‘Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV’ Recirculated the Exploitative Material It Was Meant to Stop

Accused of fostering a dangerous and sexualizing workplace for kid actors when he was a lead creative at Nickelodeon, Dan Schneider is finally calling for cuts. It’s too bad the disturbing material the ex-showrunner claims he suddenly wants removed from old episodes of “The Amanda Show,” “All That,” and more problematic kids’ programs just re-aired over two nights at primetime on Investigation Discovery.

The sometimes-salacious true crime exposé “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” inadvertently raises an important ethical conundrum: In the name of exposing and confronting objectionable material, is it acceptable to air it again — even in documentary?

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“It’s a complicated question,” activist Alexa Nikolas told IndieWire. The grown-up “Zoey 101” actress is one of numerous former child stars who spoke out about Schneider for the project. She’s also the founder of the Eat Predators movement, an initiative forged to end sexual abuse, predatory behavior, and exploitative cover-ups in the entertainment and music industries.

“I don’t like that footage and I don’t think it should exist,” Nikolas said. “It never should have been created. At the same time, I think when you do show the material that Dan made, it does hit a little bit differently. And I feel like the documentary creators knew that the combination of the testimony and the actual footage itself would be most powerful back-to-back.”

Directed by Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz, and now streaming on Max, the four-part docuseries featuring Nikolas and her fellow survivors compiles years of allegations into a comprehensive portrait of abuse. “Quiet on Set” is the latest wave-maker in a watershed moment that’s been described as a kind of “MeToo moment for kids,” with performers from both Disney Channel and Nickelodeon laying bare the dangers of acting while underage at channels that failed to protect them.

“Quiet on Set” explores multiple incidents during the time from Schneider’s arrival at Nickelodeon in 1994 through his overdue ousting in 2018; Nikolas first spoke out about the non-disclosure agreement Nickelodeon wanted her to sign the following year. The docuseries juxtaposes proven cases of sexual abuse involving pedophiles on production staff — chief among them, Brian Peck who was convicted of abusing “Drake & Josh” star Drake Bell — with shockingly inappropriate material that was filmed by, distributed by, and in many cases remains available thanks to Nickelodeon.

“When I first found the Ariana Grande footage, for example, someone sent it to me and I remember clicking on it, and it took me to a YouTube link,” Nikolas said, referencing sketches supposedly made for children that were first available on; that’s a defunct platform for Nickelodeon webisodes that were written by Schneider and many of which featured Grande, then 16 years old, in character as Cat from the show “Victorious.” In the bonus content, since taken down by the studio but redistributed endlessly across social media, Cat guzzles water and soaks her tank top before using both hands to “juice” a potato in bed.

“YouTube literally asked me if I was 18 or over,” Nikolas recalled.

From lingering shots of children’s feet to an “All That” sketch that forced cast member Leon Frierson into a costume seemingly designed to look like it was covered in penises, Schneider’s creative cruelty is well-documented online. Much of that footage reappears in “Quiet on Set” with Nikolas featured in some notable “Zoey 101” clips. A couple feature the pubescent Nikolas remarking on her breast size; another shows Jamie Lynn Spears and Nikolas uncomfortably working through a suggestive bit that ended with Spears’ face covered in green goo.

The context Nikolas provides in the docuseries is important to understanding what was going on behind the scenes at Nickelodeon; not only does the actress say Schneider was “roaring” with laughter during filming, but she remembers boys on set explicitly describing the gag as a “cum shot.” She also emphasizes that she and other cast members were not allowed to say no to the scripts and situations forced on them by adults.

On Tuesday, Schneider reacted to the docuseries in a video that was emailed to IndieWire when we asked for comment on the allegations; it was simultaneously posted to YouTube. Warring with Disney Channel and Cartoon Network for ratings, the disgraced creator says excessive stress and pressure allowed for a writers’ room that routinely objectified children. Still, he maintains that whatever implied sexualization exists in these controversial scenes was unintentional. Schneider has since called for these moments to be removed from re-runs and streaming; Nikolas and others have been requesting that of Nickelodeon for years but have been largely ignored.

“Nickelodeon I am asking you to remove the scene on ‘Zoey 101’ where I am sexualized as a child, where Dan Schneider took part in creating a scene where I say, ‘This shirt makes me look chesty,” Nikolas wrote on X a week prior to the docuseries’ release. At the time of this article’s publication, Season 1 Episode 10 “Backpacks” remains unedited in “Zoey 101” via Paramount+, Netflix, and other VOD platforms.

Recirculating sexualized or otherwise improper footage featuring children is always risky, even when it is presented in a strongly researched and ethically rendered documentary. Content made in a predatory professional environment can always do further harm when thrust into the amateur investigative machine or, worse still, the edge-lord fringes that are innate to the internet. Social media is in effect a publicity multiplier that can exponentially increase the impact of a victims’ statements, but not without removing some control from those same survivors. That’s a consequence that won’t be acceptable to everyone entangled in this multi-decade battle to set the record straight at Nickelodeon.

“I can only speak for myself, right? So yes, them putting in my specific footage, I’m OK with that because I’ve already come to terms with it in my own way,” Nikolas said. “But if anyone else came forward tomorrow and said, ‘I didn’t like this being included,’ then everyone needs to respect that and not make any excuses for it.”

Amanda Bynes with Drake Bell and Josh Peck (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
(Left to right): Amanda Bynes, Drake Bell, and Josh Peck in 2004WireImage

Although Nikolas regards “Quiet on Set” as a work with real journalistic integrity, she is wary of the true crime space and its affinity for sensationalism. Some web vigilantes have used TikTok, where the generally retired Amanda Bynes is still active, to heavily imply she was abused by Schneider in the wake of the docuseries’ release. “Quiet on Set” argues no such thing, Schneider continues to deny those allegations, and “The Amanda Show” star has not discussed the issue. Still, the misinformation is gaining momentum online.

“It’s not their business,” Nikolas said, simultaneously acknowledging that much of what is discussed about Bynes in “Quiet on Set” was witnessed by other kid actors who were themselves being abused.

“It’s such a complicated thing,” she said. “Yes, the person who is harmed should always be leading the conversation, and if they don’t want something to be spoken about, then that’s who we need to value the most. But at the same time, there were witnesses and there is footage that’s already on the internet.”

This sort of “manufactured consent,” as Nikolas puts it, has in many ways allowed for the movement she is so proud to champion. Presenting as a unified front in “Quiet on Set” allowed the survivors of Schneider’s Nickelodeon to reraise essential issues; the activist even protested outside Nickelodeon studios in Burbank the same day Schneider posted his retort to YouTube.

But the mother of two knows it is an imperfect solution to an unthinkable situation.

“Just like we center the victims, we must also center the person who did this in the first place,” Nikolas said. “It was Dan Schneider and Nickelodeon who created this content and who allowed this content to reach millions of people. And so, at the end of the day, I hope the people we are the most upset at are Dan Schneider and Nickelodeon.”

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” is currently streaming on Max.

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