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Documentary reveals stars including James Marsden and Alan Thicke wrote letters of support for the acting coach charged with sexually abusing a 15-year-old Drake Bell

Kate Taylor   

Documentary reveals stars including James Marsden and Alan Thicke wrote letters of support for the acting coach charged with sexually abusing a 15-year-old Drake Bell
  • Multiple Hollywood stars wrote letters of support for Brian Peck in his 2004 child sex abuse case.
  • Celebrities such as Rider Strong and Joanna Kerns wrote to the judge to advocate for Peck, a dialogue coach.

When 18-year-old Drake Bell arrived at Brian Peck's sentencing in October 2004, he didn't expect the courtroom to be packed with people supporting Peck.

"His entire side of the courtroom was full," Bell said in the Investigation Discovery docuseries "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV." "There were definitely some recognizable faces on that side of the room. And my side was me, my mom, and my brother."

Peck, an acting coach, was charged in 2003 with sexually abusing an unnamed child. Until now, Bell has remained anonymous as the child in the criminal case. In May 2004, Peck pleaded no contest to two of the 11 charges: performing a lewd act with 14 or 15-year-old, and oral copulation with a minor under 16. He was sentenced to 16 months in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender.

Now, in "Quiet on Set," premiering on Sunday and Monday, Bell is for the first time speaking publicly about the abuse he says he experienced when he was 15. In 2023, Maxine Productions, one of the docuseries' producers, petitioned the court to unseal the letters of support in the Peck case; such letters typically offer a judge a sympathetic perspective of a defendant in a criminal case ahead of sentencing. The court released 41 letters that Peck's friends and family sent to the judge on Peck's behalf.

Prominent Hollywood insiders who wrote letters include the "X-Men" actor James Marsden, the "Growing Pains" star Alan Thicke, the "Boy Meets World" costars Will Friedle and Rider Strong, and the actor and comedian Taran Killam, who would later become a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." Two letter writers — Rich and Beth Correll — went on to work with Peck on the Disney Channel show "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" after Peck was released from prison and registered as a sex offender.

Because Bell was anonymous in the criminal case, some letter writers may not have known he was involved. Some said they did not know about other details of the case. The "Growing Pains" star Joanna Kerns told the producers of "Quiet on Set" that her letter was based on misinformation. "Knowing what I know now, I never would have written" it, she said.

Peck, 63, built a career in Hollywood as an acting and dialogue coach. He appeared in minor roles in the 1980s, '90s, and early aughts, including in the sitcoms "Growing Pains" and "Boy Meets World," the film adaptation of "Holes," and the blockbuster "X-Men." He went on to work on the Nickelodeon shows "All That" and "The Amanda Show."

Peck developed a niche coaching kids. In the early '90s, when Peck was in his 30s, he worked with a young Leonardo DiCaprio on "Growing Pains." A Los Angeles Times report in 2002 mentioned a comedy boot camp he ran with Dan Schneider, the creator of "The Amanda Show," "Drake & Josh," and "iCarly." Several people, including Strong, wrote in their letters of support that Peck befriended them when they were teenagers.

Strong and Friedle discussed their support of Peck on a February episode of "Pod Meets World," the "Boy Meets World" rewatch podcast they cohost with their former costar Danielle Fishel. The episode aired after the producers of "Quiet on Set" reached out for comment. (Strong and Friedle did not respond to requests for comment from the producers or BI.)

"We used to call him the Forrest Gump of Hollywood," Strong said on the podcast, "because he knew everybody."

The "Boy Meets World" actors said on the podcast that Peck acknowledged he was guilty of something involving a minor. But Strong said Peck portrayed himself as a "victim of jailbait" who was attracted to a young, "hot guy." Friedle said that when he attended the sentencing to support Peck, Bell's mother turned to the courtroom and, addressing Peck, said: "Look at all the famous people you brought with you. And it doesn't change what you did to my kid."

"I just sat there wanting to die," Friedle said on the podcast. "It was like, what the hell am I doing here?"

Friedle went on to work alongside Bell as a voice actor in "Ultimate Spider-Man," which aired on Disney XD from 2012 to 2017.

After his release, Peck worked on three episodes of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" that aired in 2006 and 2007, when the series' stars, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, were young teens. Peck voiced a talking mirror. Rich Correll is listed as the episodes' director, and Beth Correll is listed as the first assistant director.

The Corrells said in a statement to the producers of "Quiet on Set" that they "had no input or involvement in the casting" of Peck on the Disney show. They said that when they asked him about the case, Peck "simply replied that 'the problem had been resolved.'"

Someone with knowledge of Disney's records from the time said that while Peck performed voiceover work, he was never on set and had no interaction with the cast or crew, including minors. When Disney learned of his conviction, the person said, Peck was terminated and his voice and on-screen credits were replaced.

"Quiet on Set" examines how iconic television shows of the '90s and early 2000s failed to protect child actors. In addition to Peck, two other people who worked at Nickelodeon were charged in the early 2000s with child sex abuse. In 2003, Jason Handy, who worked on "The Amanda Show," was arrested and charged with five felony counts related to child sex abuse; he was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to two of the charges. In 2005, a Nickelodeon Studios animator, Ezell Channel, was arrested on charges of abusing a child. In 2009, he was sentenced to six months in jail for a battery charge in the case and to 16 months prison time for a felony charge in the case, though the felony conviction was eventually overturned.

Nickelodeon said in a statement to the "Quiet on Set" producers that it "investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace." The network added that it had "adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience."

Kate Taylor served as an executive producer for "Quiet on Set." The four-part docuseries is produced by Maxine Productions, a part of Sony Pictures Television Nonfiction, in association with Business Insider. It is directed by Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz.

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