film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb


'Quiet on Set' Tracks Dan Schneider's Unsettling Two-Decade Reign Over Nickelodeon

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 18, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 18, 2024 |


My biggest mainstream pop-culture blindspot is probably ’90s Nickelodeon shows. Age-wise, I didn’t sync up, having bounced after You Can’t Do That on Television and the earlier years of Double Dare. My first exposure to Kenan Thompson was SNL, to Amanda Bynes was She’s the Man, and Josh Peck, the movie where he deals pot out of an ice cream cart, The Wackness. It still blows my mind that two cast members from a mostly forgotten late ’80s sitcom, Head of the Class — Dan Schneider and Brian Robbins — ran that entire network (and Robbins is now the CEO of Paramount).

Rumors about Dan Schneider’s behavior behind the scenes on the children’s television empire he created have been floating around for years. Schneider had a 20-year-run on the network before his abrupt departure in 2018. An internal review eventually found that there was no evidence of “sexual misconduct.” Internal reviews have a way of burying evidence — what would it do to the reputation of a kid’s network if it were revealed that its biggest creator was a sex pest? — although even that review found proof of egregious verbal abuse.

A new HBO docuseries, Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, tracks the unsettling behind-the-scenes issues during those two decades, centered largely around Schneider and two employees ultimately arrested for pedophilia. The series paints a damning portrait of the work environment under Schneider, not to mention all of the sexual innuendo involved in television shows targeting children.

The first two episodes track Schneider’s first two television hits, All That and The Amanda Show. Various actors and longtime director Virgil Fabian suggest that Schneider had his favorites, and being a favorite meant he could advance their career. Still, it also meant, in some cases, unwanted attention. Bynes herself seemed to be the center of his world for the better part of a decade. Obviously, Bynes has endured a lot of mental health and substance abuse issues in recent years. It’s clear that some of those issues are rooted in her relationship with Schneider, with whom she had a close bond, so close that he tried to help her seek emancipation from her parents, who appeared to be her only guardrails during those tumultuous teenage years.

Some of the bigger red flags, however, had to do with Schneider’s working relationship with two female writers on the staff of All That. He made them split one salary during their first year (until he got caught by the WGA), and one of the female writers, Jenny Kilgen, was given a contract in her second year for 16 episodes while being expected to write for all 26. She left after only four episodes after Schneider asked her if she used to work as a phone sex operator.

He was also gross around them. He had pornography on his computer screen in the writers’ room, asked them to give him massages in exchange for putting their skits on air, and he’d make them do humiliating and degrading things. To wit:

“Christy [Stratton] was talking about high school, which is relevant because we’re writing for a young girl,” [Jenny] Kilgen recalled. “And Dan just said, ‘You know what’d be funny? If you leaned over the table, and acted like you were being sodomized and told that story about high school.’ She said no at first, and then he was kind of like, ‘Oh, c’mon, c’mon, it’d be so funny just do it, it’d be so funny.’ And everyone’s kind of laughing too, ‘cause he’s making it this big joke. She couldn’t get out of it, he’s begging her. So she just leaned over the table and did what he asked her to do.”

Jenny Kilgen, the writer who quit, would later sue and ultimately settle. Schneider blacklisted her. She never wrote in Hollywood again. The HR investigation and the suit against Schneider were buried by the network, and he continued to work for Nickelodeon for another two decades.

Jason Michael Handy and Brian Peck, meanwhile, were literal child molesters, arrested four months apart for some really heinous shit. Handy would develop innocent email friendships with child actors that would grow into far more sinister relationships — at one point, he emailed a picture of himself masturbating to a nine-year-old and told her that he was “thinking of her.” Peck, a dialect coach also known on the show as Mr. Pickle, had a pen pal in John Wayne Gacy, and molested Drake Bell, the details of which Bell will publicly divulge for the first time in next week’s episode.

The revelations in the series are upsetting but not surprising, considering Nickelodeon basically put one creepy man with a god complex in charge of an entire factory of child actors while providing little protection (for instance, when telling the child actors of All That about the arrest of Jason Michael Handy, they asked the parents to leave the room first). As someone with no relationship to these shows, it’s an unsettling docuseries to watch. For adults who grew up on these programs and are seeing many of these actors who haven’t been in the industry for the first time in 20 years share their experiences, I imagine it will not only be disturbing but will change their entire perspective on Schneider’s shows and the network.