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James Hibberd

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.”


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Comments (21)

Cranky Media Guy:

“'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."

Forman is SO right. I have many fond memories of going to Disneyland, drinking bleach with my parents and watching Goofy's Grease Fire Review.

"Kid Nation" is EXACTLY the same as The Happiest Place on Earth.


Forman is a CBS suit, plain and simple. The type who sees only the ratings and $$$$. He does not now nor did he then give one thought to those kids. If he did the show would never have gotten past the misguided idea stage.

First of all, under most laws kids can not enter into a contractual agreement by themselves, the contract must be signed by a parent or guardian. Ding ding ding...you win a prize for blaming the parent(s) or guardian. The child labor thing is a way for the union thugs to get a piece of the pie on the back end.

Forman states that the "on-set accidents were not directly captured on camera”, what the hell does that mean? Either it is on tape or it is not. If it is on tape it is evidence...doh!...and will not be shown. If it is not on tape it will not be shown...duh!

You want to see reality? Pay attention to your own family, friends and life. Now that is reality and it is on 24/7 absolutely free. Television not required to enjoy.


Are we really that deprived for entertainment that we have to subject our children to this? No matter if it was like Disney or not it just seems wrong to me. Does anyone care about the mental health of these children? What type of parent signs their kid up for something like this?

Chi Vikos:

Forman seems to be a the kind of narcissistic type who has no real feelings but only for himself. He will do and say anything to get his way and make money. He picked New Mexico for his show because the state did not have laws to prevent him from doing what he wanted. That should tell you a lot.


I'm waiting to see the CBS exects frog marched out of their cushy offices...Child Abuse is Child Abuse..Mr. Formon can call it anything he wants but at the end of the day, he's no better than any other third world dictator that forces children to work in sweatshops..Forman is making CBS millions using Child Slave Labor..wake up everyone..look at your children..do you want them forced to work at age 8, age 9...the parents made a mistake, but the fake promises made by CBS was abhorrant...

We've been subjecting our children to reality television portrayals for years via "Wife Swap," "Supernanny" and countless kids' cable shows. Where are the protests against those programs?

What amazes me is all the hubbub over relatively minor physical dangers during the "Kid Nation" taping itself. Kids are tougher in that aspect than one may realize.

The real concern should be the psychological damage inflicted on these kids by being turned into a national media spectacle. The current controversy may end up actually worsening such damage.

J Paul:

Ok, let's see...if you took any 30 kids on the planet of the ages in Kid Nation and monitored their activity for 40 days what are the odds that they have more "accidents" that sent some of them to the Dr. or Emergency room? That's if their parents didn't paddle their bottoms and send them to their rooms for screwing up. How many of them would have "burned" themselves cooking or playing with matches? How many of them are up all night playing video games?
You think for one minute that the Producers were that unconscious to not be thinking about "bad publicity" from these little "abuses" that could happen anyways? Geeez, they had shrinks on the set.
Doesn't anyone think that maybe the OTHER NETWORKS are propogating the "bad press" because it isn't their "baby?"
Geeeez, life is tough. Those kids all learned that lesson.
Why don't you?
They also made $5,000. Ask any kid if they would do it. Most kids will NEVER see that kind of cash in one chunck in their lives.
I do however believe that the crew was seriously overworked. I am very familiar with how "Reality" show crew members are "used and abused." But it is the law of supply and demand. They can always quit but many of them have choosen their careers and are totally commited to success....they are not quiters....it's just the nature of the beast.

Say Whut?:

Hmm, a lot of opinions from armchair know-it-alls who haven't seen the show, but nonetheless can manufacture the required outrage.

Say Whut?:

Hmmm, opinions from a bunch of armchair know-it-alls who haven't seen the show, but can somehow still manufacture the required outrage.

"Won't somebody think of the children???"


The issue is not CBS and Forman.

The issue is the sick parents that would sign a document that clearly aknowledges that their kid will be put in dangerous circumstances with the expectation that the producers will do nothing to protect them.

I hope each of the parents who signed that document are charged with child abuse.

If you disagree, I urge you to take the time to read the Participant Agreement on Smokinggun.com.

J Walker:

We have not seen the show, so all talk is just that with no knowledge. I have been a Boy Scout Leader for many years and take boys on overnight, weekend and week long backpacking trips where they learn independence and self sufficiency. The learn by doing and don't have anyone to blame if they don't follow previous directions.
From what I have read about the show, these kids are growing up, learning leadership and learning to live like adults while getting a pretty good paycheck for the experience. I wish that I had been able to participate in such a show when I was their age. I commend the parents that trust their kids enough to let them grow up. If I had a child in the correct age group, I would send him/her in a minute.


This is exactly the kind of face-saving that these morally bankrupt execs pull whenever they're actually confronted on the moral sleaziness of their shows.

And these guys get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with crap like this.

Hopefully, America will tune out. Otherwise it's our fault...

Check HIS past:

Hey, Check out Forman's back ground and I am sure you will find some unsavory items which will lead us all to understand how HE could champion such an abusive concept. Those who know the truth about Forman come forward!!


Am I wrong, or is it still a felony to neglect a child in a manner that results in injury to the child?

Am I wrong, or does the law not recognize the signing away of human, civil, or constitutional rights at any price?


Hey Cranky (is that Big-O? Blowhard...) and all you outraged victim finders...

Get Over It! It's done! The Kids have their dough, their parents have their kids, its all done.

Yes, the Disney comment was shortsighted and downright stupid, but the fact is you have bigger idiots to worry about then some reality show "creator" or producer or whatever.


Parents are often more than willing to sign up themselves and their kids (and anything else they can)for money and a moment of fame on TV. It is not like these kids were 'kidnapped' by producers and sent to the kid nation gulag!


Total horror. Unsupervised kids having a fantastic time. On video. Thirty years ago summmer camps didn't get releases for anything, and we all pushed each other off the pier, got sunburnt, got poison ivy, picked up snakes, hit each other in the head with volley balls and canoe paddles and snuck out to swim in the moonlight. And made glazed-clay ashtrays for our mothers. Nobody died. A lot of us became explorers.
Gee, maybe riding bikes without helmets is next. A nation of over protected children may have been the real fall of Rome. And by the way, first thing CBS has done in decades I liked the sound of.


At Disneyworld, no signature assigning sole responsibility to myself for my minor child contracting std's and pregnancy during our visit was required. This contract language is disturbing, reeks of exploitation and does not impart a sense of a controlled environment. There are laws against sex with minors and it is telling CBS and the production company were protected from this in the contract, but not the children. It is difficult to think such contracts were signed for $5,000. The children are worth so much more. And I have no doubt the kids grew during the experience and worked hard, as kids often are the best part of any sad story.


All the hoopla about the show is only going to bring huge ratings for CBS. As far as the contracts most contracts have to give FULL RISK DISCLOSURE check out the fine print when investing, having elective surgery, they do tell you that you may DIE! etc. I agree with the comments from the person who stated that years ago summer camps did not have release forms and we all survived, learned to be independent, do chores, meet new friends, have accidents, show a little rebellion and compete for recognition. Kid Nation appears to be a great new Summer Camp experiment with willing participants who earned rewards equvalent to what is acceptable in this day and age, who appeared to have great time. It is about time we see kids in a new light with the opportunity to explore and make their own decisions, sounds alot like learning to make it in the real world, Kid Nation will teach kids more about life than any video game! Bravo CBS!

Not my baby:

Despite all the controversy, plans for the second season seems to be a go! I was recently contacted in regard to my son possibly being on the show.
The initial conversation with the scout was enough for me to decide, that 'my baby is not going on that boat for forty days and forty nights.' Curiously though, the person I spoke with says the plans for the next season's show would possibly be "out of the country." I guess our good ole USA labor laws are more of a consideration for the big wigs than they would like to admit. I bet they are taking it to a third world locale to try to avoid them.


Seems like a lot of fuss & feathers over a grease splatter. Have had many myself over the years (74 years old) Blown out of proportion? Perhaps we should be more concerned over the destruction of our kids health via junk-food and sugar drinks. The concept of kids "building a nation" by working together sounds like a great learning experience. Seems no more dangerous than what already occurs in the average kitchen and indeed might be safer with the medical staff on hand. Looking forward to this innovation.

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