The Most Kid-Exploiting Moments in TV
By Bruce Haring Posted Dec 26th 2009 09:30AM
It's the most wonderful time of the year, television reminds us, and as many say, the holidays are all about the kids -- a time when families gather in the spirit of the season to renew ties, exchange gifts and reminisce about the good ol' days. At least in most cases. In some families, the gathering is a reminder that the children's growing-up years were filled with TV cameras capturing their magic moments merely for the edification of an entertainment-starved public and/or a healthy hunk of money. As we sit back and imagine future family gatherings of the 'Jon & Kate Plus 8' clan and their therapists, lawyers and court-appointed guardians, let us look back at some of the other most child and teen-exploiting shows in the history of the tube.
Octomom's TV special: Billed as 'Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage,' the Fox (of course) program examined the day-to-day mi vida loca of Nadya Suleman and her 14-strong brood, eight of them infants. Predictably filled with crying and minor drama from Nadya, the show was better than a chastity belt for anyone contemplating unprotected sex or out-of-wedlock fertilization. The fact that Fox aired this program in August, a graveyard for TV viewing, tells you everything you need to know.
CBS' 'Kid Nation': Just seeing the preview for this should have been enough to call up child services. A reality show that featured 40 children ages 8 to 15 trying to form their own society in a New Mexico ghost town, failing miserably despite long hours of arduous work and emotional stress. At least 'Lord of the Flies,' its literary role model, held your interest. To avoid withering criticism, CBS nixed standard practice and did not hold screenings to preview the show. It still bombed and spawned more outrage than viewers ... and lasted just one season.
'Bindi, The Jungle Girl': The daughter of the late Steve Irwin does a miniature version of his animal-teasing shtick, avoiding the really dangerous things like dancing with crocodiles while holding a baby (as Irwin Sr. notoriously did). Most of the time it's head-scratchingly bad television, causing us to wonder if the adorable Bindi had any say in whether or not to make the show.
'Zoey 101' – The star vehicle for Jamie Lynn Spears, sister of Britney, until her untimely pregnancy made her continued appearance as a fresh-faced role model untenable. While teen pregnancies have been with us since B.C., this one raised more than a few questions, mainly because TV shows have many people in charge of keeping the health, safety and morals of their young stars on track. Further controversy ensued when someone raised the point that Spears was under 16 at conception, the age of consent in California, which then required a court adjudication to clear her long-time boyfriend of potential statutory rape charges. Good times.
Diff'rent Strokes – The show that gave Gary Coleman stardom, 'Diff'rent Strokes'' -- a show meant to break racial boundaries and champion good deeds -- is now sadly burdened with the erratic private lives of its former child stars. A court found that Coleman was defrauded by his own parents of millions in earnings from the show, while co-stars Todd Bridges (many serious arrests, including an attempted murder charge that saw him bailed out by OJ attorney Johnny Cochran) and Dana Plato (soft-core porn star who died from a prescription drug overdose) fared little better.
MTV – There's always something to criticize about a channel that has produced the most influential cultural programming of the last three decades. So a Lifetime Achievement award seems in order for such socially unredeeming fare as its annual 'Spring Break' package (which taught the world that the only correct response to a camera is "whooooo!"), "The Ashlee Simpson Show" (a stark lesson that goodness has nothing to do with it) and, most recently, "Jersey Shore," which makes virtue out of knuckle-draggers' vices. To MTV's credit, 'Jersey' is full of 21+ castmembers, so (sadly) that show doesn't apply here ... but there's plenty more kid-baiting to choose from. We think '16 and Pregnant' will suffice, and yes, it took every ounce of restraint to not go off on 'My Super Sweet 16' here, as it's just too easy. Low hanging fruit, my friends, is never tasty.
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