LOS ANGELES (AFP) — A "Lord of the Flies" reality television show that sees children left to fend for themselves in a ghost town made its much-hyped US premiere on Wednesday -- and was swiftly savaged by critics.
The groundbreaking program -- "Kid Nation" -- chronicles the fortunes of a group of 40 unsupervised children as they attempt to build a functioning society without adults in an abandoned New Mexico town.
The series has been compared to William Golding's classic novel about a group of children who crash land on a desert island and their subsequent struggle to survive.
News of the program, which was broadcast in a prime-time slot by network giant CBS, sparked a firestorm of controversy and calls for it to be cancelled on legal and ethical grounds.
In a notable snub to critics and television columnists, network chiefs prevented reviewers from watching advance screenings of the pilot episode.
Unsurprisingly, the show's initial reviews late Wednesday were mercilessly withering, with an influential entertainment daily branding it a "crime against television."
"Hopelessly derivative, shamelessly manipulative, and a bit of a mess," Variety opined, adding "creepy" for good measure.
"The manipulation here is so overt as to be almost laughable," the review said. "If this doesn't qualify as a crime against television nobody associated with it merits anything close to a Gold Star."
National newspaper USA Today meanwhile hailed the program as a triumph of hype over substance.
"The show turned out to be far more tepid than it's pre-show heat would have led you to believe," the paper noted on its website.
"Whatever dangers the kids on 'Nation' may have faced, the only risk posed to viewers ... was death by boredom."
Government officials in New Mexico, where the show was filmed, were last month reported to be probing whether labor laws may have been violated following allegations that children had been required to work 14-hour days.
One parent filed a complaint after her daughter suffered burns to the face in a kitchen accident, while other children were reported to have accidentally drunk bleach.
Series creator Tom Forman has denied the children in the show were mistreated.
"These kids were in good hands and were under good care with procedures and safety structures that arguably rival or surpass any school or camp in the country," Forman said in a statement.
Forman added that the children taking part "were not working; they were participating" and set their own hours.
The creators also said a team of psychologists, wildlife experts and medics were on-hand if needed throughout the shoot.
Children involved were paid 5,000 dollars each, according to reports, while some received financial rewards for challenges.
Several parents interviewed have insisted they were unaware that there was the potential for their children to win 20,000-dollar "gold stars" until after filming of the show was completed.
Critics have rounded on parents for signing waivers that stated the program "may expose the minor to conditions that may cause serious bodily injury, illness, or death, including drowning, falls from heights, encounters with wild or domestic animals, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and pregnancy."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »