LOS ANGELES: Hollywood unions are adding to the furor around CBS' controversial new reality show Kid Nation, set to debut September 19, by criticizing conditions and advocating changes to how reality TV shows treat their members.
Critics alleged that CBS treated the kids who are the show's stars poorly and questioned whether the network followed all applicable child labor laws in production.
CBS did not return calls seeking comment, but has said that no changes are expected in the show. The network has maintained that it broke no laws during filming, and has made some parents and children who took part in the show available to the media to defend it.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) seized upon the hubbub to bolster its ongoing push to make reality TV shows treat writers the same way that fictional shows do.
"We're concerned with the issues that exist on most reality shows, and [have been] campaigning on those conditions for a couple of years," said WGA assistant executive director Jeff Hermanson.
The WGA is in the middle of protracted contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers over many issues, including the debate over how to classify writers working on reality shows.
The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the union most active on Kid Nation's set, has launched an investigation into the conditions on the show. Additionally, the Screen Actors Guild last week released a statement supportive of that investigation, saying it was "shocked at recent reports regarding the treatment and exploitation of children on the set."
Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said that the controversy may actually end up boosting ratings for CBS.
"These things are... described, deliberately, to cause controversy," he said, "so that people like you and I will become accidental deputies to the promo department."