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Former Child Actor Slams CBS' 'Kid Nation'

Paul Petersen, best-known for playing Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show, has joined the growing chorus of outrage over CBS’ forthcoming reality series Kid Nation.

A longtime children’s-rights activist, Petersen says CBS violated child-labor laws when they put 40 kids, ages 8-15, in a New Mexican ghost town and filmed their efforts at self-government.

“Children working for 40 straight days … parents deliberately kept away, in the middle of the school year,” Petersen tells B&C. “It’s almost breathtaking the size of this travesty.”

Having endured his own travails as a child actor, Petersen, now 61, founded A Minor Consideration in 1990 to offer support to troubled child performers and lobby for protections against exploitation.

Beyond the legal issues, he also worries about potential damage from the media exposure: “Does anybody seriously think that, on Sept. 20, the day after Kid Nation premieres, these 40 children are going to have a good and pleasant time at school?”

Given that CBS essentially asked for the controversy, isn’t Petersen playing into the network’s marketing scheme?

“Maybe I am,” he says. “Except that there are 40 real, live children involved. And if this ever comes to court—and it very well might—CBS is a drop-dead loser.”

Kid Nation Executive Producer Tom Forman calls the criticism “inaccurate and wildly premature” and denies there were labor violations. “[The kids] don’t have SAG cards,” he says. “They took part in an experience. We followed them some of the time with cameras.”

Potty Mouth

When an appeals court decision last month kneecapped the FCC’s policy on fleeting profanities, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made a point of uttering recurring profanities in his statement responding to the ruling.

The point wasn’t lost on Rep. Anne Eshoo (D-Calif.). But she wishes Martin, who normally isn’t one to cuss publicly, had been less explicit in venting his outrage.

During an FCC oversight hearing of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee last week, Eshoo chided the chairman for the statement, in which he repeated the offending words “fuck” and “shit” nine times.

According to an Eshoo staffer, the congresswoman offered a “gentle suggestion” that the statement, which is archived on the FCC Website, either be cleaned up or removed. “It was unbecoming of the FCC and could easily have been redacted,” says the staffer.

“We understand the impact of this language,” says FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin. “That’s what the Second Circuit case was about. These are words that parents react to when they hear them on television in primetime when they are not expecting to.”

As it turns out, some Hill staffers had been looking to make a point of their own. According to both a veteran communications attorney and a committee source, the staffers considered trying to get Martin to read the statement aloud, epithets and all, during the hearing. In the end, however, decency prevailed.

OopsTube

In all the excitement over last week’s CNN/YouTube political debate, it was easy to forget about those nasty copyright issues plaguing the Google-owned video-sharing juggernaut. But NBC’s Today show helpfully demonstrated just how persistent those problems are.

During a July 24 interview the morning after the debate, YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen assured Today co-host Matt Lauer that the company is vigilant about policing the site for copyright violations.

Chen even touted its Google-developed technology that can “detect, when a piece of content gets uploaded, whether or not, you know, the music track and the audio tracks with the video is copyrighted in any way.”

Funny thing, though: In the montage of YouTube clips that preceded the interview, Today included a snippet of Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s July 18 appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart—just the sort of copyright infringement that led Comedy’s parent, Viacom, to slap Google/YouTube with a $1 billion suit.

A Today spokesperson declined to comment, as did a Comedy rep. Google had yet to comment at press time.

With Jim Benson, John Eggerton and Anne Becker

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