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CBS Snubs Critics in Favor of Kids in 'Kid Nation' Screening

On CBS's controversial new show
On CBS's controversial new show "Kid Nation," Brett watches as Colton milks the goat while Guylan holds the animal. (By Monty Brinton -- Cbs)

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By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CBS stuck out its tongue at TV critics this week when it declined to send them advance copies of its controversial new reality series "Kid Nation," but screened the episode for hundreds of children in some of the country's biggest TV markets. Reporters from local TV stations -- all owned by CBS -- then interviewed the kids to promote tonight's series debut on their evening newscasts.

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Critics have been howling since mid-July about the show, in which the producers found parents willing to take their precocious overachieving moppets, ages 8 to 15, out of school for 40 days to forge their own "society" in a New Mexico movie-set town. Critics were particularly knicker-knotted to read, in a July story on the Web site of trade publication TV Week, that the producers may have thwarted child labor laws by calling the production a sort of summer-camp-with-cameras, shooting up to 14 hours a day without the kids' parents present. Reports that four children had accidentally drunk bleach from an unmarked soda bottle didn't sit well with them either, though CBS said that there were medical professionals on the set at all times and that no child was seriously injured.

Now, CBS once again has put children to work, to plug the reality series in which children were put to work to create ratings and sell cars and pharmaceuticals.

"What a great end-run this is," quipped Joanne Ostrow, TV critic at the Denver Post, who last month wrote that "Kid Nation" "is potentially more grievous than the vicariously disgusting sight of people eating larvae on a dare, and even possibly worse than seeing 20-something housemates drinking, coupling and unraveling on the air."

Denver is one of the markets in which the "Kid Nation" screenings were held -- in Denver's case, at a private school, involving fifth- through eighth-graders who are members of the school's press club. "Little TV critic wannabes," Ostrow joked.

Screenings also were held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- the nation's three biggest TV markets -- as well as Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and Minneapolis. One of the stations interviewed a local child psychologist; that interview was offered to the other stations.

Before the "news" segment aired on the Denver CBS station, Ostrow told The TV Column the station's publicist advised her the younger kids at the screening liked the show better than the older ones, who thought it was "cheesy."

Contacted yesterday by The TV Column, CBS said in a statement that opting not to send review episodes to critics was "for both marketing reasons and to protect the outcome of the episode and is not the first time it's been done by a network."

The network also noted "Kid Nation" "has received a tremendous amount of criticism from those who have not seen a stitch of film."

CBS's indignation over the media uproar is something of a head-scratcher, given that the network said it was courting controversy with this series. In fact, at the Summer TV Press Tour in July, CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler told those critics in re "Kid Nation," "We knew we were going to create some controversy." She also said, "For a reality show to really get out there and change the landscape of television, you have to stir public debate."

Promos for "Kid Nation" that ran on the Washington CBS station Monday night featured Voiceover Guy boasting, " 'Kid Nation' is the most talked-about series of the fall. You've heard so many opinions about this show. Anticipation has been building all summer long. Now it's time to judge for yourself."

* * *

One day after the Primetime Emmy Awards broadcast got sacked by a blowout football game on NBC, plunging to its second smallest audience on record, Emmy-hosting Fox network issued a ratings news release calling it "another quiet end-of-summer week for all networks."

Here's a look at the week's stuff and nonsense:

WINNERS

"The Closer." TNT's chick-cop drama set a record for a series telecast on ad-supported cable when more than 9 million viewers tuned in to its season finale Monday at 9.

"Biggest Loser 4." The NBC fat-farm series's season debut attracted nearly 8 million viewers Tuesday, which doesn't sound hefty but is nonetheless beefier than last year's opening audience of 7.2 mil.

"My Boys." TBS ordered more episodes of its sports-columnist-chick series even though last week's episode logged 1.3 million viewers in its initial outing.

"Psych." USA Network ordered another season of its crime comedy, which snagged about 4 million viewers Friday at 10.

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." The FX series's third-season debut garnered 2.3 million viewers Thursday at 10. Doesn't sound like much, but its second season opened with just 1.6 million tuned in.

LOSERS

Primetime Emmy Awards. Just under 13 million viewers watched Fox's tribute to HBO's "The Sopranos" and Tony Bennett . . . er, the Primetime Emmy Awards. Sunday's three-hour-ish trophy show, in which a Bennett special mopped up three wins and Bennett himself performed, while "The Sopranos" received two long tributes and snagged the best-drama statuette, got blitzed by the New England Patriots' routing of the San Diego Chargers, which aired at the same time in much of the country and snagged more than 15 million fans. It's the second smallest Primetime Emmy audience on record, behind only the 1990 trophy-cast on Fox, which was not even a seven-day-a-week network back then.

"Nashville." Fox's reality series nabbed only 2.7 million in its Friday unveiling, the second smallest fall premiere on a Big Four network in people-meter history, dating back to 1987.

The week's 10 most watched prime-time programs, in order, were: NBC's Sunday football; Fox's Emmy Awards telecast; CBS's "60 Minutes"; ESPN's Monday Bengals-Ravens game; CBS's "Two and a Half Men" and "Without a Trace"; TNT's "The Closer"; CBS's Thursday "Big Brother" and "CSI: N.Y."; and ESPN's Monday 49ers-Cardinals game.


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