Kid Nation kids drank bleach; authorities investigated “child abuse, neglect and endangerment” reports

A parent of a child who participated in CBS’ upcoming Kid Nation filed a complaint saying “the experience bordered on abuse and neglect,” The New York Times reports. Among other things, “[s]everal children required medical attention after drinking bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle, according to both the parent and CBS. One 11-year-old girl burned her face with splattered grease while cooking.”

In addition, the 40 kids “were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours … until at least 9:30 p.m., according to Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who was made available by CBS to respond to questions about conditions on the set.” Still, both she “and her mother, and another participant and his mother, all spoke enthusiastically about the show and said they believed the conditions on the set were adequate.”

There were also “no tutors were present on the set. Though many states limit the number of hours children can work a day on television productions, [executive producer Tom] Forman said the children set their own hours.” And CBS’s Jonathan Anschell told the Times, “The children were not employed under the legal definition. They were not receiving set wages for performing specific tasks or working specific hours.” However, all participants received $5,000, not including the $20,000 prizes given every three days.

An anonymous person sent letters of complaint, and separately, the mother of the girl who was burned with grease “requested an investigation into issues of child abuse, neglect and endangerment,” the New York Times reports, but “the Santa Fe sheriff, said he had investigated the allegations but found no criminal activity.”

The show, by the way, wasn’t filmed in an abandoned town, but “on the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, located on several thousand acres about eight miles south of Santa Fe,” the setting for Silverado. New Mexico may have been chosen because the state “had no specific regulations concerning the use of child actors in television and film production, which many states, including California and New York, do have,” according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the show “stands as the most controversial show of the fall season”—and that was exactly the point. “President of Entertainment Nina Tassler had been craving water-cooler buzz for her network for a couple of seasons,” and that led CBS Executive Vice President of Alternative Programming Ghen Maynard to greenlight the series.

“I thought it could be a way to try to get some attention on a broadcast level for a new kind of show, one that really put young kids to the test,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. He also says that criticism from media scholars (who the paper talks to) and others is “reasonable.”

It’s also probably going to make a second season possible: CBS already cast for Kid Nation 2 “to get ahead of the curve,” he said.

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