"Quiet on Set" accused of unethical filmmaking practices and deceiving interviewees

"What is different from them to Dan Schneider? ... I only see a crossover," said "Zoey 101" star Alexa Nikolas

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published April 18, 2024 4:27PM (EDT)

Alexa Nikolas (Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images)
Alexa Nikolas (Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images)

When "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" premiered in March, it garnered an immediate and explosive response from viewers. And it's no surprise — the multi-part docuseries from Investigation Discovery endeavored to expose candid revelations about systemic abuse at children's television network Nickelodeon through investigative research and testimony from interviewees, many of whom were former child actors. Specifically, "Quiet on Set" illuminated toxicity spawned by one of the network's most successful creators, Dan Schneider, and marked the first time that former actor Drake Bell would publicly recount the sexual abuse he endured by his dialogue and acting coach at Nickelodeon, Brian Peck.

“They were more interested in resurfacing that awful footage than listening to survivors’ experiences.” 

However, since the show debuted, some of its participants have leveled unsavory allegations at the show and its directors, Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz. In a sit-down with IndieWire published on Wednesday, "Quiet on Set" interview subjects Raquel Lee Bolleau — who starred on "The Amanda Show" — and Alexa Nikolas of "Zoey 101" claimed that they were misrepresented and that their sensitive statements were used to further the series' success by amplifying prurient content from Schneider's tenure at Nickelodeon. 

“After watching the show, I saw that it was not at all what I signed up for,” Bolleau told the outlet. “I also saw that I was surrounded by people who have one agenda, and that one agenda is their own success. It’s a horrible word to even use in this context: success.”  

Nikolas, an activist in the kids' entertainment space who has long been outspoken about Schneider's reported behavior, told IndieWire that she was "livid" upon seeing that a seemingly sexualized clip of her on "Zoey 101" was used in the series without sufficient context. The clip, which Nikolas discusses during her appearance on "Quiet on Set," seems to mimic pornography: Her character, Nicole, accidentally squirts neon green goo onto the face of the character Zoey (Jamie Lynn Spears), effectively creating a “cum shot.” 

“They made me feel like my story was going to be heard, and it wasn’t,” Nikolas said. “They were more interested in resurfacing that awful footage than listening to survivors’ experiences.”  

Speaking to how she feels her adolescent trauma was transmogrified into cultural cannon fodder, Nikolas said, “[Schwartz and Robertson] feel like they have a license to it and that they’re able to do whatever they want with it,” she said. “That’s how Dan felt, too . . . what is different from them to Dan Schneider? I don’t see a difference. I only see a crossover.”  

While IndieWire's report indicated that Nikolas was given early access to the first two episodes ("Quiet on Set" is a four-part series with an additional bonus episode), Bolleau for her part said she was not. The former "The Amanda Show" actor stated how this experience was "retraumatizing" for her, as she learned about Bell's assault for the first time when the series was released in two parts. 

“I knew I couldn’t trust them the moment I watched those four episodes,” Bolleau said. “In my interview with Emma, I speak so much about how close Drake and I were — so much so that it really would’ve painted an understanding of why I’m so hurt right now." Bell's disclosure about being the then-teenaged “John Doe” from the 2003 criminal case was "effectively used as a narrative reason for audiences to return between 'Quiet on Set' Episodes 2 and 3 with Bell sitting down silently before credits rolled," per IndieWire. 

“To know that you’re about to reveal something like this, and you don’t even care to nurture the real conversation, even to support who he was then and who he turned into, how dare you?”  Bollaeu added. “You had two years. You had two years to shape. You had two years to nurture. You had two years to develop. You had two years to bring together. You had two years to build. You had two years to get your stuff in order. There’s no way that this should be falling apart the way that it is.” 

According to what Bolleau and Nikolas told IndieWire, "Quiet on Set" was structured as a sort of strategic "silo-ing" that kept interviewees ignorant of the docuseries' actual intentions. "They call the result a 'manufactured consent,'" the report reads, "that’s effectively left them unable to critique the producers without criticizing the platform that also helped survivors like themselves."

“They pieced together a story and a narrative that they had on their own,” Bolleau, who reportedly had less insight into the investigation's purview than Nikolas, argued. “The reason they kept us all apart and from knowing specifics was because they knew if we all got together, we would start sharing and exchanging experiences and figuring out what this really is and what it means for us.” 

"They kept trying to push Brian Peck [and other criminal allegations] on me,” Bolleau continued. “And I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know that. I can talk about my own story, and we can go real deep if you want to do that. But if you want to talk about that and put words in my mouth, I’m not going to say anything that I did not experience. And I’m not going to say anything that you think I should say to support what you’re trying to create, because that’s not who I am. I’m sorry.’ Maybe they didn’t like me because of that.”  

“I dare them to air my entire interview now,” she said. “Do you want to know why? Because there is a part in my interview where I stop Emma in the middle of the interview and I said to her, ‘Hey Emma, what is this about? Is this about Dan? Is this about Nickelodeon? Or is this about ‘The Amanda Show’? You need to help me understand because your questions that you’re asking me right now are not lining up with what we’ve been talking about over the past year.'”

Bolleau's allegations bear strong resonance to those of Marc Summers, who hosted Nickelodeon's "Double Dare" game show from 1989 through 1993. Summers, who appears in the first episode of "Quiet on Set," accused Robertson and Schwartz of being "unethical" in their filmmaking practices, per a different report from IndieWire published earlier this month.

During an episode of "Elvis Duran and the Morning Show," Summers claimed he was "ambushed" by producers.

“They asked me what I thought of Nick, and the first 10 to 12 seconds, from what I understand, in this documentary is me saying all these wonderful things. But they did a bait and switch on me,” Summers said. “They ambushed me. They never told me what this documentary was really about. And so they showed me a video of something that I couldn’t believe was on Nickelodeon. And I said, ‘Well, let’s stop the tape right here. What are we doing?'”

Per Summers' recounting, the footage that prompted him to abruptly depart from filming was a clip of pop singer and former Nickelodeon star Ariane Grande in a sexualized scene. Though Summers ultimately walked out upon learning that "Quiet on Set" would expose Schneider and Peck, his brief interview was still included as part of the final product. Robertson and Schwartz refuted Summers' claims, telling IndieWire in a statement, “We are clear with each participant about the nature of our projects."

“I left. So I got a phone call about six weeks ago saying you’re totally out of the show. And I went, ‘Great.’ Then they called me about four weeks ago and said, ‘Well, you’re in it, but you’re only in the first part of it because you talked about the positive stuff of Nickelodeon,'” Summers said. “What they didn’t tell me — and they lied to me about — was the fact that they put in that other thing where they had the camera on me when they ambushed me. And so, now we get into a whole situation about who’s unethical.”

“Seeing him get handed that phone, you’re just like, ‘Oh, my God,'” Nikolas said. “That makes me deeply uncomfortable to think that in that way I was told what the documentary was about and that others weren’t. That makes me regret sitting down.”  

In "Breaking the Silence," the hasty follow-up to the rest of "Quiet on Set," award-winning journalist Soledad O'Brien moderates a conversation with Bell, and separately, the return of "All That" cast members (plus a new participant and fellow alumn of the sketch comedy show). 

At one point in the episode, while speaking to cast member Brian Hearne and another former "Quiet on Set" participant, his mother Tracey Brown, O'Brien plays a never-before-seen clip of Bolleau. Bolleau in the new footage describes a sketch called "The Literals," in which Amanda Bynes would repeatedly spit in her face every time she prompted her to "spit it out."

“I was so mad that the director hurried and put me on the side of the set and was like, ‘Listen, Raquel. Breathe in, breathe out," Bolleau recalls in the clip. "'She’s the star of the show.’ He said, ‘Don’t make too much of a problem. I’m going to ask her not to spit in your face. But you have to keep your cool.’”

Upon seeing the previously unreleased footage, Brown said "That's racist, period.”

“That hit me really hard,” Hearne said. “To just be told you don’t matter in that moment you’re being spit on? And it’s like, this person matters more than you.”

Now, Bolleau has spoken out to set the record straight on the airing of the clip, which she said she was not told about.

"I had no clue,” she said. “Honestly, I was still catching my breath from watching the first four episodes that were gut-wrenching for me. So then to throw this fifth episode out there with zero context around what I said . . . and to make me wake up and be a headline the next morning with zero context from my own words about how that situation even came about, honestly, I’m at a loss for words.”  

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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