Parallels between reality shows and patriarchal families are striking and dismaying. The Duggar family was strangely off the grid while on camera, recording movies and TV shows in a workplace with no state records whatsoever. Paul Petersen is an advocate for young performers. What he writes about reality shows could also describe the patriarchal movement, with its “family economy” and home schooling. Petersen wrote the following for Ethics Alarms in 2010:
“Education is mandatory in America, but set-teachers are not part of the production crew in reality show production. Age-appropriate time limits are a commonplace feature on union productions using kids, but not on reality shows. Financial remuneration (a salary) is an accepted part of all television production, but not with reality shows. Court-approved contracts are a reality for all minors employed on long-running series, and in California, the Coogan Accounts are mandatory. If you pretend that kids in reality shows are just ‘participants,’ all the rules go out the window… and with them, any semblance of responsibility and accountability.” Link: http://ethicsalarms.com/2010/09/20/guest-commentary-when-children-work-a-dialogue/#more-3040 )
Since 1938, child actors have been exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act. Petersen maintains that producers deliberately move reality TV productions to jurisdictions where child labor laws either do not exist or are not enforced. He asserts that children have less legal protection than performing animals.
Guest presenter Candy Palmater recently interviewed Petersen on CBC Radio’s popular show “Q.” Petersen went over the shocking basics: reality TV shows offer uniquely little protection for children. Youngsters on shows such as “Nineteen Kids and Counting” do not, by law, receive a pay check for appearing on the broadcasts. Adults are considered to be working, but children are not. Beyond this, Petersen said, “There are no provisions for mandatory education, the presence of a studio teacher, there are no provisions for limited work hours, automatic set-asides for the money. I mean, it’s absurd.”
“The professional kid actors generally come into the industry with years of training” and other traits that make them interesting to watch. “They can sing, they can dance. It’s the Shirley Temple model,” explained Petersen, who played Jeff Stone on “The Donna Reed Show.” “But reality kids, they’re just thrown in front of the camera. And that camera, as we saw on ‘Jon and Kate Plus Eight,’ might be in the bathroom or in the bedroom.”
Not everyone sees the problems that Petersen points out. On the CBC broadcast, Brant Pinvidic, a reality TV show developer, claimed that, unlike children on scripted shows, reality TV kids do not do a “job” with lines, instructions, and a schedule. “In reality [TV], they’re sort of doing what they normally do in their normal life, and they’re being captured in certain areas,” says Pinvidic, who helped to launch “Jon & Kate Plus 8” when he was senior vice president of programming and development at TLC. “The demands of a kid in a family reality show are very, very light.” As current president of Eyeworks USA, Pinvidic has demonstrated a creative range all the way from “Extreme Weight Loss” to the first-ever “Kitten Bowl.”
Petersen refuted Pinvidic’s argument that the children do not work. “There are take twos. There are do-overs. There are advertisements. There are promotions to cut. If it doesn’t look right, they go to the writers—the <i>uncredited</i> writers that are employed on these shows,” Petersen says. “Look, these things are designed. We’re not fools out here. And just ask yourself this question: what happens when you turn a camera onto the fans at, say, a soccer stadium or a baseball game? Their behavior changes. That’s just the truth. The presence of a camera alters reality.”
It is dismaying, but hardly surprising, that Jim Bob Duggar echoes the view of industry kingpin Pinvidic. In a Los Angeles Times article in 2010, Duggar commented about his own franchise: “The appeal of the show is its observational approach to our daily routine, which is the same with or without the cameras.” (Link: “Reality Kids Don’t Have a Safety Net,” by Matea Gold and Richard Verrier, 26 June 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/26/entertainment/la-et-reality-kids-20100627 )
Petersen’s retort to this attitude, delivered on the CBC: “This is a business. They don’t call it ‘show fun.’”
Pinvidic asserted that privacy no longer exists, because children have willingly given it away. “In today’s world, in the 2015-2016 world, the privacy in their own home is irrelevant to anybody in that millennial generation. It’s just not something they think of, they consider, and they certainly don’t value it,” he said on the CBC, citing youngsters’ enthusiastic embrace of Instagram and Facebook.
Petersen’s retort: “This is not normal. … These children, without training, without demonstrating any particular performing traits, are being thrown into this voracious machine that just eats people up. My God, how many times do we have to see this?”
A Minor Consideration threw its weight behind successful efforts to improve working conditions for child performers in California and Pennsylvania—the latter in reaction to “Jon & Kate Plus 8.” The organization is currently working in three more states. “Foremost among them is Arkansas, where ‘19 Kids and Counting’ has been taped, although it’s out of production now. But we’re still after North Carolina, which has had a very checkered history,” Petersen said on CBC.
In Pennsylvania, where Petersen’s organization fought for compensation changes to help young cast members. Discovery made $200 million in profits, with precisely no money earmarked for the children at the center of the show.
Petersen does not advocate a complete ban on children in reality TV shows, but he believes that children should be both protected and compensated. Because of lax laws and poor enforcement, these children are often deprived of an education and a reasonable work schedule.
“Look at ‘19 Kids & Counting.’ Ninety percent of your cast as being unpaid. Labor costs are the floor of business. You reduce your labor costs, you make more profits,” Petersen said on CBC.
Q page about Petersen/Pinvidic show: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-tuesday-july-7-2015-1.3140425/kids-don-t-belong-on-reality-tv-says-former-child-star-1.3140439
Paul Petersen wrote this article: http://ethicsalarms.com/2010/09/20/guest-commentary-when-children-work-a-dialogue/#more-3040
A 2009 interview with Petersen (not cited above): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvepzwkzDi4
Petersen on reality TV kids: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/26/entertainment/la-et-reality-kids-20100627
New Minor Consideration site: http://aminorconsideration.org/amc-history/
Arkansas letter to Irene Smith: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=981518975203241&set=p.981518975203241&type=1
Minor Consideration Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/minorcon?hc_location=timeline
Brant Pinvidic profile: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/eyeworks-usa-promotes-brant-pinvidic-648275
Pinvidic profile: http://summit.realscreen.com/2015/speakers/887742/brantpinvidic/
Brant Pinvidic filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1803480/
Propinqua is the Latin word for neighboring or nearby (singular feminine adjective). It is used in law and philosophy, and in the scientific names of plants and animals, such as the native bee Osmia lignaria propinqua.
Read our hate mail at Jerks 4 Jesus