With everything that's gone on in the TV biz during the past two months, the uproar over CBS' reality skein "Kid Nation" shortly before the show's September premiere seems like such a tempest in a teapot.
All the overheated talk about "investigations" by the New Mexico state attorney general's office petered out barely a week after the show premiered. A complaint from one parent about the show's treatment of her daughter stirred up a media tsunami about the propriety of the show and whether it violated child labor laws with its premise (40 kids ages 8-15 are sent to a ghost town to live the rugged pioneer life with, ostensibly, no adult supervision) and filming sked.
Interestingly, the advance hubbub never did goose "Kid Nation" ratings. It opened modestly on Sept. 19 and has maintained an average of about 6 million-7 million viewers per week -- not great but not a total bomb, either.
The "Kid Nation" finale is set to air tonight at 8 p.m. The denouement is about one contender claiming a cash prize but about a hands-on civics lesson to see if the their community will actually be able to function under the rules and systems that they've established through the weekly Town Council governing process.
Most important to "Kid Nation" creator/exec producer Tom Forman is the fact that none of the other families came forward with horror stories, and all the scrutiny of the show's operations yielded nothing in the way of tangible evidence that he or the show did anything terribly wrong by its young stars.
"It’s a bizarre experience to open the New York Times and read that the newspaper of record is calling you a child abuser. It was head-spinning," says Forman, who is a former journalist himself, and a father. "We knew what we had shot. We knew once people saw it they’d realize that it was much ado about nothing....We're all really proud of the show. It's what we said it would be all along -- a show that will get kids thinking and talking about social issues."
Biggest surprise to Forman on the show was how naturally the group of kids gravitated to the older boys as the leaders of the group.
"They were as diverse a group as we could get in age, gender, ethnicity and geographic background," Forman says. "I was surprised, and a little sad, at how quickly they went to the older boys in the group."
Forman (pictured right) is still waiting to hear from CBS as to whether the Eye is interesting in a "Kid Nation 2." He's ready and willing to take it on, with a few changes that became obvious along the way. For starters, he would aim for more kids in the 10-12 age range, to help offset the authority commanded by the 13-15 year olds who tend to "suck up a lot of the oxygen in the room."
The three kids that did ask to go home, per the show's format, were on the young end of the 8-15 age range, which did not surprise Forman.
If there is a "Kid Nation 2," Forman sez it won't be set in New Mexico -- and not for any other reason than to keep the format fresh. A new edition of the show would require a new setting and a new time-period challenge for the kids, a la the 19th century "pioneer" theme of the first go-round.
"We'd have them rebuilding some other example of a society that adults screwed up," Forman says. "They could be colonists who have just come off the boat from Europe, maybe. There are lots of interesting historical time periods and places where we could set the show, and we're looking at all of them."
Forman has other projects in the hopper at the moment -- no seasoned reality TV producer is wanting for work amid the WGA strike -- but he emphasizes that he has no regrets. He'd jump at the chance to do it all over again, despite the show's many critics, armchair and otherwise.
"Kid Nation" was "an amazing experience for those 40 kids and for me," Forman says. "I can handle a couple of angry television critics."