CBS deflects ‘Kid Nation’ charges

New Mexico officials 'reviewing' production

CBS is strongly denying allegations that its upcoming reality skein “Kid Nation” violated New Mexico child labor laws or put any of its youthful participants in danger during production.

The New Mexico attorney general’s office said Thursday that in light of the controversy around the show, it is reviewing the complaints raised by a parent and the question of whether it violated the state’s child labor laws. There is also a dispute over allegations that “Kid Nation” producers denied state inspectors access to the production site during filming in April and early May.

“We are in the process of reviewing all of the information that we have on ‘Kid Nation’ to determine whether or not there are issues that we need to pursue,” said Phil Sisneros, spokesman for New Mexico attorney general Gary King. “That’s where we are.”

In a statement, CBS was adamant that the “series was filmed responsibly and within all applicable laws in the state of New Mexico at the time of the production.” (According to the Associated Press, New Mexico in June modified its law limiting the number of hours a minor can work on a film or TV production — a change prompted by the increase in production activity in the state.) CBS gave no hint that it was deterred by the controversy from proceeding with the planned premiere of “Kid Nation” on Sept. 19.

Show took 40 kids, ages 8-15, to a ghost town in the New Mexico desert to let them fend for themselves in a rustic environment, establishing their own rules and “government” in “Lord of the Flies” fashion. The children were expected to haul in their own drinking water and prepare their own meals, in addition to caring for farm animals and other chores.

Show was deliberately designed as a kind of social experiment to allow kids to “prove to adults that they were capable of doing more than anyone thought they could ever do,” “Kid Nation” exec producer Tom Forman told Daily Variety. Children who tired of the conditions were free to inform producers at any time and were immediately transported home. Some did, but not as many as producers expected, Forman said.

Show’s conceit has raised eyebrows and concerns that CBS and producers exploited minors for the sake of a reality TV skein. The “Kid Nation” controversy has been spurred along during the past few weeks by a complaint from a parent of a 12-year-old participant in the show who says her daughter was burned on the face by grease splatters during a kitchen accident and that she did not receive adequate medical treatment.

CBS and Forman stressed that the kids were never really on their own at the large ranch facility in Bonanza, N.M., and that safeguards were in place to care for them in the event of an accident or injury. The precautions included “on-site paramedics, a pediatrician, an animal safety expert and a child psychologist, not to mention a roster of producers assigned to monitor the kids’ behavior,” CBS said in its statement.

Lawyers for CBS were in contact with New Mexico officials during the filming of the show. According to published reports, a state labor inspector visited the ranch after receiving a tip about kids working on the ranch.

When the inspector asked to see the children’s work permits, the official was asked to wait while producers wrapped filming for the day. After waiting for an hour or so, the inspector decided to come back again a few days later. By that time, CBS lawyers had corresponded with other state officials about the work permit issue. The specifics of what was determined in that correspondence are in dispute and are among the issues the attorney general’s office is reviewing, Sisneros said.

Forman said that the overwhelming response from the participants who stuck with the show was positive.

“What’s getting lost in all this is just how incredible the experience was,” Forman said. “These were all incredible articulate, intelligent and very independent kids. They really wanted to prove something. I’ve been in touch with most of them, and I know they’re excited to see the show and they continue to talk to the friends they made there.”

CBS likened the “Kid Nation” experience to a summer camp but with “safety procedures and safety structures that arguably rival or surpass any school or camp in the country.” As for the time missed from school during filming, CBS made it a requirement that participants arrange to make up the course work later in the year.

The Eye maintains that concerns about the show are being stirred up by one disgruntled parent, identified by the AP as Janis Miles of Fayetteville, Ga., whose 12-year-old daughter Divad took part in the show. In a bio released earlier this month as part of the “Kid Nation” promotional materials, Divad described herself as “kind, helpful, honest — I am a great leader and I like to make others laugh.”

CBS has stressed that none of the other parents have kicked up a fuss about their children’s experience. Guardians of the show’s young participants were required to sign strict confidentiality agreements and waivers that indemnify CBS and producers in the event a participant suffers any injury, emotional trauma or even death. But such broad-based waivers have become standard operating procedure for reality TV productions.

“We will therefore not accept irresponsible allegations or any attempts to misrepresent and exaggerate events, or spread false claims about what happened during the filming of ‘Kid Nation,'” CBS said in its statement. “The course of action now being undertaken by one parent is distorting the true picture of the ‘Kid Nation’ experience.”

Forman said he spoke with Divad after production wrapped and believed her experience had been largely positive. He has not spoken with her mother since her complaints surfaced.

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