‘Quiet on Set’: 11 Shocking Revelations From the Docuseries About Nickelodeon Exec Dan Schneider

Drake Bell reveals horrific abuse at the hands of Brian Peck, while Schneider made a habit out of putting R-rated jokes into scripts for kid actors

Drake Bell on "Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" (ID)
Drake Bell on "Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" (ID)

In the Investigation Discovery documentary series about the alleged sexual abuse, racism and sexism that took place on several Nickelodeon series during early ’90s and 2000s, child stars accused network producers and crew members of child sexualization and fat-shaming, female writers say they were forced to split their salaries and act out sexually suggestive scenes in the writers room, and former child actor Drake Bell detailed sexual abuse at the hands of dialogue coach Brian Peck.

“This series investigates the abuses experienced by children from the adults they were expected to trust. Viewer discretion is advised,” is the warning that pops up at the beginning of each episode of “Quiet on Set,” cautioning viewers ahead of the horrific allegations.

The series started off with a peek into Nickelodeon executive Dan Schneider’s life going from an awkward Memphis teen (who was reported to have attended his father’s alma mater Harvard University though he never actually went) to landing a role on “Head of the Class,” and how that role kickstarted his career in children’s television. And while the series notes Schneider launched the professional careers of stars like Kenan Thompson, Ariana Grande, Amanda Bynes and more, it spotlights the alleged sexually suggestive scenes he often placed many child stars in.

The series made its debut over the course of two nights on ID, on March 17 and 18. These are some of the most shocking takeaways.

Schneider has denied many of the claims made by interviewees in the show.

Leon Frierson detailed having to wear a “penis”-inspired suit

Katrina Johnson in "Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" (ID)
Katrina Johnson in “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” (ID)

Former child actors Leon Frierson (“All That” Season 4-6) and Katrina Johnson (“All That,” age 10-16), both said staying close to and keeping the attention of Dan Schneider was key if an actor wanted to further their career. At one point, Schneider was Johnson’s mentor, though that dwindled after it appeared she’d been replaced by rising star Amanda Bynes, and Frierson said he always tried to be a “trooper” on set despite feeling uncomfortable when asked to do certain sketches.

“On ‘All That,’ what really made me feel the most uncomfortable were the leotards. I was just a growing boy trying to fit into my body and it was just out there for everyone to kind of look at and judge me, or, I just felt very exposed,” Frierson said. “One week we get a new script, there’s a character for me on ‘All That’ named Nose Boy. Naturally, I’m in a superhero costume, which is just tights and underwear. What was different about this, they gave me a prosthetic nose, an enlarged nose, and they put this same nose on the costume. You can’t help but notice that it looks like penis and testicles on my shoulders.” In the bit, when Nose Boy sneezed, a clear white substance shot through his nose.

As for Johnson, she remembered the time when producers allegedly contacted her parents because they felt she put on too much weight.

“One day, the producers called my house and spoke to my parents and said, ‘Hey, Katrina’s getting too fat. We already have a fat one. She can’t be the fat one,’” Johnson said. The documentary then showed a photo of Johnson pictured with longtime actress Lori Beth Denberg. Johnson said her parents told producers that she was in dance classes six hours a day and there was nothing more they could do about her weight. However, when Johnson hit puberty, she said Nickelodeon producers weren’t pleased with how she matured and she was “edged out” by a younger version of her, Amanda Bynes.

Amanda Bynes’ relationship with Schneider and why “working for Dan was like being in an abusive relationship”

Amanda Bynes as Penelope Taynt in "The Amanda Show" (Nickelodeon), Christy Stratton (ID)
Amanda Bynes as Penelope Taynt in “The Amanda Show” (Nickelodeon), Christy Stratton (ID)

“Quiet On Set” broke down the history of Amanda Brynes’ rise to fame on the show going from “Laugh Factory” child comedian prodigy to “All That” star and then onto one of the youngest female talents to have her own self-titled TV series in “The Amanda Show” — which Schneider created and produced. It also laid out the immense amount of pressure her father put on her, Bynes’ controversial relationship with Schneider and peeled back the curtains of how the female writers on the show were subject to sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Frierson said that kids and parents were supposed to stay together at all times and go to school on set, but there were times when Bynes was “just missing” or was instead pitching ideas and writing with Schneider, which was approved by Bynes’ father.

“I think Amanda’s dad kind of treated her like a wind up doll. She had, really, a lot of pressure and high expectations from him,” Johnson said. Frierson added that most of the child actors were novices and felt it was in their “best interest to go with the flow” of things on set.

Behind the scenes, “The Amanda Show” writer Christy Stratton said “working for Dan was like being in an abusive relationship.” Female writers Stratton and Jenny Kilgen were hired onto the show but allegedly had to split their salaries with the network, describing their hiring as “getting two for the price of one.” Kilgen said Schneider claimed “women can’t be funny” and would refer to them as “the girls.” They added that Schneider would often make writers play a “game” where they’d have to yell out random and sometimes inappropriate words, from “hammer” to “slut.” They also said Schneider revealed to them that Bynes’ popular character Penelope Taynt’s last name was inspired by the word “taint.”

“Dan had said to us in the writers room, ‘Don’t tell what this word really means.’ He wanted us to keep that a secret,” Kilgen said. 

Kilgen said of the worst instances with Schneider was when he pressured Stratton to lean over the writers’ room table and act like she was being “sodomized,” after she shared nonsexual stories from when she was in high school.

“He was like, ‘Oh, come on, come on, it’d be so funny. Just do it, it’d be so funny.’ And everyone’s kind of laughing too because he’s making like this big joke,” Kilgen said.

Stratton was fired and producers brought Kilgen back for “The Amanda Show” Season 2. They offered her a 16-week contract but expected her to work for “free” for 11 of the show’s 27 weeks, and allegedly hired a “white male” writer with no credits at full salary. After four days, Kilgen quit the show following a meeting where she says Schneider asked her if she’d previously done phone sex work. She later sued the company but it ended with her career suffering.

The backstory of sex offenders Jason Handy and Brian Peck aka “Pickle Boy”

Brian Peck on Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon)
Brian Peck on Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon)

In Part 2 of “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” the series enters the chapters of two former Nickelodeon cast and crew members John Handy, who was a production assistant, and Brian Peck, who was a dialogue coach and on-camera talent. MJ, the mother of a child star named Brandi, opened up about how Handy would exchange numbers with children and parents. Most people on set didn’t see Handy as anything other than a friendly, energetic production assistant, but MJ noticed her daughter’s relationship began to get too intimate when he started emailing her. One day, MJ saw Brandi suddenly shut her computer, run to her room in tears. When MJ asked what was wrong, Brandi revealed Handy sent her a photo of him masturbating. MJ said Handy told Brandi he sent her the photo to express that he’d been “thinking of her.”

In April 2003, police searched Handy’s home where they found over 10,000 images of children, 1,768 images of young girls in erotic poses, 238 images of young girls in sexually explicit poses, two images of girls in bondage activity and two CDs, with one containing seven video files of minors engaging in sexually explicit activity. Handy, who referred to himself in personal journals as a “pedophile,” also had ziploc bags with girls’ names on them along with “tokens” he kept from them.

Peck, who starred in several hit shows and films, including “Good Burger” and “Keenan and Kel,” was arrested four months later. Drake Bell is revealed as Peck’s victim and survivor at the end of the episode.

Racist sketches

Bryan Christopher Hearne in "Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" (ID)
Bryan Christopher Hearne in “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” (ID)

Bryan Christopher Hearne starred in Season 7 and Season 8 of “All That,” and during his time there he said he despised the network’s “On Air Dare” physically excessive activities and was often put in racist sketches. One character, for example, was “Little Fetus,” the “youngest rapper of all time,” which was a fetus in an embryo. While getting fitted, he said someone said the costume’s skin tone should be the color of “charcoal.” He never wanted to tell his mother, Tracey Brown, because he knew she’d “raise hell.’

Brown said she often felt like she was “odd ball” who needed to “shut up” and stop complaining about her son’s offensive treatment, though she had a feeling something strange was going on with the content of the show.

“They set up the scene as if he was selling drugs,” Brown said of one of the skits. “And I was like, ‘Oh, the Black kid gets to be the crack dealer?’”

Brown added that there were scenes that alluded to Schneider’s on-set behavior.

“We were at the end of the scene, and there was a man sitting there who was the ‘producer.’ Behind him was a young lady massaging him,” Brown said. “Why are we having adult jokes? Are you showing the kids that Hollywood is a casting couch? I was complaining too much. I’d become the odd ball.”

Brian Peck’s penpal relationship with serial killer John Wayne Gacy

Kyle Sullivan (“All That,” “The Amanda Show”) explained Peck was someone everyone “trusted” prior to them knowing of his crimes. He detailed a day when cast and crew members attended a barbecue at his house where Sullivan found a room that Peck dedicated to “vintage toys and comic books,” and his garage that was converted into a “Planet of the Apes” shrine. But there was an item that jarringly took his attention immediately.

“I noticed a painting in the room that stuck out to me because it had nothing to do with ‘Planet of the Apes,’” Sullivan said, who was 14 at the time. “It was of a birthday clown holding balloons, and Brian got very excited when I asked him about it. He flipped the thing around and on the back it said, ‘To Brian, I hope you enjoy the painting. Best wishes, your friend, John Wayne Gacy” Sullivan said the message was written on a self-portrait of the serial killer, as part of one of the gifts Gacy gifted Peck during their “pen pal relationship.” Sullivan said Peck voluntarily and happily showed him the stack of letters and photos Gacy sent him that he kept in the nightstand next to his bed.

Peck was arrested on 11 charges of child sexual abuse, including forcible penetration, oral copulation, sodomy, using a foreign object, employment of a minor for pornography related to a child actor. Schneider allegedly removed parents from the meeting room when the crew shared the news of Peck’s arrest.

Drake Bell’s father, Joe Bell, was ostracized after voicing concerns about Brian Peck’s behavior

Getty Images

In Part 3 of “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of TV,” the series provides the backstory of longtime Nickelodeon star Drake Bell, whose father, Joe Bell, knew was destined for stardom at the age of 5. 

“I loved to make people laugh,” Bell said. I was just drawn to old movies, anything black and white. ‘I Love Lucy,’ Avon Costello, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, the Marx brothers.”

In an effort to find something creative for Bell to do following his divorce, Joe launched Bell’s acting career, which would eventually land him roles in films and TV shows, including “Home Improvement,” “Seinfeld” and “Jerry Maguire.” However, Bell’s wish was to become a series regular on a TV show and that came true when Amanda Bynes wanted him for  “The Amanda Show” in 1999.

Bell said things started to change when the second season of “The Amanda Show” moved from Paramount Studios to Nickelodeon on Sunset. That’s where he met Brian Peck. Despite how many people applauded Peck as a well known coach who’d worked with the likes of famous stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe said he always kept his son and Peck within “eye distance” because he always felt something was up with Peck and noticed he would unnecessarily touch Bell. 

“Then, he’d maybe walk over to Drake, be feeding him lines or something and put his arms around his waist,” Joe said. “Put his hand up on his shoulder, run it down his arm, things like that and this would happen routinely. It was just always uncomfortable.”

At one point, he even told a producer that he was uncomfortable with Peck’s behavior, but the producer told Joe he may be homophobic as she said Peck was gay and merely just a “touchy feely guy.” Ultimately, the cast and crew began icing Joe Bell out on set. Today, Drake Bell realizes that Peck was preying on him, but at the time he says he was enamored with Peck because the two had similar interests. 

Brian Peck broke up Drake Bell’s familial and professional relationship with Joe Bell

Peck’s attempt to get close to Bell was shown through his constant planned and surprise appearances at Bell’s music concerts — even at far locations like San Diego — and he offered to host Bell’s birthday party at his home. Over time, Joe started to distance Bell from Peck, which angered Peck and triggered his campaign to get Joe removed as Bell’s manager. At the time, Drake was starting up the beginning stages of what would become his show “Drake & Josh.”

“He started talking about how my dad’s stealing my money, nobody likes that my dad’s on set, he’s a real problem,” Bell said, adding that there was never any mishandling of money. “He just started making me believe that he was horrible for my career. I wasn’t going to be able to move forward with him in it, and coming from someone like Brian I was believing it because he’s been in this business so long and he must know more than us.” 

Peck got an attorney to look into Bell’s finances and used the damage between Bell’s mother and father to get Joe cut from Bell’s team. It worked and after a weekend stay at his mother’s, Bell’s mother told Joe that Bell no longer wanted him as his manager. Joe Bell’s last remark to Bell’s mother was to never let Peck around Bell alone.

Drake Bell says he woke up to Brian Peck assaulting him

After Bell’s father was out of the picture, Peck began taking Bell to his auditions, sometimes making excuses for him to stay at his house instead of taking him home that night. “He’d pretty much worked his way into every aspect of my life,” Bell said, adding that there was one morning that his life changed forever.

“I knew that my life was going to be absolutely going to be completely different from that point on, ” Bell said. “I was sleeping on the couch where I would usually sleep and I woke up to him, I opened my eyes, I woke up and he was sexually assaulting me and I froze and in complete shock and had no idea what to do or how to react and I had no idea how to get out of the situation. What am I going to call my mom and be like, ‘Hey, this just happened. Can you come pick me up? I’ll just sit here and wait.’ I had no car, I didn’t drive. I was 15 at this time.”

Bell said the abuse became a secret that he was afraid to tell out of fear of his career ending. Through his auditions and dialogue coaching, Bell ended up back at Peck’s house often. 

Brian Peck tried to get cast as the dad on “Drake & Josh”

Image via Nickelodeon

When Bell was at his girlfriend’s house visiting, Brian Peck called his cell phone because he wanted to take him to Disneyland, but Bell ignored him. After nonstop calling, Peck then called his girlfriend’s home phone back-to-back. 

“There was this time that I was at her house, and Brian had planned to take me to Disneyland. I was like, ‘This is not happening. I am not going. No.’ And Brian’s calling my cell phone nonstop. I was just ignoring it. Well, he started calling my girlfriend’s house nonstop.” 

The constant calling tipped off his girlfriend’s mother, who asked Bell if something was going on. Bell denied it, and said he was in the process of distancing himself from Peck. In 2003, the production had to reshoot the “Drake & Josh ” pilot and Peck attempted to get cast as the father on the show, which was the final straw for Bell, who told his mother everything.

After Bell was able to get Peck to admit to his crimes over the phone with authorities listening, Peck was arrested on several charges. However, even after “Drake & Josh” started shooting, Bell was distraught and experiencing hair loss from stress. Bell said Dan Schneider was there for him after he learned what Peck did. 

Brian Peck had tons of supporters at his trial over his abuse of Drake Bell

Bell’s identity was kept private until now, and he was named John Doe in the case. Bell said when he arrived at court for Peck’s sentencing in October 2004, he was taken aback by how many people were there in Peck’s defense. 

“On the day of sentencing for Brian, it was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever seen. His entire side of the courtroom was full. There were definitely some recognizable faces on that side of the room. And my side was me, my mom and my brother. Brian had been convicted but getting all this support from a lot of people in the industry and yeah, I was pretty shocked.”’

Peck pleaded no contest to two charges of sexual abuse: lewd lascivious act on a child of 14 or 15 years and oral copulation under 16 years old. He was sentenced to 16 months in jail and ordered to register as a sex offender. 

Bell said he told Peck’s side of the courtroom: “You will forever have the memory of sitting in this courtroom and defending this person and I will forever have the memory of the person you’re defending , violating me and doing unspeakable acts and crimes and that’s what I’ll remember.”

Well known Hollywood stars wrote letters to the judge in support of Peck 

There were 41 letters were sent to judge Michael Hoff in Peck’s defense, which included messages from actor James Marsden, who said “what Brian has been through is the suffering of a hundred men.” Taran Killam, Alan Thicke, Ron Melendez, Joanna Kerns, Rider Strong, Will Friedle and more issued letters.

Strong and Friedle spoke at length about the ordeal on a Feb. 19 podcast, in which they say Peck mischaracterized what happened.

“He didn’t say that nothing had happened. So by the time we heard about this case and knew anything about it, it was always in the context of, ‘I did this thing, I am guilty. I am going to take whatever punishment the government determines, but I’m a victim of jailbait. There was this hot guy! I just did this thing and he’s underage.’ And we bought that storyline.” Rider said. “I never heard about the other things because, back then, you couldn’t Google to find out what people were being charged with. So in retrospect, he was making a plea deal and admitting one thing — which is all he admitted to us — but it looks like he was being charged with a series of crimes, which we did not know.”

The aftermath

Dan Schneider accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award during Nickelodeon's 27th Annual Kids' Choice Awards in 2014
Dan Schneider accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award during Nickelodeon’s 27th Annual Kids’ Choice Awards in 2014 (Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Nickelodeon only grew after Peck’s sentencing and so did Schneider, who revived the network once again with new hit shows like “iCarly, “Zoey 101,” “Victorious” and “Sam & Cat.” Schneider allegedly continued on with his controversial behavior of asking workers to give him massages on set and the alleged sexual innuendos he wrote into scripts became even more obvious and disturbing. Some included played down “c—m shot,” foot fetishes, ejaculation and foreplay jokes. After an investigation, Schneider — who denies these claims — was banned from working directly with talent. 

In 2017, as the #MeToo movement started to gain momentum, Nickelodeon launched another probe and Schneider was dropped a year later. The investigation didn’t find evidence of “inappropriate sexual behavior” or inappropriate behavior with children, but it did find evidence of him being abusive in the workplace.

At the end of the “Quiet on Set” series, former child stars called on the industry to provide better protections for child actors, citing the endless cycle of child stars falling victim to drug and alcohol abuse as a way to cope with traumas. 

“When people ask me if I am going to put my kids into acting, I literally have zero, zero thought before my no,” Raquel Lee Bolleau said. 

In a statement, Schneider said: “Everything that happened on the shows I ran was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults. All the stories, costumes, and makeup were fully approved by network executives on two coasts. A standards and practices group read and ultimately approved every script, and programming executives reviewed and approved all episodes. In addition, every day on every set, there were always parents and caregivers and their friends watching us rehearse and film.”


One response to “‘Quiet on Set’: 11 Shocking Revelations From the Docuseries About Nickelodeon Exec Dan Schneider”

  1. cadavra Avatar

    “Avon Costello?” Are you sure it wasn’t “Abbott and Costello?”

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