Nets still using kids despite 'Nation' controversy

The juice-box crowd shouldn’t shelve those audition videos just yet.

The furor over “Kid Nation” didn’t translate to big ratings, but it also hasn’t scared off the networks from casting kids in reality shows.

For aspiring kiddie contestants, there’s plenty on the air or about to launch: Fox’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” gamer, Discovery’s “Endurance” competish, VH1′s talent search “Danny Bonaduce’s Child Star” and NBC’s take on the U.K. hit “Baby Borrowers,” about teens forced to take care of infants.

Then there are old standbys like “Wife Swap,” “Trading Spouses,” “Supernanny,” “Nanny 911″ and even “American Idol,” which frequently put underage individuals at the center of the action.

Putting aside the wisdom of mixing in Bonaduce with aspiring underage performers, some of those shows may find themselves under a little more scrutiny than they did before the “Kid Nation” flap.

But ultimately, one network alternative topper says, kids are still fair game for reality TV — given a few caveats. First, shows with a comic edge can get away with more, including the use of kids.

Also, an adult needs to be at the center of the action — be it a host like “Fifth Grader’s” Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Cosby on the “Kids Say the Darndest Things” revival, or parents in shows like “Supernanny.”

“Adults don’t feel comfortable watching a show that only stars kids,” he says. “That usually sends a signal that it’s a show for kids.”

Adult supervision also counterbalances the image of kids crying, as it’s quite tricky to depict kids in crisis.

“That’s never entertaining,” he says. “Kids and animals are considered innocent, and you can’t put them in harm’s way. That makes people upset.”

Little kids are also a tougher sell — after all, the older and less innocent the minor, the more viewers feel they can watch guilt-free.

By adhering to much of that advice, which would cut down on-camera time, productions would also avoid some of the labor questions that have dogged “Kid Nation.”

Of course, the worst offense — and the problem many critics have with “Kid Nation” — is that the show has to be interesting.

“What drove people away was the conceit,” the rival network alternative exec says. “It’s modest. If you’re going to take the heat, there better be a payoff and the show better be entertaining. The payoff for all these shows is simply the rating. If you set a good rating, then everything’s OK.”

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