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Ratings Malaise of TV's Kid Nation "Encouraging" to Prof. Jeff McCall '76

November 2, 2007

Jeff McCall 2006.jpgNovember 2, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - "Congratulations to the viewing public for telling CBS that Americans don't appreciate a network exploiting kids for crass financial gain," writes Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication, in today's Providence Journal. "The controversial, misguided and misleading CBS show Kid Nation premiered in mid-September with modest ratings, but in subsequent weeks, the public has rightfully turned away from the show, sending the ratings into the tank."

Dr. McCall suggests the program "may just be suffering from the Katie Couric effect -- unable to meet lofty expectations created from an over-hyped build-up. More likely, however, is that the public is telling CBS that exploitation of children aged 8-15 in a contrived and bizarre spectacle is bad television, and worse ethically." cbs logo.jpg

The author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences continues, "This show lost its moral compass while on the drawing board. Imagine you are a parent, and somebody offers you $5,000 to rent your kid for six weeks. You would call the cops. But that is precisely what CBS did with the 40 kids who joined Kid Nation. To get around child-labor laws in New Mexico, the site of Kid Nation, CBS called the operation a summer camp. The show was shot last spring when kids would otherwise have been in school."

Treatment of participants aside, McCall asserts, "The premise that the kids would run their own town is completely disabled by constant adult manipulation." The 1976 DePauw graduate adds, "As you would expect if this were television fiction, the kids are characterized and labeled into roles that make for the most drama. One kid is portrayed as bossy, another as lazy and irresponsible, another as a tough guy, another as a nerd, and the floppy-haired kid, of course, is the McCall Book Viewer Discretion.jpgphilosopher. The problem is that this show is not dealing with fake characters. This show is dealing with the lives of real kids. The kid who chose to leave Kid Nation early on will forever be the quitter in the dramatic machination of CBS. The 10-year-old girl who broke down in tears after being scolded and ridiculed by her peers will forever live with that very real humiliation in front of a national audience. The tough kid's foul-mouthed outbursts, which thankfully were largely bleeped, might not be so funny when he looks back."

It is the professor's hope that CBS will cut its losses and cancel its plans for Kid Nation 2. McCall declares, "To see the public turning away from irresponsible programming such as Kid Nation is encouraging for all who want higher-quality television. American viewers have power. Public outcry persuaded NBC to cancel the ill-conceived Book of Daniel after just four episodes in 2006. A year ago, an angry public scared FOX network away from ever broadcasting the ridiculous offering of If I Did It, a planned two-part special about O.J. Simpson.

As he writes in his book, Jeff McCall states in the Rhode Island newspaper, TV Set Dart.jpg"More viewer activism is needed to hold network executives accountable for the way they warp American culture. As consumers, Americans are great at demanding better service at restaurants, but when it comes to the media, we too often fail to voice our opinions. American media can only improve when the public speaks up and gets the attention of network executives in their sheltered board-rooms in New York and Los Angeles."

Access the column in its entirety at College News.org.

On October 12, Professor McCall discussed the issue of cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court on Court TV Morning with Vinnie Politan, which airs on the Sirius satellite network. Learn more in this article.

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