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Ariana Grande calls for mandatory therapy for child stars after ‘Quiet on Set’ allegations

By Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 17, 2024, 6:00am

Ariana Grande, one of Nickelodeon’s breakout stars, reflected on her time at the network after abuse allegations by her network colleagues emerged in the documentary series “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.”

The “Victorious” and “Sam & Cat” alumna, who worked on those series with controversial Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider, appeared to process her feelings about the work in real time, empathizing with the “devastating” allegations made by survivors and former co-stars in the bombshell Investigation Discovery documentary. (Schneider recently sued the creators of “Quiet on Set” for defamation, calling the series a “hit job” and saying it falsely implied he was involved in child sex abuse.)

The Grammy winner and “Wicked” star asserted that her personal experience was “beautiful.” However, she insisted that when it comes to child acting, the environment “just needs to be made safer all around.” She also took issue with some of the racier jokes and innuendos that her series called for.

“A lot of people don’t have the support that they need to get through performing at that level at such a young age,” Grande said this week on Penn Badgley’s “Podcrushed” podcast, “but also dealing with some of the things that the survivors have come forward — there’s not a word for how devastating that is to hear about.”

Her relationship to child acting “has and is currently” changing as she works through her experience, and she is just the latest Nickelodeon alum to speak out since the fallout from “Quiet on Set,” although she did not refer to the series by name in the interview.

The 30-year-old, who has become more introspective on her latest album and in other projects, suggested that therapists be made available to child actors, that parents “be allowed to be wherever they want to be” and that contracts should make therapy mandatory two or three times a week to offset the “level of exposure” young stars are expected to deal with early on.

She also called for mental health professions to be available “to unpack what this experience of your life changing so drastically does to you at a young age, at any age.”

“Gossip Girl” and “You” star Badgley said that “exploitation” is a real issue for anyone who works, not just in Hollywood or on certain sets. Grande agreed that issues of power dynamics and harassment can exist “in any work environment.”

“I’m glad that this conversation is happening here and also in the world because it’s also just kind of a cultural shift that’s happening,” she said. “It’s not just actors and singers, and whatever. If you ask anyone who’s ever worked — ever — if they’ve ever dealt with a boss that had a really bad ego or temper or sexually harassed or even assaulted. It’s everywhere … It’s prevalent.”

The “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings” singer lamented that inappropriate behavior has been normalized, but believes things are changing. “I think that’s a really nice place to see the world in unison, standing in a place where we’re like, ‘That’s changing, that’s unacceptable.’”

The superstar began singing professionally at 8 and started acting at 13, working in community theater and on Broadway before landing her part on “Victorious” at age 14 alongside co-star and real-life best friend Elizabeth Gillies. She said she always “had support and friendship all around me” and doesn’t think at 13 she started “too young.” She also credited her “strict” and “very protective” mom for sheltering her and always being supportive of her career “in a healthy way.”

“We got cast and it was the best news we could hear. I mean, we were young performers who just wanted to do this with our lives more than anything, and we got to, and that was like so beautiful,” Grande said. “I think we had some very special memories and we feel privileged to have been able to create those roles and to be part of something that was so special for a lot of young kids. I think we’re re-processing our relationship to it now.”

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Referring to the darker side of kids television — the premise of “Quiet on Set” — Grande addressed unsettling aspects of her shows that have “upset” her in retrospect, particularly how as a young actor she and her cohort were exposed to content or made to perform in ways that they weren’t developmentally ready for.

Grande pointed to a “strange pattern” involving a positive feedback loop for young performers when they get a laugh. She explained that the actor can be taken advantage of by the adults working around them if they do something funny, thinking “I’m doing something great” or “good” when what’s actually eliciting the laugh is something age-inappropriate.

“Speaking specifically about our show, that was something we were convinced that was like the cool thing about us,” she said. “We pushed the envelope with our humor. The innuendos, we were convinced [that] it was the cool differentiation. … Now looking back on some of the clips, that’s like, ‘Damn, really? Oh, s—.’”

Grande said she wouldn’t like it if she had a daughter who was placed in similar scenarios. Adults approved that kind of humor, she and her fellow podcast panelists explained, meaning that there was no spirit of responsibility toward the children but only a spirit of responsibility toward “the bottom line.”

“And then the things that weren’t approved for the network were snuck onto our website, or whatever it was, that is another discovery. Going into it, yeah, I guess I’m upset,” she said.

In the five-part “Quiet on Set” series, former child star Drake Bell revealed that he had been sexually abused by Nickelodeon dialogue coach Brian Peck when he was younger, acknowledging that he was the “John Doe” referenced in a criminal case against Peck. Schneider, whose alleged inappropriate behavior with young actors is central to the documentary series, recalled in a March YouTube video the support that he said he provided to Bell and his mother when Peck was convicted.

“Now that Drake Bell has disclosed his identity as the plaintiff in the 2004 case, we are dismayed and saddened to learn of the trauma he has endured, and we commend and support the strength required to come forward,” Nickelodeon said in a statement when the series began airing in March.

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