'Kid Nation' and CBS's State of Denial

Kids on the reality show
Kids on the reality show "Kid Nation" toiled away, but despite the show's controversy it drew only 9.4 million viewers. (Photos By Monty Brinton -- Cbs)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 21, 2007

After all the hand-wringing, all the chest-thumping, all the hair-tearing, just 9.4 million people tuned in to see the debut of CBS's controversial "Survivor: Kids" a.k.a. "Kid Nation."

For all the talk of precocious moppets left in the wilderness to forge their own society -- 40 kids, 40 days, no parents, blah, blah, blah -- the show played a lot like an episode of "Survivor" with producers (presumably adults) deciding which four kids would be the town council and telling the kids to divide themselves into four teams. The producers (still presumably adults) also decided the four teams would be arranged into social classes -- from the "upper class," who would work when they felt like it and be paid the most for their time, to "laborers," who'd be paid the least and do the grunt work -- that would be determined by how well each team did in a water-gathering challenge.

Much has been made of the circumstances under which this show was shot -- a kid accidentally drinking bleach from an unmarked soda bottle, other kids tasting the bleach to try to find out what was in the bottle, producers possibly dancing around child labor laws, etc. -- and what kind of parents would take their kids out of school for 40 days to be filmed up to 14 hours a day for the sake of making a CBS reality series? Did the parents of the show's 15-year-old thug Greg -- seen threatening younger kids, scrawling graffiti and generally making a nuisance of himself in the first episode -- really think this would help him get into Yale? (And, is it wrong that we hope he's the kid who swilled the bleach?)

Of Wednesday's opening crowd of 9.4 million, just 777,000 were kids between the ages of 2 and 11. Another 567,000 were teens 12 to 17. More than 4 million were 50 or older.

Another 4 million fell into the 18-49 age bracket that is the target demographic for advertisers. That, combined with the pilot episode's high rating on the cute-o-meter pretty much guarantees next week's episode will run with more advertising than this week's six minutes' worth -- "Kid Nation" didn't enjoy its first ad break until nearly 39 minutes into the fun.

CBS boasted "Kid Nation" won its 8 p.m. hour Wednesday (the debut actually ran about six minutes past the hour) in that golden 18-49 age bracket. It was also the most watched show in the hour among those adults 50 and older, which CBS forgot to mention.

CBS did, however, mention the reality series premiere won the time period among kids 2-11.

Sadly, this is not the case.

"Kid Nation" came in fourth in that age group.

Disney Channel won the hour among the 2-11 set, snagging 1.2 million of them with the Tom Green/Brooke Shields flick "Bob the Butler." That was closely followed by the 1.1 million kiddies who opted for Nickelodeon's combo comedies "Drake & Josh" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" in the hour. Then there was Cartoon Network, which snared 816,000 2-11-ers with "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy" and "Ed, Edd n Eddy."

Still, CBS did definitely young-up the time slot with "Kid Nation"; The median age of its audience was 46 years. Last year's show debuting in the hour, "Jericho," opened with a bigger audience -- nearly 12 million viewers -- but the median age was 52.6 years. Of course, it starred Gerald McRaney and Pamela Reed. Yes, I know -- and Skeet Ulrich.

Hey, file this under "Ironic": "Kid Nation" got beat in its first half-hour by Fox's new sitcom "Back to You," which clocked 9.5 million viewers. But the median age of the opening-night audience for that comedy, which stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, was nearly 51 years.

Yes, Fox skewed older than CBS at 8 o'clock Wednesday.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company