Review: ‘Quiet’ causes whispers for network TV

Disturbing claims by former Nickelodeon cast, crew

Darlene M. Johnson | 4/11/2024, 6 p.m.
There have been plenty of retrospective documentary exposés about entertainment’s dark side; “Surviving R. Kelly” and “We Need to Talk ...
Mr. Schneider

There have been plenty of retrospective documentary exposés about entertainment’s dark side; “Surviving R. Kelly” and “We Need to Talk About Cosby” are just two examples.

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” a four-part docuseries directed by Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz, is the newest in the lineup.

The series aired March 17-18 on Investigation Discovery (ID) and has garnered widespread attention, with over 16 million viewers between cable and streaming services.

“Quiet on Set” reveals overt racism, sexism, sexual abuse and exploitation behind the scenes at Nickelodeon.

The series’ first half focuses on former Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider, 58. The series features interviews with former Nickelodeon stars and colleagues of Mr. Schneider, who didn’t participate.

Mr. Schneider is the mastermind behind many shows Millennials and Gen Zers grew up watching between 1993-2018. Such shows include “All That,” “Kenan & Kel,” “iCarly” and “Victorious.” The child stars in these shows were a key part of our childhood entertainment but it wasn’t always fun for them.

Bryan Hearne, a former star on All That from 2002-2003, was one of few Black faces on Nickelodeon and was cast as stereotypes, such as a teen who appeared to sell drugs and “the youngest rapper ever,” Lil’ Fetus.

As Lil’ Fetus, Mr. Hearne, 35, recalled overhearing someone say his skin-toned suit “should’ve been dark like charcoal.” Mr. Hearne’s mother, Tracey Brown, was vocal about her concerns, which is presumably why Mr. Hearne was later dismissed from the show.

Mr. Freirson

Mr. Freirson

Leon Frierson, 37, was another Black “All That” actor who played Nose Boy, a superhero with a large prosthetic nose who wore large noses as shoulder pads that he noted resembled parts of a male’s anatomy.

Even worse, the character’s main joke was sneezing fluid on everyone, which seems like a sexual innuendo we didn’t understand as children.

Looking back as an adult, lots of Nickelodeon content had red flags.

“Quiet on Set” examines too many moments of suggestive content slid into our favorite shows, including more strange slimes and liquids, and Mr. Schneider’s long-talked-about focus on feet.

One particularly bizarre scene is of entertainer Ariana Grande, 30, who played Cat Valentine in Victorious and Sam & Cat, trying to squeeze “juice” from a potato. Yikes!

Jenny Kilgen, one of two female writers for The Amanda Show, also detailed gender discrimination and a toxic work environment while working with Mr. Schneider.

Ms. Kilgen said her salary was split with a female writer for “The Amanda Show,” but that male staff had full salaries.

Ms. Kilgen filed a gender discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuit against the production company for “The Amanda Show” in 2000 which was settled out of court.

The latter half of the docuseries takes a darker turn, showcasing Nickelodeon staff that were child predators.

Former production assistant Jason Handy terrifyingly described himself as a “pedophile, full-blown.”

He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after convictions of lewd acts on a child, distributing sexual content and sexual exploitation of a child.

Quiet on Set doesn’t stop there. A shocking moment comes from “Drake & Josh” star and “All That” alum, Drake Bell, who was sexually assaulted by former dialogue coach Brian Peck.

Mr. Bell, 37, struggled to detail what he endured at just 15 years old, telling interviewers to imagine “the worst stuff someone can do to somebody as a sexual assault.”

In 2004, Mr. Peck was convicted of lewd acts with a minor for his crimes against Mr. Bell. Mr. Peck was sentenced to 16 months in prison and required to register as a sex offender.

After his release, he worked on Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” but was fired once executives learned of his conviction.

Each episode features a quote from Nickelodeon, stating that it “investigates all formal complaints” and has “adopted numerous safeguards over the years.”

In a March 19 video, Mr. Schneider refutes most claims in the series, calling it “difficult” to watch, but says he would do things differently today.

ID announced a surprise fifth episode of “Quiet on Set” that aired Sunday, April 7 at 8 p.m. Episodes are available on Max and Discovery+.