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Nick at Nightmare

Lamar students reflect on documentary

UP graphic by Hailey C. Waobikeze.
UP graphic by Hailey C. Waobikeze.

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Quiet on Set,’ which premiered on March 17, explores child actors’ challenges on Nickelodeon, spotlighting Drake Bell.

Young adults who grew up watching the show were unaware of the child abuse that occurred on sets, which the four-part documentary explores.

Lamar University sophomores Maya Starks and Victor Paredez were just a couple of the millions of viewers of the documentary who were affected by what was discussed in the show.

“I had seen some of the actors playing their roles in the shows when they were on the air but for the most part, I really did not know much about them,” Lumberton sophomore Paredez said. “Drake Parker was probably the one I knew best since he was one of the main characters of ‘Drake and Josh,’ Plenty of the now older audience idolized actors in their favorite shows and now seeing them come out about the abuse is shocking and uncomfortable to hear. Not to say that the truth should never have come to light, but more like the truth hurts.”

Though the show primarily focuses on Dan Schneider and his behavior as the director of many Nickelodeon shows, the Drake Bell episode details his experiences with Brian Peck, who was 41 at the time Bell was on set. As a vocal and acting coach for Nickelodeon, Peck took an interest in Bell and began to infiltrate every part of his life, from acting to who he hung out with.

“He had pretty much worked his way into every aspect of my life,” Bell said in the documentary.

Their relationship took a turn one morning when Peck sexually assaulted Bell while he was sleeping. This assault continued for several months as Bell felt pressure to protect his predator with the fear of people looking at him differently and becoming an outcast in Hollywood.

“It just became this secret that I had held onto. I couldn’t say I no longer wanted to go to Brian’s house, because then they’re gonna raise questions,” Bell said. “I was under the impression that this was just a big, giant secret.”

This physical and psychological abuse was frequent and inescapable for the 15-year-old, even when he was not with Peck because he would constantly call and text Bell.

“The abuse was extensive, and it got pretty brutal,” Bell said. “Why don’t you think of the worst stuff that someone can do to somebody as sexual assault? It just got worse and worse and worse and I was just trapped. I had no way out.”

Bell eventually told his mother, Robin Dodson, about the abuse after bottling it up in hopes of it going away.

“One day, I was just on the phone to my mom. I just exploded,” Bell said. “I have no idea what provoked it, but I just screamed into the phone everything that had been happening to me.”

Dodson immediately called the police, who required Bell to call Peck and get a verbal confession in order to be charged. Peck confessed and was arrested and charged with oral copulation with a minor under 16 and performing lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 or 15 years of age, among other things.

“A few weeks after he was arrested, I had started shooting the show ‘Drake and Josh’. Thank God that I loved what I was doing. I was able to lose myself and have fun,” Bell said.

Unfortunately, even after being arrested, charged, and placed on the sex offenders list, Peck was able to work with children again.

“I was hoping that the outcome would be, he goes to jail, he is there for a while, and that he would never be able to work with kids again, which would pretty much mean you’re not gonna work in Hollywood. That was not what happened at all,” Bell said.

With this shocking information coming out, many young adults who grew up watching “Drake and Josh” criticized the way that child actors are treated and the commonality of child abuse on television sets.

Mesquite sophomore Maya Starks said she felt disappointed, upset, and disgusted all in one.

“I watched ‘Drake & Josh’ growing up, so their stories broke my heart,” Starks said. “I have always wondered what happened to Drake Bell after (his) show because he wasn’t doing so well for a while, so I always wondered why, and now I know.”

Young adults’ favorite shows are now tainted with child abuse at the time that the documentary continues to discuss. As many as seven Nickelodeon shows have actors who have shared their experiences of abuse or assault on their sets. This list includes ‘Drake and Josh,’ ‘The Amanda Show,’ and ‘Zoey 101.’

“These actors were a big part of our lives, so it’s hard to see characters that we might have related to going through something so horrible and traumatic,” Starks, an accounting major, said.

The documentary can change how things operate in the TV business in the future, but online viewers are skeptical of how this will happen without more information coming out about the actors affected and abusers at fault.

“I really believe that a documentary like this one has the potential to make producers and the like more aware of the work they do and how they interact with actors,” Paradez said. “I have also seen it develop in the way that viewers have become more conscious of the media they consume. I think that the documentary enlightens people to the fact that people we idolize, like actors, still suffer like everyone else.”

The changing relationships between media consumers, producers, and artists themselves are highlighted by Paredez’s perceptive observations. The impact of the industry on its actors as well as its audience was critically reevaluated in light of the documentary’s exposure of the human experiences that go behind the scenes.

Nickelodeon responded to the documentary with the statement that they “investigate all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace … (W)e have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

This blanket statement, however, angered viewers who wanted both accountability and change within the system, which can only be done by those in charge at Nickelodeon.

“Part of me wishes I was around during that time to be an advocate for all of them, (but) the entertainment industry is black and white,” Starks said. “Part of me feels content. Their stories are getting out and that makes me feel better because they are able to tell the world without the potential consequences of losing something.”

Category: Opinion