Shocking Stories About Nickelodeon’s Dark Side in Quiet on Set

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Drake Bell Speaks Out About Sexual Abuse He Suffered

“I often look back at that time and wonder how in the world I survived.”

So Drake Bell says in Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, a new Investigation Discovery series that digs into the bittersweet experiences of a number of former child actors who got their big break as part of Nickelodeon’s pop culture-dominating lineup of kid-friendly programming in the 1990s and 2000s.

Though whether shows like All That, The Amanda Show, iCarly, Zoey 101 and more were even all that kid-friendly is one of the questions explored in the four-part series, which premiered March 17.

Bell’s revelation—that he was the 15-year-old victim who was never publicly identified when child sex abuse charges were filed against dialogue coach Brian Peck in 2003—has already made headlines, this marking the first time the now 37-year-old Drake & Josh alum has spoken out about what happened to him.

“I’ve never talked about this outside of therapy,” Bell notes in the series.

But throughout Quiet on Set, actors, writers, directors and others who worked on the Nickelodeon shows run by onetime network super-producer Dan Schneider paint a disturbing picture of joy and fun radiating from the finished product juxtaposed with a frequently tense and at times allegedly abusive atmosphere behind the scenes.

When the ID series was announced in February with the network release promising a deep dive into an “insidious environment rife with allegations of abuse, sexism, racism and inappropriate dynamics with underage stars and crew,” a rep for Schneider told E! News in a statement that the now-58-year-old was the “biggest champion” of all the young people he worked with at Nickelodeon.

Schneider was best known as an actor for the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class before he broke through as a writer on the sketch series All That in 1994.

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“The fact is many of the kids on these shows are put in the untenable position of becoming the breadwinner for their family and the pressure that comes along with that,” the statement continued. “Add on top of that the difficulties of growing up and having to do so under the spotlight while working a demanding job, all as a child. That is why there are many levels of standards, executives, lawyers, teachers and parents everywhere, all the time, on every set, every day. However, it is still a hard place to be a kid and nobody knew that better than Dan.”

Russell Hicks, former president of Content and Production at Nickelodeon and an 18-year veteran of the network before stepping down in 2016, told E! News in a statement that Schneider “cared about the kids on his shows even when sometimes their own families unfortunately did not.”

“What people seem to be forgetting,” Hicks continued, “is the fact that the network has a talent management department that is keeping tabs on everything that is happening and going to every event these kids go to. There is a standards and practices group that reads every script and programming executives looking at every episode. Add to that every day on every set, were the parents and caregivers and their friends watching every single frame of footage and listening to every joke. Every single thing that Dan ever did on any of his shows was carefully scrutinized and approved by executives at Nickelodeon.”

Quiet on Set notes that, in response to producers’ questions, Nickelodeon stated that the network “investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace” and has “adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

Episode three and four premiere Monday, and here are the most shocking stories so far from Quiet on Set:

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Drake Bell Says He Was Sexually Abused at 15

“I’ve never talked about this outside of therapy,” Drake Bell said in the ID series, sharing for the first time that he was sexually abused by Brian Peck.

The series describes the extent of the abuse using graphics from the official charges against Peck—a dialogue and acting coach who also appeared in bit roles such as “Pickle Guy” on All That—because the Drake & Josh actor preferred to not go into detail on camera. 

“The abuse was extensive and it got pretty brutal,” Bell said. Advised by a producer (who’s heard but not seen) to only share whatever he was comfortable with, he replied, “Why don’t you think of the worst stuff someone can do to somebody as a sexual assault and that’ll answer your question. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Peck, now 63, was arrested in August 2003 and ultimately sentenced in October 2004 to 16 months in prison after pleading no contest to a count apiece of lewd act upon a child 14 or 15 by a person 10 years older and oral copulation of a person under 16, according to sentencing documents reviewed by E! News. He was also required to register as a sex offender.

E! News reached out to Peck for comment but did not hear back. Nickelodeon told NBC News in a statement, “Now that Drake Bell has disclosed his identity as the plaintiff in the 2004 case, we are dismayed and saddened to learn of the trauma he has endured, and we commend and support the strength required to come forward.”

Amanda Bynes, Drake Bell, Josh Peck (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Drake Bell Describes How Brian Peck Got Him Alone

Bell described Peck purposely driving a wedge between him and his manager father Joe Bell (who also appears in the ID series and backs up his son’s account) so that he could spend more time with the teen, who had a recurring role on The Amanda Show before he was offered his own sitcom, Drake & Josh, in 2004.

Peck would take him to auditions, Bell said, and then have him sleep over, saying it was too late to drive him back home. One night, Bell described, he woke up on the couch (where he said he always slept) and Peck was sexually assaulting him.

“I froze and was in complete shock and had no idea what to do or how to react,” Bell said, “and I had no idea how to get out of the situation.”

He recalled Peck being apologetic, but the abuse didn’t stop—and Bell said he didn’t tell anyone, not even when the mom of his then-girlfriend realized something was wrong and took him to a therapist. He admittedly believed that if he said anything, his career would be over. 

Eventually, he said he “exploded” and told his mother everything, and she immediately called police. Bell said that detectives made him give an “excruciatingly detailed” account of the abuse and then had him call Peck to prompt a confession over the phone while they listened in. Peck “just started a full-on confession,” Bell said, and was subsequently arrested on Aug. 20, 2003.

Charley Gallay/WireImage

Dan Schneider Reaches Out

Bell also said in Quiet on Set that Dan Schneider, creator and executive producer of The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh, was quick to ask him if he needed anything and otherwise had his back after Peck was arrested.

Otherwise, he didn’t hear much from anybody he worked with, either because they didn’t know or “maybe because it’s a really sensitive subject,” Bell reflected. “Really the only person that I remember being there for me was Dan. Unfortunately, there was no therapy and I was left to my own devices…which at that age probably isn’t the best thing.”

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Brian Peck’s Support System in Hollywood

The records in Bell’s case were sealed for years. But once they were unsealed, interested parties could see who wrote the 41 letters of support filed on Peck’s behalf before his 2004 sentencing.

No one from Nickelodeon, including Schneider, wrote a letter, according to Business Insider journalist Kate Taylor—whose 2022 investigative piece detailing allegations of misconduct against Schneider inspired the ID series. (“We wrote Kate a bit of a love letter,” series co-director Mary Robertson told Vanity Fair, “and then said that we would love to partner and expand upon her already incredible reporting.”)

Among those who did write letters: James MarsdenSaturday Night Live player Taran Killam, Boy Meets World actors Will Friedle and Rider Strong, and Growing Pains parents Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns.

Marsden wrote, as his letter was quoted in the series, that he’d known Peck (who had bit parts in 2000’s X-Men and 2003’s X2) for 14 years and “what Brian has been through in the last year is the suffering of a hundred men.” Killam, who appeared on The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh, wrote of Peck, per the series, “I know for a fact that he regrets any mistakes made.”

Rider Strong and Will Friedle (Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Thicke died in 2016. E! News has reached out to reps for Marsden, Killam, Friedle, Strong and Kerns for comment but has not heard back.

But, as Taylor noted in the ID series, it was entirely possible that none of the actors knew the extent of the charges against Peck when they wrote the letters.

Kerns said in a statement included in Quiet on Set that she had since learned that her letter was based on “complete misinformation. Knowing what I know now, I never would have written the letter.”

Strong and Friedle recently expressed regret for standing by Peck, who appeared on a couple of episodes of Boy Meets World in 1999. They said on a February episode of Pod Meets World, which they cohost with Danielle Fishel, that they didn’t know the real story at the time.

“He didn’t say that nothing had happened,” Strong said. “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.”

Added Friedle, “We’re sitting in that courtroom on the wrong side of everything. The victim’s mother turned and said, ‘Look at all the famous people you brought with you. And it doesn’t change what you did to my kid.’ I just sat there wanting to die. It was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ It was horrifying all the way around.”

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Brian Peck’s Creepy Pen Pal

In Quiet on SetAll That alum Kyle Sullivan recalled everyone from the show going to Peck’s house for a barbecue. The actor and dialogue coach—who also worked on The Amanda Show and Amanda Bynes‘ subsequent sitcom What I Like About You—had a room full of vintage toys and comic books, Sullivan said, and a garage dedicated to Planet of the Apes memorabilia.

Sullivan recalled that Peck was giving him a tour when he showed the teen a painting of a clown made by the late serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who murdered at least 33 boys and young men, according to official accounts of his crimes, and was executed in 1994. Peck also had a stack of letters purportedly from Gacy that were given a place of pride in the nightstand next to his bed, according to Sullivan. 

E! News also reached out to Peck regarding his Gacy fandom alleged in the series but did not hear back.

Charley Gallay/WireImage

Kid-Friendly Programming?

Former cast members from shows run by Schneider talked in Quiet on Set about either feeling uncomfortable at the time—or in hindsight—about some of the costumes they were made to wear and various gross-out gags that may have been of questionable taste but were televised for all Nickelodeon viewers to see.

Leon Frierson, who was on All That from 1997 until 2000, recalled having to wear flesh-colored tights and underwear to play a superhero called “Nose Boy” with accessories that “looked like a penis and testicles on my shoulders.” In one sketch, Nose Boy sneezed and a glob of snot hit a girl in the face.

Alexa Nikolas (Quiet on Set/Maxine Productions/Warner Media)

In fact, slimy substances hitting girls in the face was a repeat joke in a number of Schneider’s shows, including Zoey 101, as pointed out in the ID series by Jamie Lynn Spears‘ costar Alexa Nikolas. (She and iCarly alum Jennette McCurdy are among the former Nickelodeon actors who have previously spoken out against the network for failing to protect young talent.)

“It was just uncomfortable,” Frierson said in the series. But, he added, no one thought to complain to Schneider. “It was important to be on his good side,” the now-37-year-old said of the All That writer-producer, “and he made it known who was on his good side.”

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

A spokesperson for Schneider told E! News, “Everything that happened on the shows Dan ran was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults and approved by the network. If there was an actual problem with the scenes that some people, now years later, are ‘sexualizing,’ they would be taken down, but they are not, they are aired constantly all over the world today still, enjoyed by both kids and parents.”

“Remember, all stories, dialogue, costumes, and makeup were fully approved by network executives on two coasts,” the rep continued. “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 filming and rehearsals. Had there been any scenes or outfits that were inappropriate in any way, they would have been flagged and blocked by this multilayered scrutiny.  

“Unfortunately, some adults project their adult minds onto kids’ shows, drawing false conclusions about them.”

Katrina Johnson (Quiet on Set/Maxine Productions/Warner Media)

Unrealistic Expectations

Katrina Johnson, who was on All That between 1994 and 1997 and didn’t act much after the aughts, shared details from her time on the sketch show that the now-41-year-old is still haunted by.

“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,'” she alleged in Quiet on Set. While her mom and dad stuck up for her, she added, “I mean, that stuck with me. ‘You can’t be the fat one.’ I still hear those words in my head to this day.”

Soon after, Johnson said, she hit puberty and no longer looked like a kid, so she was eventually “edged out…by a younger version of me.”

Regarding the various recollections in the ID series, Nickelodeon told NBC News in a statement:

“Though we cannot corroborate or negate allegations of behaviors from productions decades ago, Nickelodeon as a matter of policy investigates 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. Our highest priorities are the well-being and best interests not just of our employees, casts and crew, but of all children, and we have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

Bryan Christopher Hearne (Quiet on Set/Maxine Productions/Warner Media)

Not the Right Tone

Bryan Christopher Hearne, who was on seasons seven and eight of All That, was tasked with playing the youngest rapper of all time, “Lil Fetus,” another character requiring a skintight bodysuit. He said in the ID series that he overheard someone on set say that the “skin tone should be charcoal.” 

The crack made him “teary-eyed,” he recalled, but by then he was too afraid to tell his mother, Tracey Browne, who had already developed a reputation on set for being quick to speak up in her son’s defense. Which, according to both Browne and Hearne in the docuseries, was frowned upon.

“I became an oddball,” Browne acknowledged. At the same time, she said, it didn’t go unnoticed to her that her son was being asked to play Black stereotypes. Case in point, she said, Hearne playing the role of a kid hustling Girl Scout-type cookies in the manner of someone selling drugs. 

Castmate Kyle Sullivan, though he called out Schneider for being weirdly into goo-centric jokes, said in Quiet on Set that he “generally had a good relationship with Dan.”

In Hearne’s opinion, however, Schneider “had a nicer relationship with some of the other white kids. My time on Nickelodeon played a big part in how I dealt and still deal with racial issues.”

Lester Cohen/WireImage

A spokesperson for Schneider diusputed this characterization, noting the producer’s “long history prominently featuring Black actors in his television shows,” as well as his subsequent TV and film projects with All That breakout stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell.

Christy Stratton (Quiet on Set/Maxine Productions/Warner Media)

Two for the Price of One

It wasn’t just the adolescents who recall experiencing a toxic work place on these Schneider-run shows, according to Quiet on Set.

Jenny Kilgen said in the ID series that, when she and Christy Stratton were hired as writers on The Amanda Show in 1999, they were asked to split a salary, as in their combined salaries were equal to what one writer in their position was supposed to make.

But, as Kilgen recalled, she was hungry for work and didn’t want to press her luck by complaining. She also said she didn’t push back when Schneider asked if he could just call her and Stratton “the girls” instead of by name.

Moreover, both women said, Schneider would make comments about women not being funny, and he’d play demeaning pranks.

On another occasion, when Schneider created the character of “Penelope Taynt” for Bynes to play on The Amanda Show, Stratton and Kilgen said he instructed them not to tell network execs that the name was an intended double entendre, and they kept their mouths shut for fear of his wrath.

When Kilgen found out that their split salary was against union rules, she told the Writers Guild of America. Kilgen said Schneider called her at home and told her that, if he ever found out for sure that she was the one who reported him, that she’d never work for Nickelodeon or any other Viacom-owned entity again.

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Quiet on Set noted: “Dan Schneider denies Jenny’s claims and states that he had no control over salaries.”

A spokesperson for Schneider reiterated as much to E! News, noting The Amanda Show was produced by a different company (Tollin/Robbins), but even on shows he created, salaries “were controlled by the network and also by the WGA.”

As for these recollections of Schneider’s behavior, “unfortunately writers’ rooms were often off-color places, especially more than 20 years ago,” the spokesperson said.

“Dan is extremely sorry for his behavior that contributed to that environment and he has grown a lot since then. That behavior is clearly wrong and not for the workplace, and certainly he would never act that way again.”

Episode 3 and 4 of Quiet on Set premiere Monday, March 18, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Investigation Discovery. All episodes will also be streaming on Max.

(E! and NBC News are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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