BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – "Kid Nation," a CBS reality series that gives 40 children free rein in an uninhabited town, protected the youngsters physically and emotionally during filming, the show's producer said Wednesday.
The series, in which youngsters age 8 to 15 spend more than a month without parents and with responsibility for their daily lives, is scheduled to premiere Sept. 19.
At a Television Critics Association panel, executive producer Tom Forman was peppered with questions about how the children's well-being was safeguarded — and whether viewers would be interested in a show about kids in power.
The audience will discover they're watching "incredible people. ... They're young, but wise beyond their years, doing things you never could imagine," Forman said. There was no sex or drugs, he said in response to a later question.
As for the effect on the children, Forman said that "almost to a one" they consider it a highlight of their lives.
"I exchange e-mails with every one of these kids and they're doing just great," he said.
Asked if he set the show in New Mexico because a loophole in its labor laws made the production possible, Forman said that was incorrect.
The trade magazine TV Week reported July 15 that the show declared the production a "summer camp" instead of a place of employment and took advantage of a now-changed provision in the state's labor rules.
The state was picked because it had "the right location" and attorneys subsequently found no legal issues in shooting there, Forman said. The uninhabited town, Bonanza City, is about 20 minutes outside of Santa Fe.
Pressed as to whether the show could have been shot in another state such as California, Forman replied, "I don't think so, no." But he said that the issue was "less child labor laws than labor laws."
CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told reporters the network expected the show to create buzz.
"There are aspirational elements to the show, absolutely. But in order for a reality show ... to really get out there and change the landscape of television, you have to sort of stir public debate," Tassler said. "We know we're going to create some controversy."
The children were safe at all times, she said.
"You had nutritionists. You had paramedics. You had psychologists. You had a full support staff around to make sure ... as we like to say on "Survivor," they really weren't alone on the island," Tassler said.