Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kid’s TV

A documentary on the empire of US producer showrunner Dan Schneider highlights abuse of power to devastating effect.

I’ve attended a number of Kid’s Choice Awards shows in Australia.

I’ve been on set and interviewed local Nickelodeon hosts and spoken to US talent.

The Nickelodeon brand in the 2000s has been a mega-force in Children’s TV. And while there is no suggestion of improprietry in Australia, that’s not the case in the US where a high-profile documentary Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kid’s TV has made allegations about the empire run by producer / showrunner Dan Schneider.

Schneider has been the golden child of Nickelodeon creating (or co-creating) and producing a string of hits including All That, The Amanda Show, Kenan & Kel, What I Like About You, Drake & Josh. iCarly, Zoey 101, Victorious, Sam & Cat, Henry Danger, Game Shakers. They spawned talent including Amanda Bynes, Ariana Grande, Jennette McCurdy, Miranda Cosgrove, Victoria Justice, Jamie Lynn Spears and more.

He was so revered, Jennette McCurdy, told me in 2012 she was proceeding to star in a new series without even having read a script:

“I agreed as soon as I found out Dan Schneider was part of it. I definitely would not have said yes so exuberantly if it had been a different showrunner. But knowing Dan is the showrunner literally put me at ease because I’ve never met anybody as hard-working or as creative as him. Knowing he’s on my side is the best thing in the world.”

That show turned out to be Sam & Cat in which she featured alongside Ariana Grande.

Schneider’s early success, as the Investigation Discovery doco by directors Mary Robertson & Emma Schwartz reminds us, was in the late 1990s. The workplace at sketch show All That (pictured,1994 – 2005) and The Amanda Show (1999-2002) is described, variously, as “a really fun set,” full of pranks and jokes amongst staff.

Looking through a 2024 lens, some of the Schneider-produced vision which aired does not age well. Squirting water and liquid goo onto scantily-clad pre-pubesecent teens, interviews in jacuzzis, pickles squeezed through holes in doors, and the supposed comedy of Fear Factor-style stunts to teens (one including a live scorpion) -what were they thinking?

So was it all good clean fun and have we lost our sense of humour? To the child actors, writers, writers and parents who speak on camera, clearly not.

“Working for Dan was like being in an abusive relationship,” says writer Christy Strratton, who agreed to share salary with another female writer just to get her start in the biz. She is less forthcoming about being asked to simulate a sexual act in the writers’ room while male staff laughed.

Another writer, Jenny Kilgen, claims she was asked to work for 11 weeks for ‘free’ leading to a gender discrimination lawsuit.

Former child actors talk of long hours, being expected to please the powerful producer -complaints not exclusive to this kid’s TV world of the past.

But the conviction of two production assistants on child sexual abuse charges is far more significant in the context of wider mistreatment.` One high profile Nickeloden star steps forward in the third episode in a candid interview.

Other actors describe a range of uncomfortable situations, scenes, costumes while concerned parents recall being discouraged from jeopardising their child’s career trajectory.

“It was a house of horrors,” recalls one mother.

Schneider would frequently ask for neck massages which, he has since conceded, was not appropriate. He has also denied having control over salaries, while a spokesperson says of the featured retro scenes, “Unfortunately, some adults project their adult minds onto kids’ shows, drawing false conclusions about them.”

Nickelodeon has subsequently stated they investigate “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.”

While the lessons of the American experience are profound, it is also impossible to ignore dark chapters in Australian television history.

First four episodes 9:30pm Friday, 5 April, Saturday April 6 on ID and Binge
Fifth episode 9:30pm Friday Friday 19 April on ID and Binge

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One Response

  1. As someone who used to watch these shows growing up, I am looking forward to watching this.

    It’ll be interesting to hear all those stories from all these former Nickelodeon stars, even if many of those stories hit headlines in the past few weeks.

    Even when I watched these shows back then, I had a funny feeling that there was something peculiar going on behind the scenes!

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