CBS KID NATION REALITY SHOW
CBS airs Kid Nation amid protests
23 September, 2007:
Notwithstanding protests by parental
psychologists and allegations that it
was child abuse of the first order,
Kid Nation, the reality series by the
CBS, was premiered in the United
States at prime time in the night.
The new reality show has 40 children
who are “abandoned” in a “ghost town”
in New Mexico for 40 days without
The show had drawn heavy criticism for
using child performers – some even
accused the series of breaching child
labor laws. One mother said her
daughter suffered burns to her face
and four other children treated for
accidentally drinking bleach.
If one discounts the camera crews,
producers, doctors, psychologists (all
off camera) in this mocked-up, pioneer
“ghost town” in the New Mexico desert,
there was hardly an adult in sight.
Tom Foreman, the program’s creator,
had said earlier that William
Golding’s Lord of the Flies was part
of its creative inspiration. But,
unlike the setting in Lord of the
Flies, ‘Bonanza City’ was deeply
controlled and sanitized.
The children, aged 8 to 15, are
dropped in the desert and told to drag
wagons filled with provisions to
Bonanza City. It had one latrine.
After a competition to pump water
(this is on day three, when the man in
charge returns and suggests they
divide into color-coded teams, red,
blue and green, bandannas provided),
they are rewarded with a choice: seven
more outhouses or a television. They
choose the toilets.
The community has been assigned four
team leaders – the ‘town council’ –
who were told in secret that after the
first week they must decide who should
be awarded a $20,000 solid-gold star.
The winner at a communal meeting is
Sophie, 14, who single-handedly showed
everyone else how to cook pasta and
stop grumbling. She was given a
special key to the one telephone in
Bonanza City to telephone her parents
and break the news.
The pumping competition has also
divided the four teams into classes.
The winners are “upper class” and do
not have to do anything.
The second place created a “merchant”
team, which would run the candy shop
and dry-goods store.
The third-place team became the town’s
Fourth were the laborers who had to
clean the toilets. They were also paid
the least. They seemed to take it with
good grace, but a washing-up war
seemed to be brewing for episode two.
The most far-sighted child was the
youngest, Jimmy, 8. He hated it from
the start. He spotted Greg, the eldest
at 15 – and, therefore, respected by
most – as the nasty brute that he was.
“Greg thinks he’s cool but he isn’t,”
Jimmy said on day one.
On day four, the children were allowed
to leave if they wanted. All stayed,
except Jimmy. “I think I’m way too
young for this,” he said.
Well, as for the commercial aspect of
the controversial CBS show, Kid
Nation, set in Bonanza City, was no
bonanza for the TV network.
Most probably reflecting the debate
about the content of the series, which
depicts children fending for
themselves in a Western “ghost town,”
commercials ran during the premiere
episode than normally appear during
prime-time programming on a major
And, the few spots that did run point
toward the problems that CBS must have
had in attracting advertisers to the
There were just 11 commercials during
the 63-minute episode.