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Alec and Hilaria Baldwin accused of potentially exploiting their kids for new reality TV show

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As gossip site TMZ said, it’s “bizarre” enough that Alec Baldwin announced Tuesday that he, his wife and seven young children will star in a new TLC reality TV show about their hectic family life, weeks before he faces trial for involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

After all, Baldwin could face a prison sentence if convicted, which no doubt could delay filming for his new family-based reality TV show, TMZ said.

But beyond the strange timing of this announcement, there also is the way that this career move for him and his influencer wife, Hilaria Baldwin, reeks of desperation and potentially sets their children on a course in the entertainment world that has a troubled history of exploitation and of psychological harm.

“Find me an adult who was on a reality show as a child and says it was good for their mental and physical health. Does not exist,” one person wrote on Alec Baldwin’s Instagram post announcing that the family show, “The Baldwins,” is coming in 2025.

“Please don’t do this to your kids,” the person said.

US actor Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin arrive for the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on May 18, 2023. This year’s gala, hosted by US comedian Colin Jost, is honoring Canadian writer and producer Lorne Michaels. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images) 

Someone else noted that Alec and Hilaria Baldwin often complain about paparazzi photographing them and their children when they leave their New York City apartment.

“You have always disliked the attention your kids get from the cameras on the street,” the person wrote. “This is about to multiply beyond imagination.”

Dr. Drew Pinsky, the famed internist and addiction specialist, is no stranger to exploiting people’s real-life dramas for entertainment with “Celebrity Rehab.” But even he has expressed grave concerns about the use of children in the voyeuristic medium of reality TV.

“Children can’t give informed consent by definition, only the parents can do that — and reality shows generally don’t cast adults who have the highest level of mental health,” Pinsky said somewhat presciently, in a 2009 interview with The Wrap. “They are severe narcissists who are obsessed with celebrity.”

Alec and Hilaria Baldwin’s many vocal critics would say that the couple qualify as narcissists. For several months, the 66-year-old “30 Rock” star has teased the possibly doing a reality TV show about the ups and downs of his harried existence with his many late-in-life children, ages 19 months to 10 years.

Such a show also fits in with the professional aspirations of his attention-seeking wife, Hilaria Baldwin. The 40-year-old influencer tried to forge a lucrative career as a lifestyle and parenting expert, with journalist Jo Piazza writing in 2020 that she became known for her “overtly confessional” Instagram posts about her pregnancies and being a mom to multiple children.

However, Hilaria Baldwin’s life-style influencer career got derailed when she was embroiled in a scandal over damning evidence that she spent more than a decade faking a Spanish accent and identity.

The couple’s once prominent perch atop the New York media and celebrity world was further upset when Baldwin was involved in the fatal shooting on the set of “Rust.” The actor said the shooting and his ongoing prosecution has hurt his ability to get hired for film or TV projects, jobs he presumably needs to pay his hefty legal bills and to support his very large family.

Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in Santa Fe, N.M., after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film “Rust” on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP) (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via Associated Press)

For a while amid Alec Baldwin’s personal and professional crisis, his wife continued a longstanding practice of posting multiple images almost daily of their children, including potentially private content about their family’s home life and their children acting out and looking sad or distressed. Although Hilaria Baldwin’s posts have subsided somewhat in the months leading to her husband’s July trial in New Mexico, she still has seemed eager to turn their children into featured performers in a Baldwin family show.

Now that show is going to happen on TV, according to the couple. In the sizzle reel shared on Baldwin’s Instagram, the “Boss Baby” actor promised to invite audiences “into our home to experience the ups and downs, the good, the bad, the wild and the crazy.”

Their children together are Ilaria Catalina Irena, María Lucía Victoria, Eduardo “Edu” Pao Lucas, Romeo Alejandro David, Leonardo Ángel Charles, Rafael Thomas, and Carmen Gabriela. Baldwin also said, “Home is the place we love to be most.”

However, “The Baldwins” is going to air on a network that has a history of producing child-centric reality TV shows, some of which have have raised serious questions about potential well-being and safety of their young stars. TLC, after all, is the home of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” “Dance Moms” and the Duggar Family’s “19 Kids and Counting.”

Such shows have faced criticism for forcing children to live their lives on camera from a young age and for potentially showing them in private situations that might leave them feeling exploited or embarrassed when they are older. Similar to the offspring of influencer parents who over-share about their children’s lives on social media, reality TV children also have to go about their daily lives, expecting to being recorded.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Carmen Gabriela Baldwin, Alec Baldwin, Rafael Thomas Baldwin and Hilaria Baldwin attend
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 20: Carmen Gabriela Baldwin, Alec Baldwin, Rafael Thomas Baldwin and Hilaria Baldwin attend “The Boss Baby” New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on March 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images) 

In both influencer and reality TV situations, children end up playing “versions of themselves” for an audience of thousands or even millions of strangers, according to Leah Plunkett, a University of New Hampshire law professor and author of the book “Sharentood.”

In the process, children can be deprived of private time and space to play, to get into mischief and to make mistakes, Plunkett told this news organization in 2021. Plunkett said playing is necessary for kids’ growth and to achieve “agency and autonomy.”

Another issue with reality TV is that children are basically being put to work by their parents without their consent and with no legal protections, according to sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman in a 2022 essay for Psychology Today.

Since 1939, children who are “performing” in movies or on TV shows have largely been protected by what’sknown as Coogan’s Law, Friedman reported in her essay. This California law ensures that 15% of a child performer’s earnings be placed in a blocked trust account until they become adults. Coogan’s Law also has provisions that protects child performers’ welfare in other ways, such as limiting the time they spend on sets and requiring that they attend school.

But children on reality TV don’t qualify for these same child-labor protections because they are not recognized as “performers,” Friedman said. One reason for this anomaly, Friedman said, is due to “a contractual nuance.” For reality TV shows, children don’t receive contracts separate from their parents, she explained. The child effectively becomes a “bonus character” by proxy of the parent, and, thus, the child is not afforded full legal protection like other working minors.

The potential exploitation of children on reality TV was illustrated in the case of the Duggar family. “Shining Happy People,” a documentary on the Duggar family, revealed the abuse and mistreatment that some of the Duggar offspring endured during their time on the show. One of the oldest siblings, Jill Duggar Dillard, also explained that she and her siblings were never paid for their work on the show.

Maddie Ziegler, the child star of “Dance Moms,” also came forward in a 2022 interview to talk about the dark side of being the 8-year-old star of a  reality TV show. Besides missing 50 days of school one year and often staying up past midnight to learn new dance moves, Ziegler also told Cosmopolitan that she was pushed by producers to adopt the persona of a “brat” on the show and in interviews.

“I was just doing whatever they told me to do because I thought that’s what you did,” she said. She also felt the pressure of being known as the girl who “always wins.” Then, when she didn’t win, she would have to live out the agony of her defeat on camera, when it felt like “the end of the world.”

Pinsky agreed that reality TV shows can “open the kids to a level of public scrutiny, of shame and of failure,” which most children are not equipped to deal with at such a young age.

Of course, fans of Alec and Hilaria Baldwin and of their seven “Baldwinitos” are delighted about the promise of getting a intimate look into the dynamics of this unusual and high-profile family.

“This is so exciting! I can’t wait,” one person said. “This is going to be fabulous!!!” said another, while yet another person posted a heart emoji and said, “Can’t wait to tune in and see your beautiful family!”

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