Kid Nation Executive Producer Tom Forman is firing back at critics of his upcoming CBS reality series, calling the criticism “inaccurate and wildly premature.”
“None of these people have even seen the show yet,” Forman says. “But I lived it for 40 days.”
Forman’s remarks to B&C come in response to statements from children’s-rights activist Paul Petersen, who played Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show, in which he labels the new fall series a “travesty.” Forman was also hammered a few weeks back at the Television Critics Association press tour, and has faced repeated criticism on TV news programs.
Outrage over the series, in which 40 kids ages 8 to 15 are left alone for 40 days in New Mexico to self-govern a deserted ghost town, is off base, Forman argues.
“Over 40 days, I saw the kids rise to the challenge and run a world that is arguably better than the world in which they live,” he says. “It was an amazing, life-changing experience for everyone. The kids did remarkable things that will blow adults away.”
Critics have accused CBS of taking advantage of the children, forcing them to work 17-hour long days and duping the parents. But Forman says he initially flew all of the parents to California, where they “spent days talking this through. We continued to talk it through for the next month. They totally understood what they were getting into.”
And not only parents, according to Forman: “I spent hours upon hours upon hours with the children, their parents, their teachers and their superintendents to make sure that everybody knew exactly what we were going to do.”
Addressing accusations that the kids were neglected, Forman adds, “There were doctors, EMTs, child psychologists, wilderness experts, counselors and hundreds of other adults there to make sure that they were not just doing OK, but great. They never had to step in because these kids are much smarter, much more capable and, frankly, more excited to prove a point to America than these outside critics and self-appointed protectors give them credit for.”
Moreover, he says, “I am frustrated by the people who would deny them that opportunity, because they deny what I saw them do.”
Forman also denies that he had singled out New Mexico because of the lenient child labor laws there, insisting that he chose the location only after traveling to four different states and looking for “a terrific place to make a TV show.” Shortly after production had ended, the state closed a federal loophole exempting TV and film productions from those laws.
The executive producer also tried to clarify a remark he made at TCA, in which he likened the show to a summer camp. It was in reference to the harsh conditions of his own experience at camp, he says—not a legal designation the production used in order to skirt labor laws, as was widely reported.
“They took part in an experience,” Forman says of the kids. “We followed them some of the time with cameras.”
While efforts are underway to start the casting process for a second season, Forman says he is waiting to see if the show performs well enough to even get a pickup for another installment.
But after all the criticism, and with most states having tough child labor laws in place, Forman could have a tough time with the logistics of another shoot.
While he is confident a location can be found that is “safe, ethical and within the bounds of the law,” Forman acknowledges, “we have a lot to figure out.”