A New Game Show Scandal?

In last week’s Show Spotlight I wrote about ABC’s short-lived game show, 100 Grand, which ran for just three weeks at the start of the 1963-1964 season. It was the first quiz show to premiere following the fabled “quiz show scandals” of the late 1950s. It was said to be “rig proof” and maybe it was. It certainly wasn’t any fun to watch, apparently.

Now, some five decades after Charles Van Doren testified in front of Congress, The New York Times reports that the Federal Communications Commission is apparently investigating whether an potential contestants on an unaired FOX game show were given answers. The show in question is called Our Little Genius. It was supposed to premiere on Wednesday, January 13th following American Idol but was withdrawn by Mark Burnett the previous week due to “an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the preproduction,” according to a January 7th article in The New York Times.

According to today’s article in The New York Times, a letter was sent to the FCC on December 17th, 2009 by the parent of a potential contestant on Our Little Genius:

The letter alleges that a few days before a planned taping, a member of the program’s production staff reviewed with the contestant and his parents a list of potential topics and gave specific answers to at least four questions that the child either did not know or about which he was unsure.


For example, the letter states that when the child said that he didn’t know the British system of naming musical notes, he was told by the production staff member the names of four specific notes that “he needed to know,” including semibreve for whole note, crotchet for quarter note and quaver for eighth note. “He told us that it was very important to know that the hemidemisemiquaver is the British name for the sixty-fourth note,” the letter says.

For privacy reasons, the F.C.C. redacted the names of the author of the letter and the child contestant. The letter states that the child went to the studio for a taping on Dec. 8, but after a meeting with an attorney for Mark Burnett Productions, at which one of the child’s parents raised issues about some of the planned questions and the contest’s rules, the child’s appearance on the show was canceled.

The article explains the FCC (which apparently never confirms or denies its investigations) will attempt to determine whether contestants or potential contestants were actually given answers, which is illegal. As set forth in the Communications Act of 1934, it is unlawful “to supply to any contestant in a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill any special and secret assistance whereby the outcome of such contest will be in whole or in part prearranged or predetermined.”

Will 2010 be known as the year the second quiz show scandals began? I doubt it.

3 Replies to “A New Game Show Scandal?”

  1. I’m certain what remains of “OUR LITTLE GENIUS” will certainly never be telecast- not with a pending F.C.C. investigation. There may not be another “quiz show scandal” from this aborted program, but keep in mind that Fox had a previous fallout and scandal from other game show, “WHO WANTS TO MARRY A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE?”, 10 years ago (who could forget Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger? I HAVE!!!).

  2. Barry, I can’t get the stink of “MULTI-MILLIONAIRE” out of me either. Ten years ago, I was assigned to cover Darva Conger’s court annulment in Las Vegas for my radio network. It was a media circus–local TV and radio stations, the press and the tabloid shows (including “INSIDE EDITION” and “ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT”).
    If I recall, the courtroom was closed to reporters; but Conger and her attorney held a news conference inside the building just after her marriage to Rick Rockwell was history. One thing I can’t remember was what Conger had to say about the whole reality show experience–it was either very trivial or quite banal. In any case, I got my soundbites, wrote my story, fed it to the network and moved on to more important stories. It wasn’t the only celebrity story I covered (this is Las Vegas, after all), but it was certainly among the least memorable.
    I also agree with you, Barry: “OUR LITTLE GENIUS” is dead and buried. A repeat of the days of “TWENTY ONE” and Charles Van Doren is unlikely, and the same goes for the chances Fox will bring this show back from the dead–FCC or not,

  3. On being a part of the “media circus” that was “MULTI-MILLIONAIRE”, you have my sympathy, Mike….Mark Burnett will continue to produce “SURVIVOR”, “THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE”, et. al., but I’m not sure if his reputation from the “OUR LITTLE GENIUS” debacle will remain untarnished.

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