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‘Quiet on Set’ Directors Explain How They Uncovered Stars’ Secret Support for Pedophile Brian Peck and Whether Kids Are Safe on Set Post-Dan Schneider’s Nickelodeon Reign

For the first time, the so-called toxic environment at the cable channel Nickelodeon in the late ’90s and early aughts is being exposed on screen, in ID’s “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” docuseries. For years, directors Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz worked to make sources comfortable with the idea of talking about their experiences, sharing allegations of abuse, sexism, racism and inappropriate dynamics on sets — mostly under creator Dan Schneider.

“When we were first approached about this project, there was an undeniable passion behind the pitch. In working with an incredibly talented filmmaking team and the dedicated journalists at Business Insider, ‘Quiet On Set’ unearths revelations and sheds light on important survivor stories that needed to be shared after decades in the dark,” Tuner Networks, ID & HLN President Jason Sarlanis said in a statement to Variety.

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For the four-part ID documentary, cast members and crew who worked alongside Schneider — the creator of “All That,” “The Amanda Show,” “iCarly,” “Victorious,” “Sam & Cat” and many other massive Nickelodeon hits — shared their experiences. The documentary explores what type of behavior was allowed on the sets of children’s television shows, including women writers who claimed they were forced to accept half the salaries their male counterparts made.

Variety contacted Schneider — who says he hasn’t seen “Quiet on Set” yet — to comment on the docuseries’ allegations. About the salary claims, Schneider’s representative says: “‘The Amanda Show’ was produced by a different company (Tollin/Robbins) not Dan. Additionally, Dan was not involved in writers’ salaries, they were controlled by the network and also by the WGA, not by Dan even on shows he did create.”

The doc also features crew members alleging they were asked continuously to massage Schneider on set. “Dan deeply regrets asking anyone for neck massages,” his representative says in response. “Though they happened in public settings, he knows this was highly inappropriate and would never happen again.”

During the second half of the doc series, Drake Bell came forward for the first time, revealing he was the John Doe victim in Brian Peck’s child abuse case. Peck, who worked as a dialogue and acting coach under Schneider on “All That” and “The Amanda Show,” was arrested for child sexual abuse in 2003 and served 16 months in prison and registered as a child sex offender. Until now, the case — and the multiple letters of support for Peck, written by other actors — was sealed and Bell’s identity was secret.

Variety also reached out to Nickelodeon about the claims made about the network in “Quiet on Set,” and a spokesperson wrote in part: “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.” (The full statement, which is also about Bell, is at the bottom of the post.)

In this interview, directors Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz about the process of learning Bell was the victim, unsealing the documents and more. “Quiet on Set” airs over two nights on ID at 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 17 and Monday, March 18. Episodes will also be streaming on Max.

Why did you decide to tell this story now?

Mary Robertson: Several years ago, we noticed some videos online that perhaps you’ve seen yourself —compilations of clips from some of these shows that Dan presided over, some of these clips featured Ariana Grande lying on the side of a bed pouring water on herself in a manner that arguably is sexual. We also in those clips, girls appearing on Dan’s shows would receive a squirt of a viscous liquid on their face. There were a lot of questions that were circulating online certainly around the conditions under which these videos were made. Certainly, we had our own curiosity, and thought it was a really meaningful and worthy subject. And then we read an article that Kate Taylor wrote in Business Insider that we think really advanced the reporting on Dan Schneider and his influence at Nickelodeon. There were more than 12 anonymous sources, who were offering quotes and insight into what was really happening behind the scenes. And we wrote Kate a letter, and said we’d love to partner on this and move forward. Then we began the work of trying to convert these anonymous sources into sources who would appear on camera and feel comfortable sharing their stories in this environment and were eventually able to build upon that.

Emma Schwartz: The more we dug in, the more we talked to people because really, a lot of the folks that we have on “Quiet on Set” had never spoken before and had never actually spoken for the Business Insider piece. There was a much bigger story and a story that hadn’t been told about these environments. Many people, even people who didn’t want to speak publicly would say, “I’m really glad you’re doing this. I think this deserves attention.”

There is a lot of talent shown in this, including Grande, Victoria Justice, Jamie Lynn Spears and Amanda Bynes. Did you reach out to all of them to see if they’d like to participate?

Schwartz: We did create a very big spreadsheet with everyone from cast and crew and everyone else that we could think of, and we reached out to a lot of people. Obviously, not everyone was in a place where they were ready and willing to share. And there were just some stories where we learned enough that even if people weren’t participating, we felt that there was an important lesson to learn or story to tell, and obviously tried to be sensitive where people themselves weren’t participating.

Robertson: We’re really proud of and excited by the fact that we’re bringing forward more than a dozen sources who have never shared their stories publicly before. And if Ariana Grande or anyone else who was in this universe wants to share more with us, we’re very interested. We reached out to everyone that you might expect for comment and beyond.

How much did you guys engage with Dan Schneider throughout this process?

Schwartz: We reached out to Dan, we asked for his participation. He declined to participate on camera and we sent him a list of questions and incorporated his responses into the project.

What was the process of learning that Drake Bell was the victim in the Brian Peck case, and then getting him to come forward and share his story?

Schwartz: Pretty early in the process, we learned that there have been several people who’ve been arrested and convicted of child sex abuse at Nickelodeon. We began to hear whispers that the person who was the victim in Brian Peck’s case was Drake Bell, but we wanted to be really careful and really thoughtful approaching someone who is a survivor of child sex abuse, especially someone who has, at that point, clearly remained very private about that. But at a certain juncture, when we were pretty certain it was him, I wrote a letter and that letter began a back and forth and a conversation that eventually led to his willingness to sit down on camera. Just sitting down on camera wasn’t easy. It wasn’t as if he went home that day and said, “Oh, that was the greatest decision I made.” It’s been a process and a journey, trying to sort of heal from the trauma that he experienced more than two decades ago.

How did he feel once he watched it?

Schwartz: I think the thing he said to me: that finally, he felt like a weight had been lifted. He’s been carrying and, he’ll carry it for the rest of his life, but there’s a certain levity in finally knowing you don’t have to hold it as a secret. And perhaps in shining light, you can help other people.

So what happened after getting Drake Bell on board? The case was sealed and the letters were sealed, so were you able to unseal them after getting his OK?

Schwartz: So the letters of the court were actually separate. I had started that before we had actually talked to Drake. We had been talking to people who told us that at the time Brian was arrested, that there were people in Nickelodeon who were being asked to write letters of support and I used to be a reporter covering courts, so I knew letters of support are supposed to be public. We went to try to get the records and they were sealed. And then I talked to our lawyers and said, “Well, shouldn’t these be public?” and they’re like, “Well, you can petition the court to unseal them.” So that is exactly what we did. We didn’t know what we would find, whose names would be in there. But sometimes it’s very hard to measure support and power and influence, especially in a place like Hollywood. But what the letters allow us to do is get a window into who, in Hollywood, was supporting this man during a time that he had been convicted as a child sex offender.

Robertson: I think it arguably influences the way in which one perceives and understands Drake’s experience too. And perhaps it helps us understand a little bit of what he might have felt when he walked into the courtroom, as he describes in the film and sees that Brian Peck’s side of the courtroom is full right. I don’t think, at the time, he felt as though he had many allies.

Schwartz: I think he expected to have support and then realized that he essentially walked into a room and was sort of re-traumatized.

Dan has responded in multiple statements. Did you have any contact at all with Brian Peck?

Schwartz: He is certainly aware that we unsealed those letters.

Peck was hired again by “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” after he got out of prison, which there were rumors about but it hadn’t been confirmed. Did you discuss that decision with the Disney Channel?

(After a long pause) Schwartz: Like you said, it’s been out there that he had continued to work in the industry and had worked on another children’s show. And that was certainly something that, a lot of people that we spoke with, were very curious about.

(Variety confirmed Peck performed voiceover work on three episodes of “Suite Life,” and was never on set. He had zero interaction with any cast or crew. Once the network learned of his conviction, he was immediately terminated and his credits on the three episodes were replaced.)

How much participation did you have overall from Nickelodeon while making this? We have the blanket statement in each episode, but other than that?

Schwartz: We also reached out and asked them if they wanted to have someone participate on camera. They declined. We sent them a series of questions. That statement was what we got back from them. We certainly reached out to lots of people who had been in and around Nickelodeon, and we tried to learn as much as we could.

There’s a big question now about how kids are protected now on set — what protocols are on set, what has changed, etc. Did you look into that?

Schwartz: Well they did expand their background checks to include freelancers, meaning the production companies, after these cases had come up. As far as I understand, there’s not uniform rules that say, like there are at schools, that say, you cannot have a child sex offender anywhere near a set. That’s something that, for instance, Kyle [Sullivan], who is in the program, is very concerned about. He certainly believes that that’s not enough protection, that things can slip through the cracks.

Fundamentally, what we were trying to do with “Quiet on Set” is scrutinize these power dynamics between kids and adults, between the parents and the crew and the showrunner, and really sort of peel back the curtain on this world.

After the amount of research you’ve done through this, do you feel personally, that children are protected on sets now?

Robertson: I think the question is protected from what, right? There are certain power dynamics that are hard to inoculate or protect yourself from. I do think generally, collectively, culturally, in this country, we’ve moved in a direction where we’re more sensitive to power imbalances in the entertainment industry, in the workplace. I certainly think that’s the case. Do we have work to do? You tell me.

There’s always work to do. What was the toughest part for you guys during this process?

Schwartz: I think just for me personally, it was working with Drake in his decision to come forward. That’s not easy. It takes a lot of courage. And it was a process and I think, a unique process to go through that with somebody.

Robertson: I think listening to Joe, Drake’s dad, share his account. Listening to him and thinking carefully about how to create a safe environment for him to be vulnerable and share experiences that he felt were really upsetting. I think that that was hard, but it also felt important.

This could really start more conversations — if more people come forward with stories to tell, would you guys be interested in doing more episodes of this?

Robertson: Absolutely. We have so many questions. We are here to listen, and we hope that others who have similar, adjacent, related meaningful experiences in this realm come forward to us.

Schwartz: I’d say one of the goals is to elevate and help create that conversation and the more people who can come forward, the more we can have a thoughtful conversation.

Here is the full statement from Nickelodeon: “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.”

Here is the full statement from a spokesperson for Schneider: 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. 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.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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