Jeff Vrabel: The things parents will do these days to get their kids on TV

Jeff Vrabel

Perhaps the best thing that could be said about the reality television genre is that though it's turned tone-deaf arthropods into arena-packing superstars, forced people to consume highly unpleasant pig parts, offered plastic surgery as the prize for something, made pirates boring somehow, arranged a number of horrifying novelty marriages (several involving midgets), put Paris Hilton on a farm, provided the chance to watch Flavor Flav and that goon from Poison try to get chicks and posited televised bingo as entertainment, it has yet to actually violate any known child-labor laws, or try to scratch a whole series of Scott Baio trying to find a girlfriend. Wait, there's a Scott Baio show now? AAUGH. Amazing.

Well, theoretically that would leave the child-labor thing, but even that will change on Sept. 19, when CBS airs "Kid Nation," a reality series in which children ages 8-15 are all forced to live together on a deserted tropical island after a plane crash. Throughout the show's run, the children forge crude tribes but inevitably fall victim to the instinctual savagery buried in the subconscious of all humans and end up acting out an allegory that debates the value of democratic ideals versus that of authoritarian rule.

Ha! Just kidding, of course: That was the plot from "Lord of the Flies," which no one reads anymore because books are lengthy and stupid, and reality television does a much more efficient job imparting wisdom about the human condition anyway (I'm looking forward to seeing which ones "Kid Nation" imparts, although I imagine most will involve Hannah Montana).

I may have to wait, though, as it turns out that "Kid Nation" may not debut at all, because it turns out that kids aren't like regular actors, except Macaulay Culkin and the "Super Freak" girl from "Little Miss Sunshine." Apparently some people -- hippies, the French and Ed Begley Jr., mostly -- have voiced concerns about using young children as televised fodder for profit, largely because these people hate American freedoms. Let us instead get the true story from someone important in the television business!

“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,” CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said in July. “We know we’re going to create some controversy. ... But I think the whole objective was to get out there, do something different, and try and reach out and have people talk about the show, which is what’s happening.” Well, either "the show" or the "soul-crushing exploitation of children in the interest of promoting bargain-bin television." Whichever, really.

Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico, where the series was shot, for instance, is investigating whether their state's labor laws were followed; meanwhile, a few of the kids accidentally gulped down a little bleach, one kid sprained an arm and another endured a quick burn from hot grease.

This last bit doesn't so much concern me, frankly. I have a 3-year-old at home, and there's just one of him, and if I've learned anything in the past few years it's that it's entirely possible for a 35-pound human to eat his weight in snack pepperoni, but also that regular, mild-mannered children can spot-morph into groundbreaking scientists when it comes to discovering ways to injure themselves; in the span of 30 minutes last weekend my son clanged his skull into a countertop and somehow managed to hurt his foot falling down while endeavoring to apply a pair of underpants. Frankly a little grease-burn probably wouldn't make him turn off "Cars."

But the difference between me and the parents in "Kid Nation" is that to my knowledge I've never signed a document absolving a large national network of blame in case Jake, say, ate a pound and a half of thumbtacks. Head over to TheSmokingGun.com -- boy, just when you think that site can't get any more awesome, it GETS MORE AWESOME -- to find the contract in which parents agree not to sue CBS over anything that might befall their kids -- including death. DEATH! The show, the funnier-as-it-goes-along document states, is "inherently dangerous" and might expose their adorable tots to "uncontrolled hazards and conditions that may cause serious bodily injury, illness or death." DEATH! AGAIN! There's also a delightful confidentiality agreement that carries a $5 million penalty, and a waiver of liability if any of the kids pick up an STD, which I am not kidding about.

For their trouble, each kid was paid $5,000, which is the new amount of money you can answer when someone asks you what people will pay to get their kids on TV. Frankly, I'd just save the time and energy and teach Jake to sing really badly.

Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer who's just mad that he missed the casting call for "Pirate Master." He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com.