Two weeks ago, amid cries of racism and prejudice, ABC abruptly pulled the welcome mat out from under Welcome to the Neighborhood, a controversial and as yet unaired reality show in which several, um, "diverse" clans vied for a house in a coveted community. The cancelation, while commendable, left ABC with a bit of a public-relations black eye, and one could understand if the execs behind the net's next daring unscripted series were given a bit of a scare by Neighborhood's fate.
Enter Brat Camp, a show which sends nine problem children — and by "problem children," we mean teens prone to sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol addiction, verbal and physical abuse etc. — to SageWalk, a wilderness camp in Oregon, for possible rehabilitation. Potentially dicey fare, indeed.
"I never felt any sense that our show was in trouble," Brat Camp executive producer Allison Grodner tells TV Guide.com. "I happen to know the people who [produced Welcome to the Neighborhood], so I'm very sorry that that happened. In the end, maybe somebody will see it. It's worth seeing; I'll just say that. But Brat Camp is very different.
"Certainly our show is real — as was the other one — and we deal with real issues, with heavy issues. But hot-button issues? No," reiterates Grodner, whose reality résumé includes Big Brother. "The race and prejudice issues that [Neighborhood] was delving into were hot-button issues. That's not our show."
Which is not to say that Brat Camp, with its nine hard-to-handle hellions, won't deliver more than its fair share of eye-openers and jaw-droppers. (It should be noted that the series carries a TV-14, L — for language — rating.) "These kids wouldn't be in a camp like this if they were just being 'brats.' There's a lot more to it," says Grodner. "Their parents are at their wits' end, and this is the last option for these families who have tried a lot of things."
There is no cash prize at the end of Brat Camp. No torches to be snuffed or roses to be handed out. No recording contracts. The only winners are the kids who elect to choose the right path. "This is not a game. There are light moments, as there are heavy moments, but these are serious issues. This show is truthful and honest and raw. People will be shocked."
Nine kids, with nine sets of inner demons to overcome. Can viewers expect nine happy endings? "This is a real show, so there are absolutely no guarantees," insists Grodner. "These are [problems] that sometimes take a lot more time than 60-plus days in the wilderness [to resolve]. I will tell you that there are some incredibly dramatic turnarounds — but maybe not for everyone."
But if all goes as wished, Brat Camp will help many more families than the nine featured on the program. "What we always hope with a show like this is that it makes an impression on the audience and helps people find help and learn from it," says Grodner. "If we can touch other lives, that's amazing."
Brat Camp's two-hour premiere airs tonight at 8 pm/ET on ABC.