CBS Weathers 'Kid Nation' Buzzkill
August 28, 2007 12:54 PM
They didn’t want this much buzz.
Ever since the “Kid Nation” storm began, industry insiders have declared over countless lunches: “All this press is playing right into CBS’ hands. This is exactly what the network secretly wants.”
But in recent weeks, the “Kid Nation” controversy crossed the threshold from worrisome-yet-helpful publicity to red-alert overload. The network is, most assuredly, not happy. There’s corporate-approved edgy “Viva Laughlin” buzz … and then there’s kids drinking bleach and state attorney general investigations.
There seem to be few organizations connected to “Kid Nation” left to express their outrage that reality show contestants might possibly have been underpaid or mistreated. It’s a problem that, as the Writers Guild of America notes today, has been common on both sides of the camera for years, but is only getting tough media scrutiny now that the reality production funhouse involves kids. How much of a difference that distinction makes is a question for the attorneys, psychologists, child development experts, concerned parents, fellow bloggers and others weighing in.
At the eye of this media hurricane is an editing bay, where executive producer Tom Forman continues to work on “Nation.” He claims nothing about the controversy will change the way he shapes his program. The on-set accidents -- a minor kitchen grease burn first reported in TelevisionWeek that somehow manages to get more horrific with each telling, the instantly infamous group bleach-drinking first reported in the New York Times -- were not directly captured on camera, he says, and will not be in the show.
“I’m horrified and frankly disgusted people are throwing around phrases like ‘child abuse,’” he says, sounding characteristically upbeat despite the recent succession of headlines. “We got a lot of column inches devoted to a show nobody has seen yet. I encourage people to watch it Sept. 19 and make up their own minds.”
Forman says he’s particularly bothered by the media criticism of “Nation” parents, which hit a fever pitch after The Smoking Gun last week published the show’s 22-page participation agreement.
At first blush, the contract reads as if parents are selling their kids into servitude in a coal mine by day, bordello by night. But it’s not much different from the agreements signed by reality participants every day. The only difference, as the chorus goes, is that the participants are kids.
“I look at that contract and I think I agree to most of that stuff on the back of my ticket to Disneyland,” Forman says, giving one of those quotes that, intentionally or not, tend to get readers riled up. “I’m not sure anybody who ever sent a kid to summer camp and signed a contract is all that surprised by what they read in there. What sort of parent wouldn’t want me to be able to call an ambulance if their kid needed one?
“Not every parent,” he concludes, “is a ‘Kid Nation’ parent.”