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    The “Golden Age” of Nickelodeon: Unveiling the Dark Side of Children’s Television

    SoHo
    SoHo

    From the early ‘90s to late 2014, Nickelodeon became the pinnacle of children’s television under the leadership of infamous producer Dan Schneider. From the start of his career, the young producer had big dreams. He characterized himself as an “awkward, fat kid” from Memphis and was cast in a small show, “Making the Grade,” that jump-started his career. He was later cast in “Head of the Class,” one of the biggest TV comedies at the time. After his success on the show, Schneider was asked to become a writer for the network. He went on to shape children’s entertainment and culture throughout the early 2000s, directing popular shows like “ICarly,” “Victorious,” “Drake & Josh,” “Zoey 101,” and countless others. From an outsider’s point of view, Schneider appeared to be a funny, playful boss, creating a fun environment for the cast and crew. However, in the past decade, many former cast members and co-workers have come forward, detailing the uncomfortable and hostile work environment created on set, reporting detrimental, lasting effects on their mental and physical health. 

    Schneider’s first hit television show, “All That,” started in 1994. Many popular spin-offs, such as “The Amanda Show,” were developed from the series’ success. His vision for the show was a “Saturday Night Live” for Nickelodeon’s audience. It featured a group of talented teens who participated in comedy skits and had guest stars, from musical artists to actors. While the show was a hit, the harmful working conditions and experiences behind the scenes had a more significant negative impact on the cast than the positive one experienced by viewers. Countless actors and actresses have exposed the destructive effects of child stardom. While Alexa Nikolas, a former cast member of “Zoey 101,” was only on the show for two years, the negative impact on her mental state is prominent to this day. “Towards the end of season two, I wasn’t happy. I could not show up to the set anymore without crying. A lot of my self-worth was deeply damaged by that experience. Me as a person was altered for life,” said Nikolas. Raquel Lee Bolleau of “The Amanda Show” described Nickelodeon’s harmful effect on her esteem when trying to take on new, mature roles: “It sent me down a really dark path. I had to really pick myself back up and keep it moving in an industry that showed me very early on that it has no love for me at all.”  

    After the shows ended, the public began to see a sizable number of former child stars having public meltdowns, falling into addictions such as drugs and alcohol, being arrested, publishing offensive content, and other concerning behaviors. Cast member of “All That” Katrina Johnson explained what life was like for child actors after being on the network: “I was excited for the next chapter. I was excited to maybe try college, being normal a little bit. But, you know, not everyone gets to be normal afterward because you don’t know what that looks like.” Her comments reflect the harsh realities many child stars faced when trying to rejoin society as a “regular” person. Drake Bell, member of “The Amanda Show” and star of “Drake & Josh,” described his life at the end of his series, saying, “There was definitely a slow decline in my mental health, sobriety, DUIs, and behaviors that were happening because I was lost.” Leon Frierson, a cast member of “All That,” also shared his story post-Nickelodeon, “Being a child star hurt me mentally and somewhat physically. The alcoholism that I’ve dealt with, I believe, is a direct connection to the feelings I had after leaving the industry. Frierson shows his support for the children currently in the industry and urges networks to take measures to prevent damaging life-long effects, saying, “There’s gotta be more support in terms of counseling, mental health, [and] wellness checks.” 

    In 2017, the #MeToo movement, a social campaign dedicated to advocating for change and raising awareness about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, gained popularity. Victims of sexual abuse finally felt free to speak out about inappropriate behaviors happening in the workplace. This prompted Nickelodeon to investigate the producers at the network. Ultimately, Nickelodeon announced they would part ways with Dan Schneider. The mother of a victim of sexual harassment in the industry shared, “My hope is that with every voice that comes out, something changes.” 

    Today, networks must ensure that child actors are protected, both physically and mentally, and those responsible for any abuse need to be held accountable. In response to these allegations, Nickelodeon has stated it “investigates all formal compliments 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.” Nickelodeon is just one of the dozens of networks that must take action to ensure the physical protection and mental health of their younger actors. Without the proper safeguards, children working in the industry remain prey to the adults who run the entertainment business.  

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    About the Contributor
    Leah Selchen
    Leah Selchen, Reporter
    Leah Selchen is a sophomore at the Emery/Weiner School. This is her first semester writing for The 9825. Leah is actively involved in the Emery/Weiner volleyball program, playing in her third season in the coming year. She is also vice president of the Jagnation club. Outside of school, Leah enjoys hanging out with friends and traveling. 

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