Bryan Hearne, Nickelodeon

Former ‘All That’ Child Star Recalls Being Called A ‘Piece Of Charcoal,’ Describes His Nickelodeon Experience As A ‘Torture Chamber’

Bryan Hearne recounts his experience in the docuseries 'Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.'

Ahead of the release of the Investigation Discovery four-part docuseries Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, actor Bryan Hearne talked to People magazine about what stuck with him during his time at Nickelodeon. The documentary, according to People, focuses on the experiences of child actors who were sometimes asked to navigate a manipulative and sometimes sexually charged environment. The docuseries will air on the ID Network on March 17-18, 9 p.m.- 11 p.m. ET/PT.

Hearne told People that what he experienced at Nickelodeon still haunts him. “I was referred to as a ‘piece of charcoal’ [by an adult],” he recalled. “Remarks like that are harmful. They stay with you.”

Hearne, who was asked to portray a rapper whose stage name was “Lil Fetus,” told the outlet, “I was already in an uncomfortable position being in a leotard. That’s not something that I’m used to at all.”

Now 35, Hearne was a cast member on All That for seasons 7 and 8 and sometimes would appear on a show called On-Air-Dare, which People likened to a kids’ version of Fear Factor. Hearne said there was often no real communication about when he would appear on the show, and described the situation as a torturous one. 

“There was never any discussion,” Hearne said. “We felt like we couldn’t say no. It was a really uncomfortable situation, and after a while, it felt like we were just part of this torture chamber.”

Hearne also said that he was treated differently, or at least that he felt he was treated differently, from some of the non-Black talent on All That. He described his relationship with Dan Schneider, who ran and created the show, as nonexistent. Schneider was fired from Nickelodeon in 2018 after the company conducted an internal investigation after receiving allegations of verbally abusive and demanding behavior were made. 

The directors of the documentary series, Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz, told Variety that they took great pains to shield the talent they talked to from further harm, as several people who worked at Nickelodeon during that time have since been convicted of child sex abuse. 

Schwartz told Variety, “Pretty early in the process, we learned that there have been several people who’ve been arrested and convicted of child sex abuse at Nickelodeon. We began to hear whispers that the person who was the victim in Brian Peck’s case was Drake Bell, but we wanted to be really careful and really thoughtful approaching someone who is a survivor of child sex abuse, especially someone who has, at that point, clearly remained very private about that. But at a certain juncture, when we were pretty certain it was him, I wrote a letter and that letter began a back and forth and a conversation that eventually led to his willingness to sit down on camera.”

Schneider, according to the directors, was asked to participate but declined to participate on camera, but they told Variety that the responses he provided to their questions would be worked into the documentary.

Schneider’s representatives told People that the allegations were contained to adults, and never concerned children. “Nothing has been alleged about Dan other than him being a tough boss who got into disagreements with other adult executives at Nickelodeon and when Dan departed Nickelodeon a full investigation was done and again, that’s all that they found.”

Hearne and Giovonnie Samuels shared a close relationship, and Samuels feels as though their relationship and the representation it broadcast to homes nationwide helped her survive a work environment that didn’t always seem to have her in mind. 

Samuels told People, “I didn’t realize the significance of the impact that I made on people being the only representation they had on television and going through, I hate to call it a trauma bond, but at least having somebody with me that I could talk to, not just as a child actor, but also culturally.”

Samuels also told People that she referred to herself and Hearne as the “token Black kids on the show” before delving into the topic of sexual assault behind the scenes. While they were unaware of the alleged sexual assault of Drake Bell by Brian Peck when Bell was just 15, Samuels said that the familiarity may have led some child actors to believe the adults were behaving normally, when the behavior was abnormal at best. 

“We’re working 12 to 13 hour days and when you’re on there for seasons, you grow comfortable and you do let your guard down, and again, you’re also a child or a teenager where you’re looking to an adult like this is acceptable behavior and it’s not.”

Samuels hopes the docuseries allows for better laws to be passed regarding child actors.

She told People, “This dream costs and it shouldn’t for children as [much] as it does. We need better laws to protect our kids on set. I really hope that with people watching this, that people will do better and not just look at children as a paycheck.”

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