The Most Harrowing Allegations in the New Nickelodeon Doc

In the ’90s and 2000s, producer Dan Schneider was the kingmaker of Nickelodeon, creating hits like All That, The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, and iCarly, and minting teenage stars like Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande along the the way.

A new four-part docuseries, Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, from Investigation Discovery examines the abuse that allegedly took place behind the scenes of Schneider’s golden era. In the series, former Nickelodeon child stars say Schneider verbally abused them, played favorites, and excluded children of color while forcing them to perform in hypersexualized roles. They were also exposed to multiple child sexual predators. Last week, the docuseries made headlines for featuring Drake Bell speaking publicly for the first time about being sexually abused by Brian Peck, who was an acting and dialogue coach on All That and The Amanda Show. “It just got worse and worse and worse,” Bell says. “The abuse was extensive, and it got pretty brutal.” (Peck pleaded no contest to two charges of sexual abuse 2004 and sentenced to 16 months in prison, and his victim was not identified in court at the time.) Former staffers from the shows also allege that Schneider discriminated against female staffers, demanded massages from them, publicly demeaned them, and underpaid them.

Schneider parted ways with Nickelodeon in 2018 after a ViacomCBS investigation found that Schneider was verbally abusive on set, according to a 2021 New York Times story. “In the challenges of production, Dan could get frustrated at times, and he understands why some employees found that intimidating or stressful,” a spokesperson for Schneider wrote in a statement to the Cut. “But he also knows some people did not have a positive experience, and he is truly sorry for that.”

Here are the most harrowing allegations:

Female staffers say Schneider made them give him massages on set.

In a time when opportunities for female sketch writers were far and few in between, former Amanda Show writers Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen say Schneider made them split one salary after hiring them. “They were getting two women writers for the price of one,” says Kilgen, who says she never witnessed the same thing happening to any men on staff. “I thought to myself, Don’t be a complainer and do whatever you have to do to get this job.” After calling the Writers Guild midway through the season, Kilgen says she learned splitting salaries wasn’t a permissible practice. Kilgen says Schneider then called her saying the Guild was requiring him to pay her and Stratton separate salaries and threatened her if she had any part in bringing it up to them. “If I find out that you did, you’re never going to work for Nickelodeon again or for any Viacom project,” Kilgen says Schneider said.

While working under Schneider, the women, along with a female costumer who worked on Schneider’s shows, say they were frequently interrupted at work to massage Schneider’s neck and were routinely subject to misogynistic comments. Once in the writers’ room, Kilgen says, Stratton shared a personal anecdote from high school. Schneider allegedly told Stratton it would be “funny” if she re-told it while leaning over the table and acting as if she was being sodomized, pushing her when she declined until she eventually did as asked.

Stratton was fired after the first season of The Amanda Show while Kilgen quit after four days into work on season two, after Schneider allegedly had all of his male writers come to his office to pitch ideas before inviting Kilgen in and asking her if she used to do phone sex. In 2000 she filed a lawsuit against The Amanda Show’s production company alleging gender discrimination and a hostile work environment. The suit was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. (According to the series, Schneider denies Kilgen’s claims and says he had no control over salaries.)

Multiple Amanda Show staffers say Schneider fostered unhealthy working conditions, pressuring them to work longer hours or be fired.

Karyn Finley Thompson, an editor on All That, The Amanda Show, and Drake & Josh, says Schneider stressed staff to work harder and put more hours into the job or risk being fired. She says she often edited shows from 8 a.m. through midnight without eating or going to the bathroom. “He would be like, ‘Wait, can you hold it, can you wait a minute?’” Thompson says. She also recalled a medical incident in which she was keeled over in pain and had to go to the hospital; while she was leaving set, she says she could hear someone say, “How is this show going to get finished?” Thompson says she quit after Schneider promised her a job but gave it to a younger man with no experience instead.

Former staffers and cast members allege Schneider played favorites and had a close physical relationship with Amanda Bynes.

Several of Schneider’s former staff and cast members say Schneider had clear favorites among young cast members and had the power to make or break their careers as he saw fit. All That actor Katrina Johnson says Nickelodeon called her parents to float the possibility of a spinoff show, but that producers later phoned back warning them Johnson was getting too fat and that they already “had a fat one.” She says the spinoff ultimately went to Amanda Bynes, who was one of Schneider’s alleged favorites: Thompson says Schneider had a “very close” physical relationship with the young actress, and often hugged her or received neck massages from her. Thompson recalls thinking it was “odd” that Schneider appeared in a Jacuzzi with a bathing-suit-clad Bynes in an Amanda Show segment.

Black cast members of Schneider’s shows say they felt tokenized and excluded.

Black cast members of All That and The Amanda Show suggest that Schneider’s favoritism often felt racially motivated. Giovonnie Samuels, who appeared in seasons seven through nine of All That, says she felt like the “token Black girl” on set. “You wanted Dan to like you, if he didn’t, he was mean to you,” says Raquel Lee Bolleau, who appeared on season one of The Amanda Show. Bolleau says Schneider was angry after she was given too “big” of a cake for her birthday on set.

“Dan had a nicer relationship with some of the white kids,” says Brian Christopher Hearne, who appeared on seasons seven and eight of All That. His mother, Tracey, recalls a sketch in which Hearne was selling Girl Scout cookies on the street, with the scene set up as if he, one of the only Black children on set, was dealing drugs.

Former All That cast members say they were put into uncomfortable situations for the sake of segments.

Sullivan says All That’s classic “On-Air Dare” segments, a kids’ approximation of Fear Factor, were“particularly traumatic” for young cast members. Hearne recalls doing a segment he was made to lie on the ground and get slathered in peanut butter for dogs to lick off. “That sounds like some awkward fantasy from some creepy dude,” says Hearne, who also recalled watching another cast member get submerged in worms. Hearne says it was uncomfortable to watch castmates essentially be “tortured.”

Kyle Sullivan, a former child actor on All That and The Amanda Show, says All That’s child actors frequently worked overtime on physically demanding sketches, like “Sugar and Coffee,” a segment in which he and a co-star had to swallow a “gross viscous goo” of actual sugar and coffee. “The show was full of these uncomfortable sketches — I think Dan got a kick out of walking a line with that,” Sullivan says. Samuels appeared on the same segment and says actors sometimes choked from swallowing “pounds and pounds” of sugar.

Multiple sexual predators worked on Schneider’s sets.

The mother of an All That guest star says a production assistant, Jason Handy, befriended her daughter on set and exchanged emails and numbers with a number of kids and parents. At the time she thought Handy was a trustworthy industry friend for her daughter, Brandi: “I thought, Oh this is going well. I was so happy I was the parent who could give my child what she wanted in life,” she says. She didn’t see any harm in their initial email correspondence until Brandi received an email from Handy featuring a naked image of him masturbating. “He said he sent it to her because he wanted her to see he was thinking of her,” Brandi’s mother says, adding that she didn’t initially report it to the police out of fear she would be seen as a bad parent for allowing the correspondence in the first place. In 2003, authorities found child porn at Handy’s house, along with Ziploc bags containing labeled trinkets from minors and a number of disturbing journal entries, in which he described himself as a “pedophile, full-blown” and wrote that he struggled with “finding a victim to rape if I have to.” He pleaded no contest to two felony counts: lewd acts on a child and sharing sexually explicit material by email. He was ordered to register as a sex offender and sentenced to six years in prison.

Brian Peck was an acting and dialogue coach on All That and The Amanda Show and appeared as a recurring sketch character called “Pickle Boy” on All That. Former cast members describe Peck as a mainstay on the set with whom they played foosball and Nintendo; Kyle Sullivan, the All That guest star, remembers a cast barbecue at Peck’s house where he allegedly showed Sullivan a portrait and pen-pal correspondence he had with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Peck was arrested in 2003 on 11 charges of child sexual abuse with an unnamed child actor — identified in the documentary as Drake Bell of Drake & Josh. In 2004, Peck pleaded no contest to two charges of child sex abuse. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender. A year after Peck’s sentencing, Ezel Channel, a registered sex offender and freelance animator for Nickelodeon Studios, was arrested on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old boy on the network’s Burbank lot. Channel was eventually convicted on one misdemeanor count of inappropriately touching a minor and one felony count of offering to show him pornography. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

After Drake Bell’s father brought up his concerns about Peck on set, someone in production told him he was being homophobic.

Drake Bell said he and Peck appeared to share a lot of similar interests while working together at Nickelodeon and grew close as a result, which he says he now understands to be calculated on Peck’s part. Peck attended Bell’s concerts, prepared him for auditions, and drove a wedge between Bell and his father, Joe Bell, who was also his manager. Joe, who also appears for an interview, says he remembers feeling uncomfortable with Peck’s physical closeness to his son on set and once brought up his concerns to “someone in production.” That person dismissed him, Joe said, suggesting that Peck was “just a touchy-feely guy” and that Joe was being homophobic.

Bell says he was surprised by the fact that more than 40 high-profile actors and industry professionals, including James Marsden and Boy Meets World actors Rider Strong and Will Friedle, wrote letters of support to the judge presiding over Peck’s case, pressing for probation instead of jail time. After serving his sentence, Peck returned to children’s television for a brief stint as a voice actor on the Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Former cast members say Schneider put them in scenes involving inappropriate sexual innuendo.

Staffers on the shows suggested that sexual jokes were par for the course: “Dan had a little bit of an arrested development,” says a costumer who worked on Zoey 101. Mike Denton, a former cameraman for iCarly, Sam & Cat, and Victorious, says there were scenes or props that he felt “could be sexual innuendo,” though bringing it up to Schneider felt impossible.

Alexa Nikolas, who played Nicole on Zoey 101, recalls a prop person coming to set with a syringe of liquid for a scene in which her tween character had to “bite the tip” of a tube of goop; the prop person then squirted the liquid onto Jamie Lynn Spears’s face. Nikolas remembers everyone standing behind the camera and laughing. “First, it was Dan, roaring laughing, then everyone kind of giggling,” she says. “We heard the boys saying it’s a come shot. And I had no idea what that meant.” (“Everything that happened on the shows Dan ran was carefully scrutinized by dozens of involved adults and approved by the network,” a representative for Schneider said in a statement to the Cut.)

The Most Harrowing Allegations From Quiet on Set