Paul Petersen, best-known for playing Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show, has joined the growing chorus of outrage over CBS’ forthcoming reality series Kid Nation.
A longtime children’s-rights activist, Petersen says CBS violated child-labor laws when they put 40 kids, ages 8-15, in a New Mexican ghost town and filmed their efforts at self-government.
“Children working for 40 straight days … parents deliberately kept away, in the middle of the school year,” Petersen tells B&C. “It’s almost breathtaking the size of this travesty.”
Having endured his own travails as a child actor, Petersen, now 61, founded A Minor Consideration in 1990 to offer support to troubled child performers and lobby for protections against exploitation.
Beyond the legal issues, he also worries about potential damage from the media exposure: “Does anybody seriously think that, on Sept. 20, the day after Kid Nation pre-mieres, these 40 children are going to have a good and pleasant time at school?”
Given that CBS essentially asked for the controversy, isn’t Petersen playing into the network’s marketing scheme?
“Maybe I am,” he says. “Except that there are 40 real, live children involved. And if this ever comes to court—and it very well might—CBS is a drop-dead loser.”
Kid Nation Executive Producer Tom Forman calls the criticism “inaccurate and wildly premature” and denies there were labor violations. “[The kids] don’t have SAG cards,” he says. “They took part in an experience. We followed them some of the time with cameras.”
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