Female Writers Who Worked For Dan Schneider Recount Humiliation, Discrimination

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Investigation Discovery’s new docuseries Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV uncovers the disturbing allegations behind some of the insatiably popular kids content at Nickelodeon in the 1990s and early 2000s, mostly from the perspective of now grown child-actors who worked for show creator and network big-wig Dan Schneider.

But one notable facet of those dark chapters comes from the only two women writers working for Schneider at the time, Christy Stratton and Jenny Kilgen, who wrote for The Amanda Show under Schneider. “Working for Dan was like being in an abusive relationship,” Stratton says in the doc.

Both writers recount some of the deeply uncomfortable experiences they say they had working for Nickelodeon’s “golden boy” in Quiet On Set, which range from subtle digs to outright humiliation and harassment. The women describe their initial hiring to write for Amanda Bynes’ sketch comedy show as “satisfying” and a “dream come true,” even though they’d been told they’d have to split a salary with another writer. “They were going to hire two women and have them share a salary,” Kilgen says. “They were getting two for the price of one.”

“I never saw that happen with any of the men,” she adds—but the scarcity of opportunities led both to accept the situation.

How Dan Schneider Made Nickelodeon Into a ‘House of Horrors’

“At the time, there weren’t a lot of positions for women in sketch comedy,” Stratton says. “It was very hard to navigate when you knew the opportunities for women were fewer.” The early days were “a lot of fun,” she adds, but they soon started to realize something was wrong, as Scheider would make comments like, “Women can’t write funny,” and challenged them to “name a funny female writer.”

“That was my first indication of trouble,” Kilgen says. And things would, according to Kilgen, get much worse.

“In the beginning, I would see an instant message pop up,” Kilgen says, “Dan would send a message for you to say out loud, like, scream ‘hammers!’ and you scream it.’”

“And then it would get more degrading. Scream, ‘I’m an idiot,’ or ‘slut.’” Kilgen said that if you didn’t scream what Schneider told you to scream when you got the message, he’d resend it with exclamation points and in all caps.

“Christy and I both did things that were uncomfortable,” Kilgen says, as Schneider’s behavior escalated. She also says Schneider would play pornography on his computer and ask Kilgen if she would massage him as he watched, while in the writer’s room or in the studio.

“He’d say things like, ‘Could you please give me a massage, I’ll put one of your sketches in the show,’” Kilgen says. “He’d always present it like a joke,” she continues, “But you always felt like disagreeing with Dan or standing up for yourself could result in you getting fired.”

But the absolute worst experience for both women was yet to come. Kilgen says in the doc that one day in The Amanda Show writers room, Stratton was talking and “Dan said ‘You know what would be funny? If you leaned over the table and acted like you were being sodomized while you told that story.’”

The doc producers asked Stratton if she’d talk about that experience in her own words, but she declined.

“She said no at first,” Kilgen continues, but Schneider really pushed it until she finally gave in. “She couldn’t get out of it,” she says, “but she just leaned over the table and did what he asked her to do.”

“I’m not proud of it,” Stratton eventually adds about the experience. “I just think of that poor girl and what she had to go through,” she continues, referring to herself at that time.

“It was probably the wrongest thing I’d ever seen happen to a woman in a professional environment,” Kilgen says, “It was upsetting to watch.”

Later, when Kilgen was the last remaining female writer on the show, she says Dan asked her to pitch an idea in front of the room. “I pitched my idea and [Dan] said, ‘Didn’t you used to do phone sex?’” Kilgen says, out of nowhere. “I was destroyed.”

Kilgen quit after that and sued Nickelodeon and Schneider for gender discrimination, settling for an undisclosed amount, which effectively “ended” her career in TV writing.

Stratton alleges in the docuseries that she was fired from the show for using her off-hours to handle personal business (according to Kilgen, the writers were expected to be on call for Schneider 24/7).

The four-part series from Investigation Discovery premieres on Sunday, March 17. Schneider has denied these allegations in a statement to the doc's producers.

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