Why Viewers Need to Give CBS’ ‘Kid Nation’ a Fair Shot

CBS’ fall lineup certainly has its problems, but one of its show has been forced to deal with a large portion of the media blitzkrieg. Kid Nation was conceived to draw some level of controversy: placing forty kids into a ghost town on their own is never going to be seen as anything less than exploitation upon first glance. However, beyond that point, the series has been attacked from all sides.

It started, immediately, with the show being unfortunate enough to be placed directly into Jericho’s former timeslot during the Nuts for Jericho campaign. It was one thing for a show to be replacing Jericho, but a reality program with a very different set of values on the surface was quite another. Jericho fans, unsurprisingly, targeted Kid Nation quite directly in their efforts to save their show.

Things really hit the fan, if you will, when the show began to face ethical and safety concerns on behalf of parents and, more importantly, authorities. Claims of child abuse, evasion of child labour laws and enforcement officials, and just about everything else under the sun have started flying, and things are not looking good for the series.

L.A. Times Article (via Zap2it.com) – CBS Addresses ‘Kid Nation’ Controversy

And yet, out of all of this, I think that something needs to be said: as a concept, I do not think that this is a bad idea. As far as reality shows are concerned, I would argue it is in fact one of the least exploitative of the new season. While the show should not receive a free pass for any abuse which may or may not have taken place, I think that it has received a stigma not quite equal to its content. And, well, I think that viewers should keep an open mind.

My reason for this is that, as far as reality TV goes, I think that there is a lot to be learned from Kid Nation. These types of situational reality series (The Real World being the originator) are usually designed to reflect sexual exploits, inter-personal conflict and the worst parts of society that, unfortunately, a sizable population enjoys immensely.

However, Kid Nation is really about just the opposite: rather, it reflects on the very types of family values that are prevalent in a series like Jericho. The show is a social experiment, sure, but one where the results are relevant to both kids and adults. How will it reflect on our own societies if a bunch of pre-teens is able to organize better than their parents? And, for kids watching themselves, couldn’t they find some level of motivation in terms of leadership and teamwork while watching other kids do the same?

From a production standpoint, I would say that there are a lot of fundamental issues between authorities and producers that will have to be decided behind the scenes. However, it seems to me that some are using this as justification to writing off the show itself, which I think is somewhat unfair. On my list of reality show manipulations, allowing kids to form their own government and perform their own tasks seems much lower than following around Laguna Beach socialites and all their relationship drama.

Now, admittedly, I don’t have children. And, well, maybe that makes me the wrong person to be passing judgment on the series. However, I think that anyone who passes judgment at this point is doing so too soon; based on the promotion for the series and its emphasis on rewarding kids for leadership and a lack of “eliminations,” I would say that this is heading in a far better direction than its initial concept might indicate.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to like the show, nor that people should stop questioning the ethics behind it: if something went wrong on that set, someone should be held accountable. Rather, I am personally of the mind that Kid Nation got off on the wrong foot with some Americans, and perhaps they judge too quickly. Or, perhaps, I am judging too quickly myself.

We’ll see on September 19th, when CBS premieres Kid Nation at 8pm.

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3 Comments

Filed under 2007 Fall Preview, Jericho, Kid Nation, Television

3 responses to “Why Viewers Need to Give CBS’ ‘Kid Nation’ a Fair Shot

  1. I suppose there are a couple of things that trouble me here. 1) I hope CBS did not go out of their way to find loopholes so they could use these children. I don’t like the fact that they said these children aren’t employees. That sounds like (was it UPS?) that tried that and got shot down.
    2) We’ve all heard of parents who will do anything because they try to live vicariously through their children. (Jon Benet Ramsey). The parents probably saw this as a great opportunity for their child to be a star.
    Also, I recall the CBS affiliate’s meeting and those affiliates who watched a preview were not happy with this show.
    Who knows? Maybe all this controversy will make the show a hit. People will watch out of curiosity.
    Thanks for your input.

  2. In terms of the legal mumbo jumbo, the basic story is that child labour laws are in place that limit the ability for young people to work a limited schedule. This is why the Harry Potter films take so long to make, because by law the young actors involved can’t the same schedule as others.

    In this case, to follow those rules would have been impossible, so they definitely did search out a loophole. However, at the same time, it was a loophole to allow the show to go forward period, as opposed to one designed to allow them to work them harder or put them in more dangeorus situations. It was just a time issue, as far as that particular example. If they went further, then there is no going back from that.

    As for parents living through their children…I guess that I would like to think better of parents, and children for that matter, in these situations. It doesn’t seem designed to be “star-making,” and I personally feel that any 12-14 year old would probably be more capable than someone like Ramsey to both make their own decision and, in the end, carry themselves in a more mature fashion.

    As for how it plays with audiences and affiliates, you’re right: controversy will make the series a hit…initially. However, if the show goes into the territory that you’re discussing, I don’t think that I or anyone else will have trouble turning away.

  3. Pingback: Cultural Learnings’ Fall 2007 Lineup: Wednesdays « Cultural Learnings

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