‘Kid Nation’ proves itself after just one week – by cheating viewers and exploiting kids



By Frazier Moore

NEW YORK – Yes, you heard right. This year’s prime-time Emmys really were awarded a few days ago. Lots of winged statuettes were presented. A hardcore audience (the second-smallest on record) saw it happen.

Now the 2007 Emmy Awards are history.

But why dwell in the past? Let’s get a jump on the season that’s just begun, and look ahead to the 2008 Emmys. Watch out! The competition is already fierce, with early favorites emerging.

Like “Cavemen.” As everybody knows, this new ABC sitcom is based on the Geico cavemen characters, and though it doesn’t even premiere until next month, already it’s got solid Emmy prospects.

If it’s a flop (which TV handicappers universally predict), it’s a slam-dunk Emmy winner for Most Idiotic Series Concept Since “My Mother the Car.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

On the other hand, if it’s a hit, count on “Cavemen” to land a special Emmy signifying the Apocalypse is imminent.

“Cavemen” just can’t lose!

Odds are excellent, too, for CBS’ “Kid Nation.” No kidding.

Maybe not for best reality show. That might be a stretch. Instead, “Kid Nation” deserves its own new category: Outstanding Achievement in Double-Speak Promotion and Cynical Exploitation of Underage Talent.

Did the series break labor laws or put its cast of youngsters (ages 8 through 15) in harm’s way during production in a deserted New Mexico mining town? Despite such accusations lodged against the show before its premiere this week, the folks at “Kid Nation” and CBS have insisted that everything was A-OK.

Their explanation goes something like this: The grown-up production crew was constantly on hand to oversee the kids’ assigned mission – setting up a new society free from meddling by grown-ups – even as those dutiful adults stayed out of camera range so CBS could keep billing the show as “40 kids for 40 days with no grown-ups.”

Maybe it would have been more honest to hype “Kid Nation” simply as a kiddie game-show stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Or as a squeaky-clean, bunny-slope “Survivor” clone, complete with reward challenges (or, in “Kid Nation” parlance, “showdowns”), the prize for which on the first episode was an interesting either-or choice: additional outhouses … or a television. (Toilets or TV? Fill in your own punch line.) It was Port-A-Potty by a landslide.

The show also has the equivalent of “Survivor” tribal councils, led by “Kid Nation’s” four-member town council.

But just how did this foursome get to serve as the unelected leadership? They were hand-picked by the show’s producers, is how! And, besides other things, these little power brokers rule on who among the kiddie rank-and-file will get a $20,000 “gold star” each week.

Or are they nothing more than pint-sized puppets of the real powers that be?

Of course, such thoughts of adult-world dirty-dealing fly in the face of what “Kid Nation” pretends to stand for (as overseen by host Jonathan Karsh, a grown-up who seems to have attended Jeff Probst University, minoring in Keep Things Warm-and-Fuzzy).

On the first episode, kids staged fleeting displays of discord, frustration and tears. But nobly, they rose above it, in service to the show’s predictably wholesome-and-uplifting facade. “Kid Nation” wasted no time exposing itself as overproduced, over-orchestrated and generally over-finessed – all the better to guarantee that it meets its preconceived narrative demands.

And it meets them. Dead on. With rarely a threat of authenticity. Just an underlying creepy vibe: What’s the truth with this show? And who, if anyone, would choose to keep watching it?

So start clearing off a place on your mantle, CBS. You really did it this time!

But one thing needs to get decided: On next fall’s Emmycast, would whoever accepts the trophy for “Kid Nation” be accepting it for all the grown-ups who had no role in this show (but really did), or on behalf of all the kids, who in exchange for TV face time and a crack at some prize money, allowed themselves to get used?

There’s plenty of time to sort all that out. In the meantime, here’s an idea for another Emmy-worthy reality series, which would round up kids to create a new TV network … to prove they have the vision to build a better world of TV, where grown-up network executives have failed.

Welcome to “Kid Network”! Responsible kids would waste no time before they canceled it.