Disturbing Scandals Nickelodeon Tried To Hide

It's no secret that behind the glitz and glamor, the entertainment industry is a pretty dark place — and it's been like that for a long time. Scandalous stories of Old Hollywood involve tales of abuse, sexual assault, forced abortions, and mysterious deaths. Go back even further to the dark side of the silent film era, and that's filled with stories of ruthless studios, rampant racism, and sexual abuse. That was decades ago, of course, and while it's nice to think that things have changed, it doesn't seem to be true. According to the documentary series "Quiet on Set," it's definitely not the case, as multiple child stars have come forward to expose the rampant abuse that's been happening on the sets of various Nickelodeon shows for years.

Shows like "iCarly," "All That," and "Drake & Josh" spoke to an entire generation by putting child stars on the screen that others could relate to. Unfortunately, the shocking reveal of sexual, emotional, and physical abuses that were going on behind the scenes — sometimes aided by complicit parents — may be enough to taint the legacy of an entire network.

Abuses suffered by child actors isn't a new or unknown thing: Hollywood laws were put in place to protect child actors as early as the 1930s. But abuses have continued, and according to some, they've been covered up in a big way. With that in mind, let's look at some of the biggest scandals that have hit Nickelodeon ... and why actors say it was allowed to go on for as long as it did.

This article includes discussions of child abuse and sexual assault.

Jennette McCurdy's autobiography was a shocking story of abuse

Sometimes, it is possible to judge a book by the cover. Take Jennette McCurdy's memoir. Not only was it called "I'm Glad My Mom Died," but she was pictured on the cover, holding a pink urn. McCurdy spoke with The New York Times around the release of her book, saying that she started working at age 6, ended up on "iCarly" in 2007, and followed that up with the spinoff "Sam & Cat." 

It was all done under the bootheel of her mother, who instructed her to comply with whatever requests were made of her, no matter what. Having her photo taken in a bikini, drinking the alcohol she was given, being subjected to unwanted touching ... the young star was expected to just deal with it.

McCurdy went on to condemn the network for essentially sabotaging her career. After being promised a spinoff show called "Just Puckett," she claimed she was not only forced into "Sam & Cat," but that costar Ariana Grande was given wildly preferential treatment. McCurdy wrote that she was forced to turn down other roles because the powers-that-be had refused to write episodes around her absences in the same way they regularly wrote out Grande. She explained to the Times, "My whole childhood and adolescence were very exploited. ... There were cases where people had the best intentions and maybe didn't know what they were doing. And also cases where they did — they knew exactly what they were doing."

The accusations against Brian Peck

Brian Peck's acting career goes back to the early 1980s, with films like "The Last American Virgin" and "The Return of the Living Dead." Fast-forward to 2003, and a press release from the Los Angeles Police Department announced his arrest for "lewd acts with a child" and appealed for anyone with information on Peck to come forward. They were specifically looking for other victims.

At the time of Peck's arrest, he was working for Nickelodeon as a dialogue coach, and since the victim was a minor, they weren't named in the case. Peck was convicted, sentenced to 16 months in prison, and made to register as a sex offender. It wasn't until 2024 and his participation in the documentary "Quiet on Set" that Drake Bell (pictured) named himself as the minor. "Imagine the worst thing someone could do to someone as sexual assault," he said in the docuseries. "I don't know how else to put it." Bell went on to say that even his father couldn't help: Nickelodeon producers reportedly accused Joe Bell of being homophobic when he tried to sound the alarm about Peck's relationship with his son. (Drake Bell is one of many child stars who have had their own court cases filed against them.) 

To make Bell's ordeal even worse, more than three dozen people wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency on Peck's behalf. Since then, some of Peck's supporter's — including Joanna Kerns of "Growing Pains" and "X-Men" producer Tom DeSanto — have said that they never would have written the letters if they had all the details of the case and the accusations.

Producer Dan Schneider was accused of inappropriate behavior

Although the documentary "Quiet on Set" touched on a number of issues, the behavior of producer Dan Schneider was at the heart of it. There were a whole host of issues raised in the series, so let's briefly talk about some of them — starting with the fact that many stars and their parents have said that they felt Schneider wielded the power to make or break careers and lives, and that he used it to get away with some horrible things. 

Among the accusations were claims that Schneider filmed actors in uncomfortable settings, forced two female writers to split a single salary, put underage actors in sexualized positions that they found incredibly uncomfortable, was verbally abusive, demanded people act out sexually explicit scenarios, and was behind countless instances of harmful pranks and bullying. One Nickelodeon writer said that Schneider had promised her he would make sure her material made it into shows ... but only if she would give him massages.

Those speaking out didn't pull any punches. "Zoey 101" star Alexa Nikolas called him "the champion of creeps" in a social media livestream (via Global News), while Jennette McCurdy has said that he "[made] grown men and women cry with his insults and degradation." Schneider and Nickelodeon called it quits in 2018, with a public statement (via Deadline) where the network thanked him for his many contributions, and said it was "a natural time ... to pursue other opportunities and projects."

Angelique Bates has been speaking out for years

In 2016, Angelique Bates of "All That" spoke with The Shade Room to say that she wasn't going to remain silent any longer. While the original interview is no longer available, some parts are — including a short video where she said, "I was only 12 years old, and that's when my nightmare began. I was physically, mentally, emotionally abused in front of the producers and cast members. Sometimes they could even hear me yelling, but nothing was done to help me."

Bates' mother sent a follow-up letter to The Shade Room, lauding her daughter for speaking out about what happened. She confirmed that working conditions were so bad that the California Child Labor Department was called, and that she "was informed that Nickelodeon was in violation of the California Child Labor Laws."

Bates says that she was released from her contract when she was 15 years old, and that the powers-that-be had successfully prevented her from working in the industry. Bates declined to participate in "Quiet on Set," and in an Instagram post, revealed that her decision to speak out still impacted her. "I was ridiculed and shunned by a lot of my peers, industry, and the internet," she wrote. In a video for the Voices Rising Film Festival, Bates spoke about how the lasting impact of the abuse she suffered on the Nickelodeon sets left her struggling with thoughts of inadequacy, shame, and ultimately, thoughts of suicide.

Bryan Hearne and Giovonnie Samuels experienced racism

According to "All That" star Bryan Hearne (left), intimidation from the higher-ups at Nickelodeon worked to keep cast members quiet and compliant. Speaking in the "Quiet on Set" documentary, Hearne said he was often uncomfortable with what he was asked to do. That included things like wearing a leotard and performing in skits that he felt included racial stereotypes. (He was cast as a rapper and a thinly veiled representation of a drug dealer.) Hearne continued, "I was referred to as a 'piece of charcoal.' Remarks like that are harmful. They stay with you."

Hearne said that he was never consulted, only told what to do. "There was never any discussion. We felt like we couldn't say no ... after a while it felt like we were just part of this torture chamber." In an interview with Collider, Giovonnie Samuels has echoed Hearne's sentiments, saying that she had always felt she was treated differently because she was Black.

"All That" was one of the many shows that were overseen by producer Dan Schneider, and when Hearne's mother spoke up to defend her son, he was dropped from the show — and says that making waves wasn't tolerated. His mother, Tracy Brown, later commented on the other accusations leveled against Schneider, saying, "I had no idea what I was saving my son from." (For some insight into the long-term impacts of racism, read how psychiatrists are pushing for racism to be considered a mental health issue.)

Jason Handy was repeatedly arrested for a series of lewd acts

The documentary "Quiet on Set" also touched on the case of Jason Handy, a production assistant who worked closely with Nickelodeon's child stars and their families. Although many described him as a perfectly ordinary person with precisely the sort of personality one might expect to have a job like that, things went bad very quickly. Police began investigating him on a tip from an unidentified source and found child sex abuse images in his possession, along with diary entries in which he wrote about his desires.

At least two minors on Nickelodeon shows had run-ins with him, including one girl who reported that he tried to kiss her, and another (identified only as "Brandi") to whom he had sent a graphic photo. The girl's mother — identified only by her initials — said (via Entertainment Weekly) that he had sent the explicit image of himself "because he wanted her to see that he was thinking of her."

Handy was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2009, and arrested again in 2014 on more charges involving minors. He was again convicted, and is currently in jail with a release date of 2038. The mother of the girl he sent the photo to explained, "I no longer trusted anybody with children in this industry. I felt abandoned. There was never any apology to Brandi herself for what happened. Everything got swept under the rug."

The creator of Ren & Stimpy was the subject of abuse allegations

"Ren & Stimpy" was the almost bizarrely popular cartoon that was a massive hit for Nickelodeon in the 1990s. In 2014, HuffPost talked to creator John Kricfalusi, who insisted that Nickelodeon had not actually fired him back in 1992. Nickelodeon, however, said that he was definitely fired — and said as much back in 1992, when the Los Angeles Times quoted an anonymous executive who said Kricfalusi had been removed from the production because of delays.

Kricfalusi had all kinds of issues with the network, citing things like disagreements over censorship for the disintegration of the relationship. However, by the mid-1990s, Kricfalusi's preferences for underage girls started to get mentioned in such a high-profile way that it's kind of shocking that it got overlooked for as long as it did.

BuzzFeed News did a deep dive into Kricfalusi's background, writing that they found mentions of his 15-year-old girlfriends in books written about "Ren & Stimpy." Warner Bros. art director Tony Mora told them Kricfalusi's tendency to harass and pursue underage girls was a well-known secret, saying, "It's always been there." Copies of correspondence between Kricfalusi and Katie Rice — an aspiring cartoonist who was 14 years old when they started chatting on AOL — make for uncomfortable reading, especially when she reveals that he stopped talking to her at about the same time he moved in with a high school junior named Robyn Byrd.

Writer and animator Chris Savino was fired amid accusations

Back in 2017, industry news site Cartoon Brew reported that they couldn't get Nickelodeon's parent company, Viacom, to confirm exactly what was going on with the creator of one of the network's most popular shows. Chris Savino (right) had apparently been suspended, and inquiries were met with a generic sort of statement that promised they were dedicated to providing safe work environments. Just a day later, it was announced that Savino had been fired. Meanwhile, Variety also added that they'd gotten a copy of an internal memo in which the Nickelodeon president promised job safety to anyone who came forward with reports of anything that would create a hostile work environment.

What happened? Around 12 women had accused Savino of varying sexual offenses, including harassment, threats, sending explicit text messages, and promises of employment in exchange for sexual favors. Savino reportedly had maintained consensual relationships with multiple coworkers, and he was accused of threatening to use his position to ruin careers when those relationships ended.

When the story broke, more women started coming forward. That included "Bojack Horseman" director Anne Walker Farrell, who tweeted that not only had she been harrassed by Savino, but that she regretted not stepping forward sooner. "It happened a long time ago, 15 years," she tweeted. "... [A]pparently dude's approach hasn't changed." Farrell was the only woman publicly named: The others were requested to maintain their anonymity as the investigation was carried out.

Nickelodeon's handling of scandals has been a scandal in itself

Long before the release of "Quiet on Set," media outlets have raised questions about the way Nickelodeon has dealt with reports of abusive behavior. In 2018, Deadline questioned the network's internal procedures for investigating complaints, noting that multiple complaints had been lodged against producer Dan Schneider over the course of several years. He was the center of an internal investigation that kicked off in 2013, and only parted ways with the company in 2018. That only happened after more complaints, including those about requests for massages.

Some stars have also come forward to complain about the way the network handled complaints. When she published her memoir, Jennette McCurdy said that she'd turned down an offer of $300,000 from the network, which came with the caveat that she wouldn't talk about her experiences on Nickelodeon sets. She wrote (via E!), "Nickelodeon is offering me three hundred thousand dollars in hush money to not talk publicly about my experience on the show? ... This is a network with shows made for children. Shouldn't they have some sort of moral compass?"

Alexa Nikolas — formerly of "Zoey 101" — also condemned the network's practices, particularly their use of non-disclosure agreements. She told TMZ that forcing child stars to sign NDAs means that when they need help, they're legally restricted from getting it — and that only serves to help foster a potentially dangerous environment. For a look into more disturbing Hollywood practices, check out why these Old Hollywood stars fell from grace and were fired

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, may be the victim of child abuse, or is struggling or in crisis, contact the relevant resources below: