Who's watching the kids? No one until the premiere

Critics can't preview CBS' 'Nation'

One of the most talked-about new series, CBS' "Kid Nation," will not be reviewed by critics before it premieres Wednesday.

The network has opted not to send out screeners for the reality series, in which 40 children spend 40 days in a formerly deserted New Mexico mining town.

On the feature film side, it's a common practice for studios to bypass critics by not holding screenings when they fear a new release will be panned.

"But it is comparatively rare in TV, where, I can personally testify, even the worst premiere episodes get sent to critics," said Dave Walker, president of the Television Critics Assn. and a critic at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

He said CBS' no-screener policy for "Kid Nation" looks like a way "to duck even more negative advance publicity."

"Given the controversies that have already surfaced about this series, it appears to be both pre-emptive and last-gasp damage control, and it won't work," Walker said.

In the past couple of months, "Kid Nation" has raised questions about whether labor laws were violated during production and whether the children, ages 8-15, were properly supervised. Investigations were launched by New Mexico authorities and AFTRA.

Despite the controversy, sources within CBS said that not sending out advance screeners to critics was part of the marketing strategy for the reality series and not an attempt by the network to hide it to avoid bad publicity. (The first episode already has been screened for advertisers.)

It is a marketing tool that CBS also used in 2000 for the first installment of "Survivor," which also created a stir in the weeks leading to the premiere because of its premise of marooning people on a deserted island.

"Without question, the controversy has created a lot of curiosity, which can be a marketing advantage," a CBS spokesman said Friday. "We like the show. We firmly believe that the most important opinion of 'Kid Nation' lies with the viewing public, and we look forward to them seeing it Wednesday night."
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