‘Quiet on Set’ Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon’s Past Toxic Work Environment

Quiet on Set Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon s Past Toxic Work Environment 885
Investigation Discovery/YouTube

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV gives former child stars and crew members the opportunity to speak out about their negative experiences at Nickelodeon.

Investigation Discovery's docuseries, which will air on Sunday, March 17, and Monday, March 18, focuses specifically on producer Dan Schneider’s infamous reign at the network. Schneider, 58, who is the founder and co-president of production company Schneider's Bakery, helped create, write and produce hit shows in the late ‘90s and early 2000s including All That, Drake & Josh, iCarly, Sam & Cat, The Amanda Show, Victorious and Zoey 101.

Schneider's projects helped launch the careers of stars such as Ariana Grande, Miranda Cosgrove, Amanda Bynes, Drake Bell, Josh Peck, Jamie Lynn Spears and more. The positive experience, however, wasn't universal with All That cast members Katrina Johnson, Giovonnie Samuels, Kyle Sullivan and Bryan Hearne being some of the people breaking their silence about their time at Nickelodeon.

After being accused of inappropriate conduct during his run at Nickelodeon, Schneider parted ways with the network in 2018. Schneider later denied the allegations against him.

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A spokesperson for Schneider released a statement before Quiet on Set's release, which read, “Dan cared about the kids on his shows even when sometimes their own families unfortunately did not. He understood what they were going through and he was their biggest champion. The fact is many of the kids on these shows are put in the untenable position of becoming the breadwinner for their family and the pressure that comes along with that."

The statement continued: "Add on top of that the difficulties of growing up and having to do so under the spotlight while working a demanding job, all as a child. That is why there are many levels of standards, executives, lawyers, teachers and parents everywhere, all the time, on every set, every day. However, it is still a hard place to be a kid and nobody knew that better than Dan.”

Keep scrolling for a breakdown of everything said about Schneider — and Nickelodeon — during Quiet on Set:

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV airs on ID Sunday, March 17, and Monday, March 18, at 9 p.m. ET.

High Highs and Low Lows

Quiet on Set
Katrina Johnson Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc.

During the first episode, Katrina Johnson opened up about how she initially found success at Nickelodeon.

"From the time I was nine to 16, I starred on All That. Dan Schneider was my mentor," she noted. "When we were filming the pilot, he came up to me and he said, 'I chose you. You are my choice and I know you are going to be great.' It made me feel like a million bucks."

It didn't take long for Johnson, 41, to see the darker side of starring on a hit series. She recalled her parents getting a call from Nickelodeon executives who claimed she was "getting too fat" and needed to lose weight to remain on All That.

"Shortly after that call I went through puberty and then the producers freak out because now I look like a woman and I am not little girlish anymore," she recalled. "Then that became an issue. After that I sort of was edged out by a younger version of me."

Johnson revealed she was the reason Schneider discovered Bynes, 37, adding, "When Amanda joined the show, I had less and less and then no time with Dan. The new favorite had arrived and I was out."

According to Johnson, she was originally offered a show titled The Katrina Show. That never materialized and ultimately Schneider shifted his focus to Bynes, who would go on to star on The Amanda Show in the early 2000s.

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Taking Part in Uncomfortable Sketches

Quiet on Set
Bryan Hearne Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc.

Bryan Hearne and Leon Frierson were just a few of the All That stars who weren't thrilled with some of the content they had to film. Frierson, 37, specifically recalled feeling "very exposed" while wearing leotards for various sketches. He also pointed out the Captain Big Nose sketches, which required him to wear a costume with what looked like "a penis and testicles" on his shoulders.

"I always did my best to be a trooper and never complain. Because we knew that being close to Dan could mean an extra level of success," Frierson noted. "It was important to be on his good side and he made it known who was on his good side."

Hearne, 35, meanwhile, addressed the alleged racism that took place on set. "Dan had a nicer relationship with some of the other white kids. I didn't feel close to him at all," he admitted. "My time on Nickelodeon played a big role in how I dealt and still deal with racial issues."

Hearne's mother, Tracey, also took part in the docuseries, in which she pointed out that her son's first sketch on All That alluded to him being a drug dealer. She said the situation only got worse when she tried to draw attention to how Hearne was being treated compared to his white costars.

In a confessional, Hearne recalled the problematic comments made about his “little fetus” sketch.

"They were fitting me for the little fetus role and essentially you are a fetus so you are naked. You have a bodysuit on you and it has to be skin tone," he shared. "Someone said, 'The skin tone should be charcoal.' I started to get teary eyed."

The Snick On-Air Dare segment was another project that wasn't well-received by the cast. (On the show, a random child actor would be picked to do dares, such as being submerged in worms, eating scorpions or being covered in peanut butter which dogs would then lick off.)

"Those were particularly traumatic. They were sort of designed to be," Kyle Sullivan, who appeared on multiple seasons of All That, told the cameras. "They were taking something that exists in an adult context like Fear Factor. They were transmogrifying it onto kids. When you do that, it is actually an inappropriate thing to do."

Sullivan, 35, said the "dysfunctional" comedy spread across most of Schneider's content, adding, "The show was full of these uncomfortable sketches. I think Dan got a kick out of walking a line with that."

In a statement to Us Weekly, Nickelodeon addressed the comments made in the Quiet on Set docuseries, adding, “Though we cannot corroborate or negate allegations of behaviors from productions decades ago, Nickelodeon as a matter of policy investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace environment free of harassment or other kinds of inappropriate conduct. Our highest priorities are the well-being and best interests not just of our employees, casts and crew, but of all children, and we have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

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Being a Woman in the Writers' Room

Quiet on Set
Christy Stratton Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc.

Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen were the first women hired to write for The Amanda Show in the late ‘90s. For Stratton, working with Schneider was "like being in an abusive relationship."

"It was early on when we started that Dan said he didn't think women were funny," she recalled in a confessional. "Dan ran the writers' room. He was there any time we did any work. He was very playful. We would laugh and joke around and being dirty was part of the silliness."

However, the humor quickly evolved into adult content being hidden away in kids jokes. Stratton and Kilgen pointed out several examples of ideas that had a double meaning — including Bynes' fictional character Penelope Taynt.

The issues didn't just take place on screen. According to Kilgen, the problems started early on when she and Stratton were asked to split a salary, which didn't apply to any of the men on staff. She also claimed Schneider would request for writers to yell out "degrading" words while working in the room.

"Dan was showing pornography on his computer screen. He would ask me several times to massage him in the writers’ room and in the studio," Kilgen recalled. "He would always present it like a joke but you always felt like disagreeing with Dan or standing up for yourself could get you fired."

Stratton admitted she was "scared" of Schneider, adding, "He had fostered this very casual, fun atmosphere but I felt like Dan could be very volatile and could turn any moment."

In a separate confessional, Kilgen claimed Schneider once asked Stratton to pretend she was being "sodomized" while telling a story to the other writers. Stratton, for her part, said she didn't want to elaborate on the incident.

"I'm not proud of it," she told the cameras while getting emotional. "Thinking about it now, I just think of that poor girl and what she had to go through. I would not do that today but I did it then."

Stratton was ultimately not asked to return for season 2 of The Amanda Show. Kilgen got an offer to return but was told she had a 16-week contract while having to work 11 more weeks for free. In a statement featured in the doc, Schneider denied Kilgen's claims and stated he "had no control" over salaries.

After Schneider allegedly made a joke about Kilgen previously doing sex work, she quit. "I lasted four days in season 2," she said. "I was destroyed. I went outside, I'm crying. I can't do this. I went home and I quit. And it was so devastating and hard to let go of that job. But I just couldn't do it anymore."

Kilgen revealed she sued the production company, Storybook Productions, in 2000 for gender discrimination. She claimed the show exploited the only two female writers, created a "sexually hostile" work environment, denied them equal pay and took part in "illegal retaliation."

"The reason I did this was because I didn't want this happening to other women in the future," Kilgen explained. "In response, they did an internal investigation. They settled but it had a lasting impact on my career. I knew that this was the end of my career so it better be worth it. And he better stop. It didn't stop and it was all for nothing."

Stratton weighed in on the aftermath of the lawsuit. "We were all afraid. That is why just me and Jenny are talking to you," she noted. "People are afraid of him."

In response to producers' questions, Nickelodeon stated it "investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace ...[W]e have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience."

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Hiring Several Sex Offenders

The second episode of Quiet on Set introduced MJ, whose daughter Brandi was a guest star on The Amanda Show.

"We as parents weren't allowed back on the set. We were greeted by production assistant Jason Handy, he guided all the kids to where they had to be," MJ recalled. "When he wasn't on set with the kids, he would talk with all the moms. You thought, 'I could be friends with this person.'"

Handy, now 49, exchanged numbers with the kids and parents on set. He started emailing a then 11-year-old Brandi, which MJ said was "very innocent" at first. MJ was later alerted to a message Handy sent to Brandi of him "naked and masturbating."

"I went back and forth with, 'Should I call the police?' They will think I am a bad parent because I allowed her to talk to this person. I struggled with this and I finally told myself, 'I can't call the police,'" she detailed. "'All I can do is make sure I keep her far away from him.' She left the business and never returned."

Handy was arrested in 2003 after the authorities searched his home and found over 10,000 images of child pornography. He was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to two felony counts: one of lewd acts on a child and one of distributing sexually explicit material by email. Handy also pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge related to child sexual exploitation.

In 2009, Handy was released from prison and had to register as a sex offender in North Carolina. He was arrested again in 2014 on three counts of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of sex offender registry violations, according to the Los Angeles Times. Handy was held on $1 million bail but there have been no public updates on his case since then.

MJ revealed in the docuseries that her daughter testified in the case against Handy. They received a call from a detective in 2003 after Handy's home was searched and they discovered ziplock bags with tokens from various underage girls.

According to journalist Kate Taylor, Handy's journals were also confiscated, in which he referred to himself as "a pedophile, full blown."

The docuseries mentioned Nickelodeon's employment of Ezel Channel, as well. Channel was arrested in 2005 on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old boy, who he brought onto the Nickelodeon set where he worked as a temporary production assistant. He was found guilty by a jury in 2009 of misdemeanor battery and a felony count of attempting to show pornographic material to a minor.

Channel received a six-month prison sentence and was sentenced to serve 16 months in state prison for the pornography count. Channel, who is a registered sex offender, had his felony conviction thrown out on appeal due to the lack of evidence proving the video he was showing the minor was of pornographic nature.

Brian Peck's Time at Nickelodeon

Quiet on Set Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon s Past Toxic Work Environment 883
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

According to multiple All That cast members, Brian Peck (who has no relation to former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck) "worked closely" on Schneider's projects as a dialogue coach.

"Everybody loved Brian. He was charming and clever. He was around all the time," Sullivan recalled. "All the parents loved him too. Everybody trusted Brian."

Despite Peck's friendly demeanor, Sullivan said there was an instance that stood out to him. Sullivan and other Nickelodeon child stars — and their parents — were at Peck's house for a party when Sullivan noticed a painting.

"It was of a birthday clown holding balloons. Brian got very excited and on the back it said, 'To Brian, I hope you enjoy the painting. Best wishes, your friend John Wayne Gacy,'" Sullivan claimed. "I was 14 so I didn't know the details but I knew this guy was a f—king serial killer."

He continued: "All the parents and kids come into the room and he presents the painting again. Brian actually developed a pen pal relationship with John. He kept this pile of letters and photos from John Wayne Gacy in his nightstand next to his bed. He pulls them out and starts showing them."

(Gacy was a serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured and murdered dozens of young men and boys. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of 32 murders and died by lethal injection in 1994.)

Sullivan explained why he thought the red flag didn't get addressed more at the time.

"Your instinct is to give the benefit of the doubt," he noted. "Even in the face of this really bad sign, it was one of those classic failures of group psychology."

Several months later, Peck was arrested for sexually abusing a then-unnamed child star. The 11 charges brought against Peck included oral copulation, sodomy and forcible penetration. He pleaded no contest to two charges of child sexual abuse and was sentenced to 16 months in prison and had to register as a sex offender.

Drake Bell revealed that he was the then-minor involved in the lawsuit. In the third episode of Quiet on Set, Bell, 37, detailed how Peck groomed him after they met on the set of The Amanda Show. Bell later told his mother that Peck had molested him, which led to the arrest.

Us Weekly has reached out to Peck for comment.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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A Difficult Time on Set

Quiet on Set Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon s Past Toxic Work Environment 880

Later in the docuseries, crew members from several of Schneider's shows discussed his alleged toxic behavior.

Director Fabian, who collaborated with Schneider on multiple shows, claimed, "Dan would come down and yell and scream. There were times where I would go, 'You are creating an atmosphere on this set that is not healthy.'"

Meanwhile, All That editor Karyn Finley Thompson said working conditions were horrible behind the scenes.

"You had to be as good or better or put more hours or do longer things than Dan did. We all did it or you got fired," she claimed. "Dan Schneider would sit in the very back row [of the editing room] and he would make comments the whole time. They were sometimes very degrading. He would not talk to me. He would tell his associate producer, 'Tell her to make this edit. Tell her to trim this.'"

Thompson said she would edit from early in the morning to midnight. She allegedly didn't eat or go to the bathroom while at work.

"Every day was constant pressure to get things done faster, faster, faster," she continued. "One day, I keeled over and I ended up having to go to the hospital. As I am leaving and curled over I could hear someone say, 'How is the show going to get finished?' I remember saying, 'I will be right back!'"

Thompson concluded: "Then he promised me a job and he didn't give it to me. It was given to a younger man with no experience. I was livid. I got up out of my chair and never came back."

In a statement featured on screen, Schneider claimed he "never once considered gender" while hiring.

In a separate interview, an off-screen costume designer from Schneider's shows brought up how he asked female crew members to massage him. (The docuseries showed a photo of Schneider on set while a woman was standing behind him to give a massage.)

"It was humiliating," the former employee said. "It felt like a form of sexual harassment."

A source close to Schneider previously addressed the allegations, telling Insider in 2022, “[Schneider] regrets ever asking anyone [for a massage] and agrees it was not appropriate, even though it only happened in public settings.”

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The 'Sam & Cat' Drama

Quiet on Set Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon s Past Toxic Work Environment 876

Following the success of both iCarly and Victorious, Schneider created a spinoff series titled Sam & Cat, which starred McCurdy, 31, and Grande, 30. The show, however, only ran from 2013 to 2014 amid rumors of tension between costars and Schneider's involvement on set.

According to All Your Screens writer and founder Rick Ellis, Nickelodeon launched an internal investigation because "the situation got so bad." Taylor, meanwhile, stated that Schneider "was no longer allowed to interact with the cast" after the network allegedly found that he was "contributing" to a "toxic" environment.

Schneider told producers of the docuseries in a statement that he "was not barred from working with the actors" but "chose to give notes from his office" instead.

The Subsequent Downfall

Quiet on Set Docuseries Pulls Back the Curtain on Nickelodeon s Past Toxic Work Environment 884
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Three years later, the unnamed costumer said she was one of many crew members that reported Schneider to her union in response to the Me Too movement. She called it a "much happier" workplace following his exit from the network.

Ellis claimed that Nickelodeon gave Schneider "around 7 million" dollars. Meanwhile, Taylor noted that the investigation allegedly "did not find any evidence of inappropriate sexual behavior or inappropriate relationships with children." But "it did find evidence of being abusive to others in the workplace."

Schneider’s rep said in a statement, "this is not an accurate description” of why he and Nickelodeon “parted ways." However, Schneider noted that today he would "absolutely do some things differently." Schneider admitted he "learned a lot over the years about how to be a better boss."

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Dealing With Their Past

Quiet on Set
Alexa Nikola Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc.

According to Alexa Nikolas, her time on Zoey 101 has affected her in the long run. "I wasn't happy. I actually couldn't show up to set anymore without crying," she explained. "A lot of my self worth was deeply damaged from that set experience. Me as a person was altered for life."

Raquel Lee Bolleau also discussed how "being let go" from The Amanda Show after one season "broke" her confidence.

"That was a very young lesson to learn in my career is that everyone is replaceable," she noted. "It sent me down a really dark path. I had to really pick myself back up and keep it moving in an industry that showed me very early on that it has no love for me."

In his own confessional, Frierson said being a child star hurt him "mentally and somewhat physically."

"The alcoholism that I dealt with I believe is a direct connection to the feelings I had after leaving the industry and not being able to maintain the success that I had," he said, noting Nickelodeon should provide "more support in terms of consulting, mental health and wellness checks."

Johnson recalled feeling "burned out" after All That, adding, "I was excited for the next chapter. Not everybody gets to be normal afterwards because you don't know what that looks like."

For Hearne, the aftermath of child stardom has stayed with him. "When I was on All That, it was a sweet experience but the bitter side of it was pretty bitter. There is a dark underbelly to child stardom," he explained. "Kids are just a dollar sign when they show up on set. No one is taking anyone's mental health seriously. That is completely unfortunate."

Sullivan weighed in on his time at Nickelodeon, as well.

"There was a toxic environment and seeing how the show just kept on rolling and these people who were criminals just disappeared, it made me quite cynical about the reality of power dynamics," he shared, adding that kids need "more protection" on set. "It made me trust people less."

Schneider provided another statement in response to the various claims made in Quiet on Set.

"Everything that happened on the shows I ran was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults. All stories, dialogue, costumes, and makeup were fully approved by network executives on two coasts," he stated. "A standards and practices group read and ultimately approved every script, and programming executives received and approved all episodes. In addition, every day on every set, there were always parents and caregivers and their friends watching us rehearse and film."