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Commentary: 'Quiet on Set' allegations forced Dan Schneider to speak up. Now, more should

Dan Schneider at a microphone on stage.
Dan Schneider in 2014. On Tuesday, the former TV producer addressed the allegations made by child actors and former employees in the ID documentary, "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV." (Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)

Child actors were exploited and sexually abused by the adults they worked with on several hit Nickelodeon shows throughout the ’90s and 2000s. When one such adult — Brian Peck — was arrested on 11 charges of child sex abuse and then pleaded no contest to two in 2004, dozens of notable actors and television industry figures openly supported him during the sentencing portion of his case. And after he served his time, the Disney Channel hired him to work on one of its hit series, "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."

Layer after layer of depravity is revealed and alleged in “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” a multipart Investigation Discovery docuseries about the abuse endured by multiple child actors while working on hit Nickelodeon comedies such as “All That,” “The Amanda Show” and “iCarly.”

The shows are decades behind us, but the hushing effect of power and the quiet acceptance of predatory behavior is still an evergreen in Hollywood, as evidenced by all the folks who’ve released weak-sauce defenses, or maintained total radio silence since the documentary aired this week.

Read more: 'Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV': 6 key takeaways from the documentary

The documentary from directors Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz is full of bombshells, but much of the outrage now is around the contents of court documents unsealed for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The documents show that 41 letters were written in support of Peck, who was a Nickelodeon dialogue coach and actor before his 2003 arrest. Heartfelt testimonials about Peck rolled in during the sentencing portion of the case from actors like James Marsden, Ron Melendez, Alan Thicke, Rider Strong, Will Friedle and former “The Amanda Show” co-star Taran Killam.

Public pressure is building for Peck's defenders to explain why they threw in support for Peck, whose charges included sodomy of a person under 16, sexual penetration by a foreign object, four counts of oral copulation of a person under 16, oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance, and using a minor for sex acts. Some of the letter writers even suggested to the judge that Peck be put on probation rather than sent to prison. He was sentenced to 16 months.

While Marsden and company are the most publicly recognizable names in the cry for accountability, Disney and Nickelodeon have also offered little in the way of an apology or accountability for their blind-eye policies that created safe havens — and jobs — for predators like Peck. Jason Michael Handy, a former Nickelodeon production assistant, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after pleading no contest on two felony counts, including lewd acts on a child and distributing sexually explicit material.

Maybe things have since changed for child actors, but Nickelodeon's nebulous responses at the end of “Quiet on Set” episodes, and in statements sent to the media last week, do little to assure audiences that there’s been any notable transformation inside their fiefdoms.

The media, film and television industries should be seasoned pros at dealing with this kind of ugliness. There’s a long history of powerful men victimizing those who hope to make it big (or simply make a living). And it wasn’t that long ago that networks and Hollywood were forced to contend with its coddling of powerful, serial predators like Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby thanks to dogged reporting on the problem and the brave folks who dared to speak out against their abusers.

Drake Bell in a black shirt and suit standing against a blue backdrop.
Drake Bell in 2017. The actor says in "Quiet on Set" that he was the unnamed child at the heart of the case against Brian Peck. (Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)

Former child star Drake Bell, who co-starred on “Drake & Josh,” is one such courageous soul. He says he was the unnamed child at the heart of the case against Peck, and he speaks publicly for the first time in the ID documentary. “His entire side of the courtroom was full,” said Bell. “There were definitely some recognizable faces on that side of the room. And my side was me, my mom and my brother.” Peck was convicted at that point, and Bell says that he was shocked by all the support Peck got from people in the industry.

Read more: Drake Bell accuses former Nickelodeon dialogue coach Brian Peck of sexual abuse

And Bell was given more reason to lose faith in an industry he once called home. After Peck served his prison sentence, he was hired to work on “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” Rich and Beth Correll — who worked as a director and first assistant director on the show — knew of Peck’s background because they were among those who had written a letter in his defense. (The Corrells, in a statement to the documentary's producers, say "they had no input or involvement in the casting" of Peck on the show and that when they asked him about it, he said "the problem had been resolved.")

Nickelodeon rose to prominence at the turn of the century by generating a string of aggressively energetic sketch comedy series for kids. The loud and brash content was aimed at the older siblings of the Disney Channel audience. It offered relatively edgier content than Mickey and Minnie and oodles of gross-out moments, including its trademark dump of green slime on Nickelodeon stars, reality show contestants and Kids' Choice Award honorees.

Read more: Dan Schneider says 'Quiet on Set' allegations made him feel 'awful and regretful'

Central to the network’s success was producer Dan Schneider, and he’s also a central figure in allegations of a toxic work environment on set and behind the scenes at Nickelodeon. Several former actors from his shows, now adults, speak out in the documentary about how Schneider bullied his casts and crews, created adult-like, sexualized scenarios on their shows and pushed them to perform extreme, if not crude, stunts.

Behind the scenes, one of two female writers who worked for Schneider in the 1990s recalled a harrowing event in the writers room, when Schneider pressured one of them into recounting an event from their high school years while pretending she was the recipient of anal sex — all in the name of laughs.

She sued the network, they settled, and her career was ruined. Schneider went on to become the network’s golden boy. And now those former employees, along with a slew of former child actors, have horror stories to tell thanks to a network that failed to protect the children behind the ratings.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.