“Kid Nation” producer answers the $64,000 question

KidnationcouncilWhat kind of parent would let their child participate in “Kid Nation”?

This is the $64,000 question swirling around the CBS reality show that has gotten so much attention during the past few weeks from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the New Mexico attorney general’s office. (Variety also has weighed in.) More than the intricacies of the state’s child labor laws, more than the question of how and when CBS lawyers responded to inquiries from state officials, the big-picture issue hanging over “Kid Nation” has been the incredulous response provoked in many people by the show’s underlying premise: “40 Kids. 40 Days. No Parents.”

Show sent 40 kids, ages 8-15, to a ranch in a New Mexico ghost town to live in rustic conditions while establishing their own social order and “government” to set bed times, work skeds, chores and rules, etc.

My personal view of “Kid Nation” has been pretty dim (not being a fan of much reality-competish TV in general), fueled by the sense of over-my-dead-body righteousness that swells when I consider it not as a journo but as the mother of a rambunctious 6 1/2 year old girl.

So what kind of parent would respond to a reality TV producer from Hollywood asking them to enlist their kid in a parent-free social experiment in the painted desert — during the regular school year, no less? I asked that question of “Kid Nation” exec producer Tom Forman, and frankly I was surprised at how his thoughtful response and description of the conditions during the shoot, took a some of the air out of my indignation. (Not enough to change the over-my-dead-body sentiment as a parent but enough to be more open-minded about the show as a journo.)

“People have very different ideas about what kids are capable of. Certainly, there are parents who wouldn’t let their kids prepare a snack for themselves. Those parents wouldn’t sign their kids up for this show,” says Forman. “We assembled a group of incredibly articulate, incredibly intelligent and very independent kids. And they proved they were capable of much more than people could imagine.”