In “Quiet on Set,” Justice Isn’t So Simple

In “Quiet on Set,” Justice Isn’t So Simple 1

Dan Schneider accepts the lifetime achievement award at the 2014 Kids’ Choice Awards in Los Angeles.Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

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As a kid, I spent countless hours watching The Amanda Show, a sketch comedy series starring Amanda Bynes that aired on Nickelodeon from 1999 to 2002. The show was created by Dan Schneider, who went on to helm many of the channel’s most beloved series, including Drake and Josh and iCarly. In addition to providing plenty of laughs, it was a rare example of a children’s show that took the comedic talents of its young star seriously. But after watching the new docuseries Quiet on Set, I know my fond memories of watching The Amanda Show will never be the same. 

The four-part docuseries aired on Max and Investigation Discovery earlier this month, and a surprise fifth episode is in the works for next week. The show explores the dark side of Dan Schneider’s tenure at Nickelodeon, painting him as a temperamental, manipulative boss with a disturbing habit of inserting sexual innuendos into scenes with child actors. Details of Schneider’s conduct began to leak out in 2018, when Schneider left Nickelodeon amid allegations of abusive behavior. The New York Times reported in 2021 that an internal investigation had found Schneider was verbally abusive to staff, while a 2022 Business Insider investigation highlighted his controlling demeanor and sexism in the writers room. 

On set, Schneider’s crew included two now-convicted sex offenders. In 2004, Jason Handy, a production assistant, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to performing lewd acts on a child, distributing sexually explicit material, and child exploitation. The same year, dialogue coach Brian Peck pleaded no contest to two charges related child sexual abuse against an anonymous child actor and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Quiet on Set’s biggest bombshell is that Peck’s victim was Drake Bell, a star of Drake & Josh and a regular on The Amanda Show. 

The documentary chronicles the Schneider years at Nickelodeon through interviews with former cast and crew members, journalists who reported on the scandal, and the parents of child actors. It also resurfaces moments of inappropriate humor from Schneider’s shows that seem alarming in retrospect: In one scene, a 16-year-old Ariana Grande, a cast member on Schneider’s Victorious, attempts to “juice” a potato while moaning suggestively. 

The fourth episode, originally slated to be the last in the series, ends with Bell sharing how the abuse impacted him emotionally. In the last shots, we see Bell and his dad walking off the documentary set, then the camera cuts to a sunset. As the credits rolled, I felt a mix of anger and hopelessness. While the filmmakers had done a skillful job of laying out the allegations against Schneider, the show also left many questions unanswered. Schneider declined to be interviewed for the documentary, though it included a written statement from him, saying his content went through many levels of approval before it aired. (Nickelodeon provided a statement to the documentary saying it “investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to foster a safe and professional workplace.”) After the documentary, Schneider offered a lackluster mea culpa in a softball interview with a former iCarly cast member, where he muddled his apology with asides that his behavior was caused by “inexperience” and letting pressures get to him.

Nickelodeon’s decision to sever ties with Schneider was necessary and long overdue, but it’s unsettling to think that he can continue to live his life quietly without taking full accountability. And what cuts deeper is that so many people in the industry allowed such a toxic environment to fester—from the parents of child stars who failed to speak up to the industry insiders who wrote letters in support of Peck before his sentencing, including actor James Marsden.

Meanwhile, though Bell has rightfully received an outpouring of support for speaking out, the renewed good will toward the star treads a fine line. In 2021, Bell pleaded guilty to attempted child endangerment charges related to sexual conversations he had with a 15-year-old fan. In a victim impact statement, she claimed Bell groomed and sexually assaulted her multiple times. (Bell was charged only with attempted child endangerment and a misdemeanor for disseminating harmful material to a juvenile. He denies the allegations of sexual assault.) The documentary only mentions these allegations briefly in the context of Bell’s downward spiral after his own abuse, emphasizing that “he was not charged with doing anything physical.” 

The abuse on Nickelodeon happened before the eyes of an entire generation, tainting media intertwined with our childhood nostalgia. After Quiet on Set aired, emotions ran high online. “Jail is not enough!!!” wrote one X user, whose post received almost 5,000 likes. Social media users demanded that Drake Bell’s former costar, Josh Peck (no relation to Brian Peck), speak out. Bell released a statement saying that Josh Peck had personally reached out to him and asked fans to “take it a little easy on him.” On The View, host Sunny Hostin questioned Ariana Grande’s silence about the documentary, saying, “She is an adult now, so is silence complicity or not?” In the wake of this explosive reaction, Investigation Discovery announced that a bonus fifth episode of Quiet on Set would premiere on April 7.  The new episode, a discussion with former child actors moderated by Soledad O’Brien, is billed as “digging deeper into the crucial conversations the docuseries ignited and exploring the lingering questions left in their wake to provide further insight from the brave voices who’ve spoken out.” 

The decision to add a fifth episode felt like a tacit acknowledgement of the fact the final episode of the show had left many questions unanswered. But while the new episode is an opportunity to channel outrage into productive conversations about how to protect child actors from abuse, it may not answer every burning question. As viewers, there’s some uncertainty we have to accept: Public outrage should not come at the cost of victims’ decision to tell their stories if and when they’re ready. It’s possible we may never know everything that happened at Nickelodeon, or how every former child star was affected—and that’s okay. Justice might not come swiftly, and it may not look like what viewers expect. It might look like victims remaining nameless, going about their lives in private, and just trying to pick up the pieces.