Abuse in Children's TV: The Need for Legal Reform

Madeline Gatto

Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV is a five-part docuseries that aired in March of 2024. The docuseries uncovers industry abuses and the toxic culture behind Nickelodeon’s most popular children’s shows of the 1990s and early 2000s, including All That, The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, Victorious, and Sam & Cat. In the episodes, people who worked on the sets of these shows detailed the gender discrimination and creation of a hostile work environment by Dan Schnieder, a well-connected producer heavily involved in all of these shows. The documentary also brought to light the experience of Drake Bell, a former child actor, who shared his story about the sexual abuse he was subject to by Brian Peck, an acting coach at the network, at the age of fifteen.

Quiet on Set uncovers the toxic culture that existed on these sets and reveals reasons why people were afraid to speak out about the misconduct. In a statement to the media in response to the documentary, Nickelodeon asserts that it immediately investigates all formal complaints, but the situations featured in the documentary were not filed as formal complaints to the network.  In the film, former employees gave accounts of their experience speaking out about misconduct and being retaliated against. Many of those who voiced concern were terminated shortly after doing so. Other witnesses or survivors were afraid to speak up at all in fear of retaliation or being blacklisted in such a competitive and reputation-based industry. The victimized children who were chasing their dreams or acting as the source of income for their families were under immense pressure and were likely afraid to risk future opportunities by speaking out. Even though the law protects employees from retaliation, there is still fear of being blacklisted from the industry.[1]

The abuses covered in the documentary occurred up until 2018, when Nickelodeon canceled Dan Schneider’s contract in response to public outcry. In addition to Dan Schneider’s exposure, the convictions of Brian Peck, Jason Handy, Ezell Channel, and the arrests of Cody Longo and Martin Weiss for sex crimes against children, spurred some necessary changes at the network.[2] Nickelodeon has since implemented background checks for every employee.

A significant dilemma in these controversies is that there is no federal law protecting child actors. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is a labor law that regulates working conditions for children including age standards, hours, and wages. However, the entertainment industry was exempt from adhering to the FLSA. Thus, child labor laws in the entertainment industry vary from state to state. California is the state with the strongest laws, which require parents of minors under the age of 16 to keep their child within sight and sound at all times, limit the hours a child can work per day, require meal and rest breaks, and mandate schooling from an on-set teacher who serves as an additional guardian for the child.[3] Additionally, a California law, AB 452, went into effect on January 1, 2024, which eliminates the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual assaults for any action arising on and after the effective date.[4]

Children are vulnerable, and the lack of standardized protections afforded to the children working in the entertainment industry puts them at risk for abuse and exploitation. One recommendation would be to pass a federal law that standardizes the labor policy in the entertainment industry. There are currently inconsistencies across states and varying levels of protection depending on where the child is working. Advocates have also called for a prohibition on the use of nondisclosure agreements in instances of sexual misconduct because these types of agreements help silence victims.[5] Additionally, it would be beneficial to require mental health professionals be available on set to act as a resource for the children.

Taking action regarding the issue of child abuse in the entertainment industry is essential, especially as children continue to be exploited in new and more pervasive ways on social media. This problem will not be solved without meaningful action and legislation to improve transparency and increase protection.


[1] Cal. Lab. Code § 1102.5 (West 2023).

[2] Ariel Zilber, Nickelodeon Hired or Worked with 5 Accused Child Molesters and Pedophiles: Report, N.Y. Post (Mar. 28, 2024), https://nypost.com/2024/03/28/media/nickelodeon-hired-or-worked-with-child-molesters-pedophiles/ [https://perma.cc/7AXU-BHLH] [https://web.archive.org/web/20240408164828/https://nypost.com/2024/03/28/media/nickelodeon-hired-or-worked-with-child-molesters-pedophiles/].

[3] Joe Guerra, Child Actor Labor Laws, Explained, Backstage (Feb. 22, 2024), https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/child-actor-laws-76778/#:~:text=Parent%20or%20guardian%3A%20In%20California,who%20monitors%20their%20well%2Dbeing [No Permalink] [https://web.archive.org/web/20240408165237/https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/child-actor-laws-76778/?__cf_chl_rt_tk=pw8ZNSBvLoesU4NqCGlv5Z3lM.jdLGqCujb.sV_3Cvg-1712595157-].

[4] 2023 Cal. Assemb. B. 452, Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2024).

[5] Li Zhou, The Harrowing “Quiet on Set” Allegations, Explained, Vox (Mar. 31, 2024), https://www.vox.com/culture/24115802/quiet-on-set-nickelodeon-dan-schneider-drake-bell-amanda-bynes-ariana-grande [https://perma.cc/P2ZT-XPCQ] [https://web.archive.org/web/20240408165615/https://www.vox.com/culture/24115802/quiet-on-set-nickelodeon-dan-schneider-drake-bell-amanda-bynes-ariana-grande].