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After ‘Quiet on Set’ Revelations, Is Hollywood Doing Enough to Protect Child Actors?

The shocking revelations from the Investigation Discovery docuseries “Quiet On Set” pulled back the curtain on a slew of workplace abuse allegations involving various Nickelodeon shows from the 1990s and 2000s — and the network’s former longtime writer, producer and showrunner Dan Schneider.

Now the series has sparked the implementation of background checks and a new conversation around child actors in Hollywood.

Are child actors better protected now than they were when the alleged abuses took place? And what steps are networks like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel taking to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

TheWrap spoke to people familiar with the on-set situations — including lawyers, on-set teachers, industry insiders and psychologists — who expressed surprise over the conditions that allowed the abuses covered in “Quiet on Set” to happen in the first place. But they also noted the reluctance of abuse survivors or witnesses to speak up for fear of retaliation.

While more protections are now in place and the culture of sensitivity to workplace toxicity and abuse has changed since Schneider’s ouster from Nickelodeon in 2018, the experts TheWrap contacted said there’s still more to be done.

“There are gaping loopholes in the system and within laws that are being exploited by productions and producers and by individuals to save the bottom dollar,” one studio teacher who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said.

Current guidelines call for parents of minors to keep their child in “sight and sound” at all times, and for a child actor’s shift to be regulated. Another line of protection exists in the role of the “studio teacher” or “set teacher,” whose job is to protect and provide educational services for child actors. Studio teachers, which specifically are designated in the state of California, also oversee a child’s welfare until age 16.

But there are gaps in these practices. A studio teacher who spoke to TheWrap said she was removed from a production for speaking out, and it was perfectly legal. The teacher explained that productions are allowed to hire a subcontractor, such as On Location Education, a national educational nonunion consulting company, to hire teachers as independent contractors instead of employees. Under this arrangement, teachers can be replaced for any reason.

On the set of a prominent Marvel show, the production manager told the studio teacher that a minor in her care would be working an extra hour, the teacher explained.

“I replied with, ‘We can’t do that. That’s not allowed,’ and [the production manager] said, ‘I’m not asking, this is what’s going to happen. We have an actor here who has to fly back in the morning,’” the teacher recalled.

Dan Schneider (Getty Images)
Dan Schneider (Getty Images)

The studio teacher said the minor involved ended up staying an extra hour. After telling the production manager this could “never happen again,” a company working under contract with the production fired the teacher the next day.

Marvel Studios did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on this specific incident.

“Employees in general have this fear, ‘Maybe I’ll lose my job if I speak out about this issue,’” Chantal Payton of Payton Employment Law told TheWrap. While many employees are legally protected from retaliation by a number of laws, including whistleblower protection, plenty still don’t feel comfortable speaking up for fear of being blackballed from the industry.

That was the case for Carolyn Crimley, a certified IATSE Local 884 studio teacher in California who reported an on-set incident in 1992 and was fired from the production later that day. At the time, she was working for On Education Location. Per OEL’s site, it serviced many of the shows mentioned in “Quiet on Set,” including “Victorious,” “Drake & Josh,” “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.”

Despite these projections, people are still fearful of speaking out, not just for fear of losing this job, but of being blackballed from the industry.

Chantal Payton of Payton Employment Law

The incident in question happened at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco.

“We were up in the dressing room,” Crimley explained. “At the end of rehearsal, the mom came up mad at her kid for shutting the lights off and on or something. The other kid tattletaled on him. The mother was hitting the kid loudly. I heard it, and one of the wardrobe people heard it. So I went down to the production manager and reported it, and then got a phone call that night from On Location Education that I’d been basically fired from the job.”

Alan Simon, the president of OEL, acknowledged that Crimley had been removed from the show but denied the decision being prompted by her reporting the abuse, according to a public court filing obtained by TheWrap.

“That happens a lot in theater, that they keep the parents away,” Crimley continued. “I also reported it to Child Services, and they sent me a letter that said, ‘Allegations are unfounded.’ They had gone to talk with the kid with the mother present. So of course he wasn’t going to say something in front of his mother.”

Simon did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.

The biggest change Nickelodeon and Disney have made since the time period chronicled in “Quiet on Set” is to institute background checks for anyone interacting with minors. Following the arrest of Brian Peck, the dialogue coach who was convicted of sexually abusing “Drake & Josh” actor Drake Bell, who was 15 at the time, Nickelodeon began rolling out extensive checks.

Security checks that can reveal previous criminal records have been an industry standard at both Nickelodeon and Disney for the past 20 years, individuals familiar with both studios told TheWrap. A Nickelodeon insider told TheWrap that background checks weren’t standard to begin with because “unions don’t like them.”

But with the revelation that three now-convicted sex offenders — Brian Peck, production assistant Jason Handy and animator Ezel Channel — were allowed to work closely with underage actors under Schneider’s watch, the studios found the leverage to make background checks mandatory.

“And then the studio went the extra step and said, ‘We’re going to background check every single employee,’” the Nickelodeon insider added.

The person insisted the situation where a showrunner could wield enough power on set to potentially keep the network out of the loop, the way Schneider operated, “would not be tolerated today.”

Nickelodeon, in its official statement to the media, said it immediately investigates all formal complaints, but none of the situations featured in the docuseries were ever filed as formal complaints to the network at the time.

Schneider responded after the docuseries debuted, saying “everything that happened on the shows” he ran was “carefully scrutinized by dozens of adults” and that all “stories, costumes and makeup were fully approved by network executives on two coasts.” But he also acknowledged regret over “embarrassing” past behaviors.  “I definitely owe some people a pretty strong apology,” he said in an interview after the docuseries aired.

I would like it to get to that level where just as these child actors have a tutor on set, they have a mental health expert.

Dr. Patrice Le Goy, psychologist and family therapist

Among the new legal protections for minors in California is a groundbreaking law (AB-452) that went into effect on Jan. 1: It removes the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual assaults going forward. It is not, however, retroactive like California’s 2023 extension of the statute of limitations for adult victims of sexual assault, which led to years-old charges against Nigel Lythgoe and others.

A snowball effect

Dr. Patrice Le Goy, a psychologist who has worked in the entertainment field and is a licensed marriage and family therapist, said it isn’t uncommon for kids to not want to speak up about abuse.

“In families where kids are the breadwinner [and the family is] relying on them, they might feel like they need to keep quiet about any abusive behavior since so many people are counting on them,” Le Goy said. “I would like it to get to that level where just as these child actors have a tutor on set, they have a mental health expert. It would be so valuable.”

In the meantime, Dr. Ann Olivarius, a lawyer who specializes in cases of civil litigation, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, assault and abuse said that talking to the press, as Bell and his fellow child stars did in “Quiet on Set,” is sometimes the only way to bring industry abuses to light.

“You can get justice [by going public]. You may not get money, but certainly you’ll be educating others, you’ll be preventing the problem going forward,” Olivarius told TheWrap. “All you can do is speak up. You can agitate, you can be political, you can go to the press, hopefully find a person to tell your story. And in many cases, there will be legal actions you can take.”

Since “Quiet on the Set” was released March 17, other former child stars have shared their experiences of abuse on social media. But Bell’s reluctance to come forward for so long speaks to the culture of fear that still surrounds victims of abuse.

“I finished the ‘Quiet on Set’ documentary and took a few days to process it,” Bell’s costar Josh Peck (no relation to Brian Peck) said on social media. “I reached out to Drake privately, but want to give my support for the survivors who were brave enough to share their stories of emotional and physical abuse on Nickelodeon sets with the world. Children should be protected.”

Jack Salvatore Jr., who played Mark Del Figgalo on the Nickelodeon series “Zoey 101” and was also a writer on “Sam & Cat,” posted an Instagram video in which he alluded to even more disturbing allegations that he was choosing not to discuss at this time.

“This is an entire industry built on hope and dreams and adrenaline and wish fulfillment,” he said. “And that can be a very dangerous thing for megalomaniacs to wield.”

Even all these years later, Salvatore said he thought twice about sharing his experiences. “In posting this, I’m a little afraid: Is this going to screw up my career moving forward? I have no idea, but I think it’s important and it needs to be said. Because if my silence ensures the perpetuation of environments I don’t want to work in anymore, then what is the point of working in them?”

Lucas Manfredi contributed to this report

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.

If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 (4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.

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