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Controversy On Set: Quiet On Set’s Unethical Journalistic Practices

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCF chapter.

Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual exploitation involving children

HBO Max’s docu-series Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Children’s TV released Mar. 17, has sparked significant controversy for all the wrong reasons.

Multiple guest stars of the documentary, who dedicated their time and reopened their traumas simply for the show, have come forward to express their deep frustration with the producers. They stated that they felt used and were intentionally kept uninformed about the documentary’s contents, leaving them feeling disrespected and undervalued. Specific names of who is to blame for these alleged poor practices have not been released.

However, the documentary was co-directed and produced by Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz, two highly respected journalists who have been in the industry for decades and have multiple documentary awards. Some of these titles include Framing Britney Spears, The Killing Of Breonna Taylor, and Plastic Wars.

Marc Summers

Marc Summers, former host of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, was the first to discuss his dismay with the ethics of making Quiet On Set while being interviewed on Elvis Duran and the Morning Show. When Medha Gandhi began questioning whether his participation in the show felt cleansing, Summers stopped her. 

“You’re gonna get an exclusive here,” Summers said.

According to Summers, he received a call from the creators stating they wanted to do a documentary on Nickelodeon and he agreed to be interviewed. They asked Summers what he thought of the company and he began to share his overwhelmingly positive experiences. Then, they ambushed him.

“They did a bait-and-switch on me.”

-Marc Summers on Elvis Duran & The Morning Show

The Quiet On Set crew then showed Summers a clip of something that had aired on Nickelodeon and he was taken aback to discover that the clip was real. It was a moment of stark realization for Summers.

They never told me what this documentary was really about,” Summers said.

He had them stop the tape and asked them, “What are we doing here?” After the crew explained what the documentary would entail, he walked out of the production building. 

Roughly six weeks before the docuseries’ release, Summers received a call from the producers stating that he was taken out of the show entirely. Two weeks later, they called him back. They informed Summers that he actually would be in the show, but only in the beginning when he discussed the positives of working for Nickelodeon. 

They didn’t tell Summers that they included their ambush. By doing so, it appears that he knew the cast of the Dan Schneider era and was actively siding with the perpetrators. In reality, Summers had never met anyone involved in the abuse, including Dan Schneider, aside from Kenan from Kenan and Cal.

“Now we get into a whole situation of ‘who’s unethical?‘” Summers said.

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan, the founder of the podcast and brand The Financial Diet, has also spoken up on TikTok, addressing her involuntary participation in the docuseries.

According to Fagan’s TikTok video, she interviewed a former child star on her podcast a couple of years ago. Fagan did not confirm a name. However, she had Jennette McCurdy discussing ‘Mormonism, Beauty Standards, And The Finances Of Child Stardom‘ in an episode recorded during the summer of 2021. They briefly touched on the actor’s experience working under Dan Schneider. In September 2023, a production company approached Fagan, looking to license a clip from the podcast that contained the star discussing some of the sensitive topics that would be covered in the docuseries. 

Similar to Summers, Fagan was not informed about the docuseries’s contents. Because of the sensitive nature of the podcast clip they wanted to license, Fagan chose to investigate further and schedule a phone call with the production company. She also notified her former interviewee that a production crew was attempting to license a clip of her talking about her experience working for Nickelodeon.

During the phone call with the production company, Fagan described them as cagey and refused to provide her with a straightforward answer on whether or not they had reached out to the former actor for an interview. Since Fagan had yet to hear back from the actor, she declined to have her podcast clip used in the documentary. In light of having yet to obtain the actor’s consent for her involvement, doing so on her behalf would be highly unethical. 

Fagan later heard back from the actor’s representation, stating that they “unequivocally did not consent to have that content used in this documentary.”

Fast-forward to mid-March, Fagan began receiving dozens of DMs daily from her fanbase commenting on her podcast clip used in the docuseries. Fagan expressed her frustration, stating that they not only chose to use the clip despite her explicit refusal but did not inform her that it would be included regardless. 

“I do think it’s important that we understand what actually goes into making these [documentaries], especially when the subject of this documentary is the exploitation of these very real human beings,” Fagan said. “It’s important people are aware of how much exploitation and dishonesty goes into making it.”

-Chelsea Fagan

Since Quiet On Set‘s release, Fagan has pursued legal methods to have her podcast clip removed from the show, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of fees. 

Chelsea Fagan’s TikTok video has gone viral, resulting in 3.5 million views, half a million likes, and a couple thousand comments. Commenter @kmurphy325 wrote, “The point of the show is to show exploitation essentially… and they exploited people to do it??? what..” Another user, @lesbiancirce, commented something similar: “I really feel like journalism/documentary ethics have just NOT kept up with modern times.”

Raquel Lee Bolleau

Raquel Lee Bolleau, a former child actor best known for her role in The Amanda Show, is also vastly disappointed in the industry. Bolleau took to TikTok to rant about her anger and hurt toward the production of Quiet On Set. The beginning of her video started with “I’m done. I’m done!”

According to her TikTok, the entire Quiet On Set team gathered the previous evening to discuss the documentary, where the actors are today, and how the industry can grow from these stories. Bolleau wasn’t invited.

“Let me tell you what my problem is with this industry,” Bolleau said. “Quiet On Set, they did the same thing the industry always does. They get what they want from you, and then they’re done… You want me to share my story, but you don’t want to involve me in the actual narrative of change.”

-Raquel Lee Bolleau

With tears in her eyes, Bolleau explains that opening up about her childhood trauma has been incredibly difficult for her. And once again, the industry has hurt her. According to Bolleau, they never questioned if the interview would be triggering for her and didn’t inform her that she would be in the fifth episode until the day of its release. 

Something else that the production failed to inform Bolleau about was the subject of the docuseries.

Bolleau goes on to express she will no longer participate in the industry in any way, shape, or form. She doesn’t want to audition and doesn’t want to talk about it. All she wants to do is focus on her businesses and family.

“Because this industry? Y’all can have it,” Bolleau said.

TikTok user @butters325 wrote under Bolleau’s video, “Looks like we need to have a quiet on set for quiet on set.” Another, @lorinnehelmick, commented, “This is a reason TikTok is important. It allows us to honestly connect as people.”

As of April 16, these three people are the only ones to speak up about their experience in participating in the making of Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Children’s TV docuseries. But Fagan mentioned that her story was just a small example and that she has no doubt she’s not the only one. 

To add to the controversy, some TikTok users are questioning why “Brandi’s” mom, MJ, was featured in the docuseries when discussing convicted sex offender Jason Handy, but “Brandi” herself was not. Did she choose not to participate due to her trauma but was comfortable with her mother, “MJ,” partaking on her behalf, or is her story another example of the industry profiting off of the exploitation of children’s trauma?

Other users say Quiet On Set‘s fifth episode seems like a cash grab. The episode is hosted by journalist Soledad O’Brien, who conducts follow-up interviews with Drake Bell, Giovonnie Samuels, and Bryan Hearne. Shane Lyons, another All That cast member, is interviewed for the first time.

It’s important to note that Samuels and Hearne boast about how comfortable they felt working with the crew behind Quiet On Set

Although the docuseries has had a positive impact by bringing attention to the issue of sexual exploitation of children in the entertainment industry, the negative experiences of the participants in the series, caused by its creators, have begun to overshadow the original message. It raises the question of how the industry can improve if those who call out unethical behavior also engage in it themselves. Only time (and TikTok) will tell.

Caysea Stone is a Journalism major and a Women’s Studies minor at the University of Central Florida. She has been vegan for almost five years and is very passionate about yoga, meditation, and feminism. Her ultimate goal is to write for a women's magazine like Cosmopolitan or Bustle. She wishes to inspire younger women to always show kindness towards themselves and assist in the process of deconditioning any internalized misogyny.