Tisk tisk, CBS
Thu Aug 23 2007
In May, when CBS announced their fall lineup, we expressed our concern over Kid Nation, a reality show starring a group of tweens. The undeniably iffy premise places the kids in an abandoned New Mexico town and asks them to form their own society and system of governance. It sounds like a compelling premise for a book (or a slightly twisted social experiment), but it’s no surprise that the show has already been met with a good dose of controversy. CBS insists that the experience was uplifting and positive for the participants, but many adult viewers—including us—fear that the producers are guilty of exploitation for the sake of ratings.
Today’s New York Times delves into the potential legal ramifications of Kid Nation. The show’s participants, it reports, were required to comply, round-the clock, with guidelines set by the producers. Because participating in the show did not technically constitute employment, CBS did not feel it was subject to any state or federal child labor regulations. As with other reality shows, the stars (or in this case, their parents) were asked to sign a lengthy agreement that freed CBS of any responsibility in case of an injury, and stated detailed confidentiality rules. The kids, for example, are not allowed to give interviews about their experiences until three years after the show goes off the air.
The Times reports:
“Violating the confidentiality agreement carries a $5 million penalty. CBS and the production companies, Good TV Inc. and Magic Molehill Productions, retained the rights to the children’s life stories “in perpetuity and throughout the universe.” And that right includes the right to portray the children either accurately or with fictionalization “to achieve a humorous or satirical effect.”
One parent has already complained to New Mexico state officials about unsafe conditions on set. One girl burned her face with splattered cooking oil, while other kids required medical attention after accidentally drinking bleach from an unmarked soda bottle. Children were also required to put in long hours of hard labor in order to run their mini-society.
CBS claims, however, that the complaints distorted “the true picture of the ‘Kid Nation’ experience, about which the overwhelming majority of kids are highly enthusiastic and happy; a sentiment shared by their parents too.”
Fortunately for CBS, controversy tends to equal ratings. Whether or not the alleged injuries were severe or blown out of proportion, however, most of us can agree that tweens usually aren’t—and shouldn’t be—cut out for the emotional whirlwind of being a reality show participant. So, come the show’s premiere on September 19th, it would probably be best to exercise self-control and lock away those remotes.