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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 parental supervision.

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 cooks.

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,” far fewer
commercials ran during the premiere episode than normally appear during prime-time programming on a major broadcast network.

And, the few spots that did run point toward the problems that CBS must have had in attracting advertisers to the show.

There were just 11 commercials during the 63-minute episode.




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