Big Issues

Nickelodeon Made Us Complicit

nickelodeon dan schneider abuse drake bell amanda bynes quiet on set

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The allegations coming out of the four-part Nickelodeon documentary exposé, Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, are, to put it lightly, deeply disturbing. One of the many things that’s stuck with me is that Nickelodeon, particularly Dan Schneider, manipulated all of us. 

Allegations of abuse and mistreatment of minors against Nickelodeon — and allegations of fostering a toxic workplace culture against Dan Schneider — aren’t new. In 2018, Schneider was ousted from Nickelodeon, where he was the network’s biggest writer and showrunner, working on shows in the late 90s and early 2000s like The Amanda Show, All That, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious. Former co-workers alleged he was verbally abusive and that he may have behaved inappropriately with underage actors. An internal investigation found there was “no sexual misconduct” but that Schneider was at times “verbally abusive”. Nickelodeon and Schneider parted ways shortly afterwards, in 2018. (At the time, Nickelodeon suggested Schneider would pursue “other opportunities and projects” after his departure. In 2021, Schneider denied that he mistreated the actors he’d worked with and this week, after watching the Quiet on the Set series, Schneider apologised for his behaviour.)

In her 2022 memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy (one of the stars in iCarly and Sam & Cat) claimed Schneider, who she referred to as “The Creator”, made her drink alcohol underage, massaged her shoulders, and insisted she wear a small bikini. Alexa Nikolas, former actress on Zoey 101, has long protested against Nickelodeon, saying the network didn’t protect her. When Jennette’s and Alexa’s allegations first came out, it altered how I perceived the shows and by extension, how I perceived parts of my childhood. 

But Quiet on Set has blown the lid off just how pervasive the abuse was on these Nickelodeon sets. In the docuseries, Drake Bell is one of the many child stars to tell their story of sexual abuse that occurred during their time at Nickelodeon. Drake was revealed to be John Doe, the actor at the centre of the sexual abuse case against former Nickelodeon dialogue coach, Brian Peck. (Drake Bell was later convicted of attempted child endangerment and disseminating harmful matter to children.) Since the documentary, people have been trying to figure out how other Nickelodeon stars, like Miranda Cosgrove, Ariana Grande, and Amanda Bynes were treated on set. But that’s not the point and frankly it’s gross to expect potential child abuse victims to relive their trauma. We should be focusing on holding their alleged abusers responsible and make sure that child actors today are protected. 

There’s been a deep pit in my stomach watching everything come to light. Of course, a lot of it has to do with hearing how many child actors were allegedly abused and weren’t protected. But there’s a part of me that’s left feeling like Nickelodeon and Dan Schneider made us complicit in their alleged abuses. We were children enjoying shows that made us feel seen. Now to look back and think all of that was a lie and those actors who made us feel comfort weren’t afforded that same safety makes me feel sick. It feels like we were manipulated by Nickelodeon into believing that it was a place for kids, that it was a world where our wildest imaginations and dreams could come true. But it was all a facade. I can’t help but wonder if our love for those shows inflated Dan’s power. And what about the network? I hate to think that Nickelodeon may have been blind to the treatment of its child stars in favour of the man responsible for making them millions of dollars and turning kids comedy into a massive commodity. 

So much of my childhood was wrapped up in Nickelodeon, especially Dan Schiender’s shows. The Amanda Show was one of my favourite shows on TV. It introduced me to a physical, slap-stick style of comedy that resonated deeply for me. I have so many fond memories watching iCarly, Drake & Josh, Victorious, and Zoey 101 with my brother or my friends. These shows were an escape for me. I long wished I had a web series like the iCarly kids did, or that I was talented enough to go to a performing arts school like Hollywood Arts Victorious. Knowing that these shows were produced within a culture of such toxicity is disturbing on multiple levels. Now, jokes or moments that seemed fun or innocent at the time seem like signs of trouble. Skits about pants that make popcorn, goo squirting on people’s faces, the constant foot skits, and hot tub scenes that went over my head as a kid are now very uncomfortable to watch, as are the shows more broadly. And it feels like my childhood is tainted.

[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the various accusations made against Nickelodeon and Dan Schneider.]

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Nickelodeon