Christy Stratton Is Now Ready To Soar

Christy Stratton Is Now Ready To Soar
Photo by David Lawrence

To say that the last few weeks for Christy Stratton have been overwhelming is likely an understatement. When I simply asked the longtime television writer, and Fort Worth native, how she was doing, she sounded almost philosophical as she pondered her answer.

That’s not surprising because it’s only been a few months since the Investigation Discovery documentary “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” debuted and instantly became one of the most-watched shows on Max, where it’s streaming. The documentary chronicles the disturbing behind-the-scenes horror that arose at Nickelodeon Studios, the children’s television juggernaut of the nineties and early two-thousands.

The documentary brings together former child actors and other members of the cast and crew of various Nickelodeon shows, many of whom were overseen by Dan Schneider. The testimonials show a terrifying and toxic workplace, and even the sexual abuse of children.

Stratton appears in the first episode of “Quiet on Set” to talk about the early days of Schneider’s career and the demeaning workplace that he lorded over with her former co-worker Jenny Kilgen. They were the only two female writers of “The Amanda Show,” a sketch comedy series starring Amanda Bynes in its first season. They were forced to share a salary and endured extremely inappropriate behavior from Schneider.  

Now that the documentary has been out for nearly two months (and an additional episode aired in April), Stratton can finally take a breath and reflect on the simple question of how she is doing. “I’m better than I thought I’d be,” she says.

Photo by David Lawrence

“When I sat down for that interview, I burst into tears after the first question was asked. I’ve been worried for months about how our part was going to turn out, and I thought it turned out great. I got lots of compliments on my hair, which as a Texan, is very important to me.”

She runs through the messages she’s received lately, almost all of them overwhelmingly positive and appreciative about speaking out. One person who thanked her for sharing her story was from England. These glimmers of gratitude made appearing in the documentary worth it for Stratton. Also, she realizes that things have changed when it comes to workplace behavior. “You cannot get away with that sort of behavior in a workplace anymore, millennials and Gen-Z aren’t having it.”

With the business of “Quiet on Set” out of the way, our interview can shift to what Stratton is really eager to talk about, a short film she wrote and directed called “The Runt.” The short film takes place in 1979 when a tween girl discovers to her horror that she is on the cusp of being the seventh grade “runt,” so she takes off on a mission to be seen skating with a boy to avoid a cataclysmic middle school fate. 

“The Runt” had its genesis in a screenplay that Stratton started working on over twenty years ago with another friend, who has subsequently left the business. Every few years she would revisit the script, which follows three different characters as their lives intersect in 1979 against the backdrop of roller skating.

As a Gen X-er, Stratton has a special connection with roller skating, which she called its own “fiefdom.” According to Stratton she has fond memories of being dropped off on a Friday night to her local rink from a young age. “That part of my life — being left unsupervised at 9-years-old for hours, wanting to skate with your crush, doing the hokey pokey, the older kids making out in the corner, and the fantastic music that was the soundtrack — it really stuck with me and I think it did with a lot of other folks, too."

With the television business seemingly upside down thanks to streaming, Stratton took another look at her screenplay. A colleague suggested that instead of working on a full independent movie, she start with a proof of concept, essentially a small portion of what a larger project would look like. Some of the best independent movies of all time started out as proof of concepts like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Bottle Rocket.”

Shooting “The Runt” happened on a very ad-hoc basis. Stratton recounts a memorable two days where the only skating rink in Los Angeles was actually closed during the day and they could shoot a bulk of the film’s scenes. Stratton’s son and many of his friends made up a lot of the cast, but she had to find her two female leads through casting a wider net through her friend circle.

“The Runt” screened at the Florida Film Festival and the Indy Film Festival, where it won best American short. Later this summer it will screen at both the Dances with Films in Los Angeles and the Wyoming Film Festival. With years of experience as a television writer, Stratton found it fun and liberating to don the mantle of director. “The technical stuff was daunting, but I had a terrific team of production superstars that helped me through that part of it,” says Stratton. “Directing actors, blocking, making choices on the fly — that was an absolute blast. I can’t wait to do it again."

Photo by Owen Galicia

Making “The Runt” is another milestone in a career that Stratton admits was nearly derailed, as she recounted in “Quiet on Set.” Stratton was fired from “The Amanda Show.” What didn’t make it into the documentary was that Schneider pursued a vindictive campaign against Stratton, causing her agent and manager to leave her. Luckily, a new opportunity presented itself to Stratton when she was accepted into the Warner Brothers Writing Program.

That helped her land on a comedy series before some lucrative years on shows like “King of the Hill” and “Modern Family.” The trauma of what happened at Nickelodeon would endure for Stratton even if she never had a workplace as traumatic as “The Amanda Show.”

With the memory of being bullied for leaving one night to attend a concert, after working a whole day (on a job she was getting half a salary), Stratton never wanted to test the waters with any of her next jobs. She didn’t attend her grandmother’s funeral when she was working on a later series (though she thinks her bosses would have been fine with that). In fact, it wouldn’t be until she was working on “Modern Family” when she asked for one day to go to the Women’s March in Washington D.C. “I look back at who I was then, and I feel so bad as I took that on as my fault,” acknowledges Stratton.

I’m curious whether Stratton ever envisioned herself as a successful writer in Hollywood. No, but not because she didn’t have some innate beliefs. “I never dreamed it because it was such a foreign world to me.”

Before letting Stratton go I had to indulge my own personal television obsessions, which she kindly obliged. On “King of the Hill,” being a native Texan made her a “Texpert.” She could tell stories from her high school days that wound up on the show. She credits “King of the Hill” with making her a better writer.  

Lastly, as a millennial who was not afforded a lot of unsupervised time away from adults, my sanctuary was a den with a television. And growing up one of my favorite shows was another project Stratton worked on: the ABC comedy series “Hope & Faith,” with Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford.

Ripa, freshly installed as a co-host on “Regis and Kelly,” played a just-fired soap opera actress who is forced to move in with her sister and brother-in-law. For Stratton the opportunity came with a chance to live in New York which she loved (until it snowed). “I couldn’t have had a better time,” she says. “I got to see Broadway shows, eat the most amazing food – I even took a trapeze class.”

She also shares that she has a memento from the set: a coffee table that appeared in Faith’s room. Perhaps it could wind up in the follow-up to “The Runt.”