‘Quiet on Set’ Directors Hint at Social Media as Next Area of Child Entertainment to Investigate

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The response to ID’s four-part docuseries Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV has been overwhelming to say the least, the project’s co-directors and executive producers Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz said at an Emmys FYC screening and panel in Los Angeles Tuesday evening. It’s also brought into focus another industry where there’s a “clear lack of protection” when it comes to children, Schwartz said: social media.

“One thing that we’ve had conversations about as a result of this is that if you look at where children’s entertainment, so to speak, is today, it’s not just in studios or in networks, it’s on social media,” said the filmmaker. “That is a universe where there’s almost no oversight as to what’s happening inside people’s homes, on these screens, and what’s happening to protect those kids as well, and that in many ways is the future of where so many of us are getting our stories and our content.”

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Schwartz and Robinson were joined by former child actors Drake Bell, Giovonnie Samuels, and Bryan Christopher Hearne as well as Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor for the panel moderated by culture writer Scaachi Koul. They all appear in the documentary, which explores the abusive work environments curated by Dan Schneider on the sets of the Nickelodeon TV shows for which he was at the helm, including All That, The Amanda Show and Drake and Josh.

In addition to pointing out the holes in policies that allowed Schneider and his colleague, dialogue coach Brian Peck, to get away with years of sexual abuse and discriminatory work practices — like the fact that child performers are completely exempt from the 1938 federal legislation concerning child labor laws and the lack of any comprehensive regulations preventing sex offenders from working on sets with children — the panelists also addressed the unfair blame audiences have placed on parents.

“We hear a lot of, ‘Well, where were the parents?’ or ‘If I was their parent,’ and you have to understand, we’re kids,” said Bell, who spoke for the first time about the abuse Peck subjected him to in the documentary. “Some of these are our first jobs, some of this is our parents’ first time on a set. They’re learning along with us and don’t have the experience on these movie sets to be able to push and pull their weight.”

Hearne, whose mother Tracey Brown also appeared in the documentary and did speak up about behavior she felt was inappropriate — which both believe led to him not being called back to All That for a third season — agreed.

“I don’t think it’s on the parents. I think that it’s important to have people on set who are tasked to give care to the emotions of the children on set,” said Hearne. “The parent can only do so much. In my case, the damage happened when the cameras were rolling. It was directly when they said ‘action’ and my mom was being shooed to the green room.”

Hearne also took the opportunity to speak on the current status of his relationship with his mother which, in the series, he described as somewhat distant.

“I want to clear something up about the narrative that’s being spun about whether or not I’ve been in touch with my mom since [the show]. I didn’t leave All That and my mom,” Hearne said. “We have had a tumultuous relationship. We’re on again, we’re off again, and right now we’re on again and it feels permanent, which is good because there are hard conversations that have to be had now. You have to really spend time saying, ‘This hurt me,’ and ‘I’m sorry that this hurt you,’ and really take accountability, unlike some people,” he said alluding to Schneider.

Asked where to go from here, Taylor, whose reporting inspired the docuseries, expressed hope that as much attention will be placed on improving present circumstances for child entertainers as there’s been on uncovering past transgressions.

“I think we all feel that there are more stories to tell and that hopefully we can also make changes now so that 20 years down the road there’s not going to be another Quiet on Set,” she said. “That by taking action today and having people watch this they’ll be moved to see this is something that we can address, not just in terms of what happened in the past, but what is happening now.”

Spreading the word about the positive efforts that are currently underway is of equal importance, said Samuels, who shouted out Looking Ahead, an organization specifically geared toward providing resources and education to young performers.

“It’s with the Entertainment Fund, but it’s a program that you have to opt into and it’s not advertised,” said the former All That cast member. “I just found out about this, and they’re getting ready to have their 20th anniversary gathering for doing the very thing that we said needed to be done on set.”

Pointing out the 20 million viewers Quiet on Set has generated since its release on March 17, Jason Sarlanis, president of TNT, TBS, TruTV, ID & HLN, Linear and Streaming, called the revelations in the docuseries a needed spark.

“There has been a variable deluge of conversation all across social media and that is because Quiet on Set is part of something so much bigger than itself, a real movement for change,” he stated. “It has become incredibly clear that as an industry when it comes to children and entertainment, we simply must do better.”


‘Quiet on Set’ Directors Hint at Social Media as Next Area of Child Entertainment to Investigate

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