I HAD no idea who Dan Schneider was when I was a child but I loved his work as a writer, creator, and producer.

Growing up, I spent many an afternoon glued to Nickelodeon watching Kenan & Kel, The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh, and I counted Big Fat Liar starring Amanda Bynes and Frankie Muniz among my favourite films.

In fact, I’m enough of a lifelong kid that I became an iCarly fan in my 20s and, honestly, it helped me to switch off from the seriousness and stress of real life. Sadly, it now seems that behind the scenes there was a troubling reality.

I won’t say that it has “ruined my childhood” to gradually learn that this world that I enjoyed so much was apparently a breeding ground for abuse and trauma but I will certainly never see any of these shows – or many others like them – in the same light again.

A new four-part documentary, Quiet oOn Set: The Dark Side Of Kids TV has left many shocked by allegations of bullying, misogyny, and creating a hostile working environment made against one of Nickelodeon’s biggest-ever money-makers.

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The series also details multiple claims of child sex offenders working on Schneider’s children’s TV programmes, including Brian Peck, a dialogue coach convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing Drake Bell, star of Drake & Josh, over a period beginning when Bell was 15.

Maybe I have become too hardened by the wave of allegations that emerged about Hollywood men through the Me Too movement – including Schneider, with whom Nickelodeon cut ties in early 2018 following reports of misconduct – but none of this surprised me. Outraged, yes. Surprised, not so much.

I have watched too many child stars I once idolised – from Nickelodeon to Disney to the music industry – grow up to be plagued by tabloid reports about their latest mental health crisis, rehab stint, or criminal conviction. I have seen far fewer continue to be successful actors or artists as adults.

Children’s entertainment is defined by a drive to make the maximum amount of money out of a child before they stop being cute or pre-pubescent enough to fit the bill. It has been clear for some time that the small matter of what happens to children during or after that process is far down the list of concerns for many of those cashing in on their success.

The National: Child stars like Amanda Bynes suffered from a lack of care in the industryChild stars like Amanda Bynes suffered from a lack of care in the industry

Putting any child into a situation where they work with and for adults (an inherent and deep power imbalance) and financially provide for their own parents and siblings (an immense weight of expectation) is ripe for manipulation and abuse.

To even consider setting up such a scenario, there should be so many safeguards in place that there are safeguards for the safeguards. Yet story after story emerges that reveals a cavalier attitude to wellbeing and safety in this industry.

This is a problem which has existed for as long as child stars have been around but the explosion in content created just for children and young teenagers throughout the early 1990s and noughties, alongside the advent of the internet, meant the potential and the pressure surrounding child stardom was greater than ever.

In the Quiet On Set documentary, early noughties breakout star Bynes was like a spectre haunting every scene. After working closely with Schneider on several projects from the age of 10 until her late teens, Bynes starred in several popular teen movies and seemed to be at the top of her game.

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However, her career came to an abrupt halt and she soon became better known for highly publicised mental health episodes and problem drug use, which continue to this day.

It is heartbreaking to think back to the times I watched her on screen and realise that I was seeing a young woman being slowly destroyed while her temporary economic value was extracted by the adults around her.

Much was said about Bynes, but one can only assume she did not agree to take part in the documentary. Indeed, while two writers, a director, and a couple of crew members who worked on Schneider’s shows spoke out in the documentary alongside a handful of cast members from his early shows, the only actor whose name and face I recognised was Bell’s (below).

This is perhaps testament to the fear of speaking out which persists in many parts of the entertainment industry, and which participants in the documentary said was at an all-time high under Schneider’s reign.

In a powerful memoir published in 2022, former iCarly star Jennette McCurdy detailed various allegations regarding “The Creator” – who went unnamed – including bullying, manipulation, being supplied with alcohol as a minor during a one-on-one meal, and feeling “sexualised” on the show.

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The latest revelations are a reminder of how dangerous it is to put so much power into the hands of so few.

When you foster a culture of silence in a workplace, particularly one involving people as vulnerable as children, you create the conditions for abuse to take place – an environment where people feel they should tolerate bad behaviour and that complaining will lead to negative consequences is a predator’s paradise.

We’ve all heard about the archetype of the male “genius” who simply must behave like a rabid dog to colleagues and employees because all that genius is bursting out at the seams. This, of course, is merely an excuse for bad behaviour, but it’s an excuse that appears to have an alarming success rate.

If there was just one person behaving badly, if there was just one TV set with a toxic culture, it would be easy for everyone – the adults, at least – to identify it as unacceptable and for the big bosses to shut it down immediately. In reality, there are too many examples of this for it not to be normalised. As long as the money is still pouring in, people are expected to get on with it and get over it.

Which is also exactly why so many powerful people rush to condemn behaviour only when public outcry reaches a pitch that threatens their reputation and, ultimately, their bank balance.

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Sound cynical? One of the most disturbing moments in the documentary is when Bell recalls his day in court for Peck’s sentencing in 2004. One side of the courtroom was full of big names from the entertainment industry who were there to support his abuser, while the other contained only his mother, his brother and himself.

Could there be a starker visual representation of what any actor, never mind a young actor just starting out in their career, is up against if they want to seek justice against a well-connected superior?

It’s easy for people to look back now and apologise. It’s easier still to lay the blame on specific individuals. But a far bigger and more meaningful conversation needs to be had if we don’t want to be back here in 10 years talking about another generation of child stars who ended up as broken adults.