No one in the press or even at CBS — and that includes entertainment president Nina Tassler — has seen more than a few minutes of Kid Nation, but the unscripted show, from exec producer Tom Forman (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), is generating more than its fair share of controversy well before its fall premiere date. At a Wednesday session of TV’s summer press tour, reporters grilled Forman about the concept of bringing 40 kids to a New Mexico ”ghost town” and having them build their own society, including whether the production violated any labor laws while filming.
”Legally, there wasn’t any problem,” says Forman about working with the kids, who ranged in age from 8 to 15 and were paid $5,000 each for their participation (that doesn’t include the $20,000 ”gold stars” they were eligible to receive for each week on the show). ”We do not consider them actors, we did not give them a set schedule, so there was no labor problem.”
Forman also tried to dispel any worries that Kid Nation was a hot mess because there was no grown-up supervision — in fact, he said, there were ”hundreds” of adults present on the set, though they seldom had to intervene: ”There were pediatricians, child psychologists, and even animal wranglers standing back and watching to see if they had to step in if there was danger…. I think we were all a little shocked by how little we had to do for them.” Also, Forman said, all the kids were screened by child psychologists before participating in the shoot.
With the exception of gold-star winners, who were permitted a quick phoner with mom and pop, the kids weren’t allowed to call or e-mail home. But every participant had the opportunity to quit if they wanted (Forman did say viewers will see some tots take a hike sometime in the season). This isn’t an elimination show like Survivor, Forman assured reporters. ”We made the decision early on that we were going to give these kids an incredible experience. And the kids wanted it,” Forman said. ”These are leaders at home, who went to scout camps and participated model UNs. I’m not sure it’s that different than what may go on at an Eagle Scout camp somewhere in the U.S.”