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"Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" Controversy: How child stars are unsafe

Updated: May 9

Valentina Pimenta 



Quiet on set 

Nickelodeon held a prominent position in US children's television at the beginning of the 2000s, largely due to the creation and production of numerous popular shows by Dan Schneider. Schneider received awards and achieved a level of personal fame uncommon for children's TV showrunners, which elevated his status to an untouchable level. However, following his departure from Nickelodeon in 2018, a continuous stream of allegations concerning toxic work environments on Schneider's productions has portrayed him as a capricious and intimidating figure.


Quiet on Set, the recent documentary, adds to the case against Schneider, laying out a long list of allegations, including humiliating female employees and maintaining relationships with child actors that were either not sympathetic enough, if the child did not win his favour, or too friendly if the child did. Children were asked to perform material laced with what now looks like startlingly crass sexual innuendo.




The new documentary Quiet on Set delves into the operations of the children's television network Nickelodeon during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Spanning five parts, the series sheds light on the mistreatment endured by numerous child actors during their time at the network. Now in their thirties, these former child stars recount their experiences on Nickelodeon sets. The series prompts inquiries into the safeguards provided for child performers, both within and beyond the entertainment industry.


In Quiet on Set, accounts emerge of child actors and their parents experiencing discomfort on Nickelodeon sets, the inclusion of inappropriate humor in children’s programming, and the challenges faced by women both in and outside the writer’s room.


The documentary shines particularly when it presents firsthand, personal narratives from those most closely affected — namely, the child stars who worked on Dan Schneider's productions and the parents who struggled to shield their children from the negative impact of child stardom. Schneider, the producer who dominated Nickelodeon from the late 1990s through much of the 2010s and created iconic teen sitcoms like Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious, has faced allegations of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination dating back to The Amanda Show, a show which propelled actress Amanda Bynes to stardom. Despite these allegations, Schneider's elevated status at Nickelodeon shielded him from enduring consequences, a fact revealed through interviews with actors, writers, directors, cameramen, editors, and costume designers who collaborated with him.


What laws protected the child stars? 

The majority of incidents depicted in Quiet On Set occurred in California. In the United States, there is no uniform law that universally safeguards the well-being of minors in the entertainment industry. Each state maintains different standards concerning breaks, education, and the involvement of parents or guardians on set.


One well-known protective measure for child performers is the Coogan Law, designed to safeguard the earnings of child stars. This law originated in the mid-1930s following a successful lawsuit by child star Jackie Coogan against his family for misusing his earnings. Under the current version of the law, 15% of a child's income must be placed into a trust that parents cannot access, with the funds becoming available to the child once they reach 18 years of age. The Coogan Law is currently applicable only in California. 


Quiet On Set underscores how other regulations, particularly child labor laws, were violated on Nickelodeon productions and highlights the industry's failure to protect children from predators. After his conviction, Brian Peck, american convicted sex offender and former dialogue coach and director, was hired by the Disney Channel to work on another children's television show.

Unfortunately, the enforcement of laws governing children's employment in entertainment varies across countries, production companies, and individuals. Although the United States and Australia have existing laws to protect children's working rights, their consistent enforcement remains an issue. Former child star Alyson Stoner, for instance, has publicly discussed enduring unsafe working conditions that left her malnourished and chronically stressed, despite labor laws being in effect during that time.


Child stars online

Today, child stars extend beyond traditional television and film roles andinclude those who gain fame online, often reaching larger audiences and facing unique risks of exploitation.

Recent studies indicate that children strongly dislike having their images or activities shared online without permission. Additionally, there is growing awareness of the risks associated with sharing children's content online, particularly concerning sexual predators.


Numerous popular channels are currently opting to conceal their children's faces in their public profiles. These channels typically belong to influencers who occasionally feature their children, rather than family-focused channels centered entirely on their children's lives.


Outcome 

In addition to the ethical and journalistic implications of overlooking these crucial perspectives, Quiet on Set misses a significant opportunity to delve into the intricate, often unclear reasons behind why some victims of abuse perpetuate the cycle and become perpetrators themselves. Drake Bell's (actor in many of the Nickelodeon shows) history of childhood abuse and subsequent allegations of abusing children are not isolated occurrences, and the series falls short of its objectives by merely hinting at a connection without exploring it in depth. Perhaps these complexities could have been better explored with input from a child psychologist, similar to the approach taken in Allen v. Farrow. However, there is a notable absence of experts from relevant fields here—no specialists discussing the impacts of abuse or authorities on child labor laws to provide context for the extensive, illegal working hours imposed on these children. Anne Henry, co-founder of the BizParentz Foundation supporting child performers, briefly appears but offers limited insights. Throughout most of the narrative, Taylor and Koul ( the documentary’s reporter’s / narrators) provide competent narration, filling in informational and psychological gaps as they arise. While both are clearly knowledgeable and well-researched, this subject matter requires a more tailored approach.


In the final episode, Taylor asserts, "it's evident that the system must assess whether it's adequately safeguarding children." This assertion is difficult to dispute, especially given the presented evidence of how profoundly many of these children were traumatized by their Nickelodeon experiences. Quiet on Set effectively achieves its aim of bringing these stories to a broader audience, with enduring effects. Yet, as the credits roll, its omissions linger—the elusive figures of those nameless decision-makers who sustain the system's relentless operation, often drowning out the laughter of children backstage.

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