When the promos for CBS' new fall reality show
Kid Nation come on, you can't look away. Forty kids. No adult supervision. Watch how they build their own civilization in a ghost town in New Mexico. You immediately want to know: Which one is going to be Piggy from
Lord of the Flies?
But when pressed by reporters at the Television Critics Association - stirred by a report in Television Week that the kids were performing on camera for 14 hours a day, making their own meals and missing school days - the show's executive producer Tom Forman was forced to repeat a far less provocative message: "I don't know that it's different than what goes on at an Eagle Scout camp," he said. As reporter questions chipped away at the show's artifice, Forman noted that there was a large "adult safety net" on the set... er, in the town, which included a pediatrician, a child psychologist and even an animal wrangler.
But doesn't calming everybody down by saying the kids were never in any kind of danger take the buzz out of one of the fall's buzzworthy shows? CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler doesn't think so. "I think anything to do with kids is something of a lightning rod," she said. "I think people are smart in approaching it with a degree of skepticism. You need to feel a degree of comfort before you agree to commit to the show. Even with reassurances that every precaution was taken, as a society we have to see for ourselves. People may hear that and it may register, but people may see for themselves. That's what they're going to bring to the show and they're going to watch."
Tassler is committed to adding some sizzle to the dependable steak-and-potatoes schedule that CBS has become known for. That's why she added Kid Nation, the musical drama Viva Laughlin and for mid-season, Swingtown, which depicts sex and drugs in suburbia during the 1970s. "I hope there are concerns about it," she said when asked if the visual innuendo in Swingtown's opening scene is too daring for broadcast TV.
Tassler wants to experiment and create some controversy. But reporters at the TCA questioned whether the network risks alienating viewers who have depended on CBS as the last TV diner serving comfort food. She doesn't buy it. "We are very excited about [the new shows]," she said. "If they do fail, and some of them will, I don't think it's going to be because they were so daring and different." - Reporting by Stephen Battaglio