January 8th, 2010
01:07 PM ET
A few months back, I wrote about a new game show from Fox called "Our Little Genius." . I expressed concern that the show would exploit the pre-teen contestants, but I pledged to watch at least one episode before passing final judgment. Now, it seems that won't happen.
Less than a week before its premiere, Fox pulled the plug on "Our Little Genius." According to series creator Mark Burnett, he had concerns over, in his words, "how some information was relayed to contestants during pre-production." Burnett says he will produce new episodes, but Fox has not decided whether those new shows will air.
So what was this "information" that caused this sudden change of heart from Burnett and Fox? Some are speculating that the contestants may have been privy to some of the questions they would be asked before the taping. Others are suggesting the contestants were given the answers to the questions - a clear violation of federal law banning the fixing of game shows.
Still others note that the decision came just hours after the New York Times published a story expressing concerns about the show's production, including the practice of taping multiple endings in case a contestant missed a question. That practice alone marks the hallmark of a "reality" show producer like Burnett, who should stick to what he knows best and stay out of the game show genre.
In 2006, I attended the annual Game Show Congress event in Burbank, California. The Congress honors the past, present and future of the game show genre, and brings together the personalities that make game shows exciting. Among the events I attended was an informal chat with such game show personalities as Jack Narz (host of the original "Now You See It" and other shows), Burton Richardson (the voice of "Family Feud") and Johnny Gilbert (the voice of "Jeopardy!").
All three agreed that the classic game show worked because of its simplicity, as well as the natural spontaneity shown by the contestants, panelists and hosts. When the contestant knew he or she won the car or big money, the reaction to the win was real - no one needed to be coached on how to react or what to do.
Reading about "Our Little Genius" and its fallout made me look back at that Burbank talk. Are we so unsure of what spontaneity is that we have to over-script it all, from the first question asked to how we should react to defeat?
"Our Little Genius," in its original form, was no game show. It was an over-produced, over-scripted affair from a "reality" maven who knows very little about how the genre works.
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