If CBS had sent out the first episode of "Kid Nation" for review, it would have muted some of the debate about the show. Obviously, CBS did not want to mute the debate ... (some spoilers after the jump)
The controversy probably increased curiosity about the show, which premiered last night. It had gotten a lot of advance noise concerning whether the children on the show had been treated properly, whether laws had been circumvented, whether manipulation was the order of the day.
I think we're all cynical enough to recognize that manipulation is part of most reality shows. The bride and I watched the premiere of "America's Next Top Model" last night, and it feels thoroughly manipulative. We still watch, of course, but at least there are no illusions.
"Kid Nation," though, felt even more exploitative because its main characters are so young and so seemingly in difficulty.
But, based on the premiere telecast, the show's makers recognize that kids have to be treated differently. In the first challenge, for example, it not only rewarded the individual teams, it included a group reward so even the last-place team could make a contribution to the group's overall success; that meant that even the last-place team was cheered on by the other kids. And the gold-star, $20,000 reward is certainly a good way to keep the contestants wanting to achieve, instead of backbiting. I even liked the way the kid who dropped out was praised as he departed.
That said, it's still a reality show. Conflict will happen, and we've seen arguments -- not to mention the notorious Blue Team Chalk Raid! -- with more promised in the promo for next week. And it is eerie at times to hear young people talking as if they have listened very closely to the players on "Survivor." But even as things seemed on the verge of collapse, the kids found a way to get back together. And if the first episode is indicative of what's ahead, "Kid Nation" may prove that young people are better at living together than their adult reality-TV counterparts.
I don't know if I will watch again, but I won't mind doing so. But one of the things working against my watching is CBS's manipulating not the kids, but the audience. As I said, it could have calmed the waters just by making the premiere more widely available. Instead, it took the publicity.