses she/her pronouns.

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