November 17th, 2009
10:53 AM ET

'Genius' or exploitation?

Mark Burnett
Mark Burnett

I'm not a fan of children on reality shows. Programs like "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny" make me cringe at the way young children are portrayed, while TLC's soon-to-depart "Jon and Kate Plus 8" makes childhood look like a full-time job with the addition of a production crew and paparazzi following you everywhere.

The latest show that appears to be following this path is Fox's just-announced game show "Our Little Genius," which is expected to premiere sometime next year.

According to Fox, the show will feature gifted children between the ages of 6-12 answering increasingly difficult questions on a specific topic. The show's "gimmick" is that the child's parents can choose to walk away with whatever Junior won at any time.

That's not a gimmick. Several game shows have had special "kids weeks," and many of those games required the parents to participate in situations where the child risked his/her winnings. I'm not sure if this is for legal or rational reasons, but it's certainly not an original concept.

The problem here is that Fox is making this the hallmark of the show. Watching parents make decisions on life-changing money based on whether Junior can recite a certain Shakespeare soliloquy doesn't sound like interesting television to me.

Mark Burnett, shown above, whose production company is behind the show, has been quoted as saying "Our Little Genius" is a show that celebrates what makes these kids special.  Honoring children for academic excellence should be encouraged, but doing it in such a manner reeks of child exploitation.

Burnett is responsible for another child-theme game show, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" While I have issues with "5th Grader," at least the show is presented in a TV-friendly way. Adult contestants and the child helpers are friendly and root each other on, host Jeff Foxworthy is generally cordial to everyone on stage, and the questions are at a difficulty level that allows people to play along at home.  It's a show for the entire family - something hard to find on TV these days.

Maybe it's me, but the idea of 9-year-olds reciting pi to the 70th digit with $200,000 on the line makes for boring television. Add to that the alleged "gimmick" of watching parents decide whether Junior is good enough and smart enough to go all the way to the top, and you have yourself a game show that could take the genre back a few steps.

I'll probably watch at least one episode of "Our Little Genius" - I have an open mind - but I doubt I'll be watching again.

What do you think of this show?  Is it a harmless game show or child exploitation?

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Filed under: television

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Joel T.

    I'm not big in to the reality shows.
    Being that we have a 13 yr old in the house – he goes from American Idol to Dancing with the stars to Myth Busters.

    Mythbusters is fun – until you catch your kid trying to do some of the stuff they have done... Fortunately we haven't had that problem – YET.

    My problem is this.
    Reality tv is supposed to be real life.

    If that is the case REALITY TV should be as follows:
    Lets Make a Deal
    Etc. The list of shows is ENDLESS!!!

    These were REAL people TRYING to make REAL money for themselves and NOT doing so in a "less than favorable" means.

    Survivor??? Really??? How many people are gonna get thrown off a boat with nothing and spend a month or two with a bunch of whiney losers who are trying to stab each other in a the back – and for what??? A MILLION BUCKS. Uncle Sam is gonna get his share so you won't get A MILLION.

    Big BROTHER??? YOU have to be kidding me!!! I lived with room mates before and HATED IT!!! You have to be something either VERY SPECIAL or STUPID to be locked in a house with 11 othe NUT JOBS.
    Again, Uncle Sam is gonna get his share.

    I say bring back the old days where tv was fun and the entire family could watch together. Maybe then, our country will get back some of its morales that have been lacking for a LONG TIME.

    November 20, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. scloftihn

    chuckle. personally, i find reality tv unwatchable. (guilty pleasure: trauma and surgery ... but then the dr's are trying to help people and I get to cheer them on). someone commented that they equal Palin as presidential fodder. palin is at least entertaining and un-teleprompted, this show is typical and unwatchable. And probably scripted. yeah, i'm cynical. might have watched when my kids were in the age range to see if i was smarter than they were, but not today.

    November 18, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Interested

    This type of show is Harmless. The kids are into it too. Kids like being smarter than anyone else. And a little competition and loss may counteract some of that –"hey I got 10th place I'm a genius" reward system in which they are being raised. Anyone who starts off in a child actor capacity will face some challenges–but that doesn't mean it is exploitation (depending on the greed of the parent's of course). Incidentally I think all reality tv is boring–i never even heard of Kate plus 8 until her "not much to look at" husband left her.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Morae

    It is time to take all the reality family shows off TV. This is not like
    Father Knows Best, it is how to make money off our kids lives.
    What happened to parents that want to protect their kids, these
    parents need to get regular jobs to support them. Most Americans
    I think are tired of watching this type of programming. It has gotten
    to be BORING. Father Knows Best wasn't real life either!

    November 18, 2009 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rickey

    The next step might be reality TV toilet training! Whose kids will be quick, and which kids will have set-backs right there in front of millions of viewers? They could make big bucks while permanently damaging kids psyche! …The network execs priorities are obvious.

    November 18, 2009 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. Joanne

    The Gosselins are the poster kids as to why kids should not be on reality TV., The parents let the money and fame get in the way and that is their main goal. Especially Kate! She thinks she is angelina jolie. Talk about delusional.
    I feel bad for those kids, because Kate is an abuser, and we all saw it on most of the episodes in how she dealt with her husband. I could not stomach that woman always talking down to him. Glad he is away from that witch.

    November 18, 2009 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Alicia

    That was my problem with Supernanny. It was a show about helping parents to be better parents, but it completely ignored the fact that publicly humiliating your children on international television is itself bad parenting.

    November 18, 2009 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. nana

    How can you call Jon & Kate a reality show? Reality means something that "really" happens. Their life is a farce. That family is never alone – there are numerous camera men, stage directors, nannies, etc. Jon and Kate are not parenting, they are acting like parents. These poor kids will never know a real life. Every step of their development has been altered, and staged. Stop watching these shows – and believe that what you see is not what life is really like with 8 children.

    November 18, 2009 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jennifer, RN

    I agree with most of the posters that having children on reality shows is pure exploitation by lazy parents. The ramifications of having a camera in your face from birth could be horrific for these kids when they realize their parents literally sold their childhood to the highest bidder. CNN has already had programs (Larry King, The Wrap) featuring info re: Reality Show Suicides. I believe there have been 11 suicides directly attributed to appearing in reality shows, and other adults are being diagnosed with "Truman Show Syndrome". How can this possibly be beneficial to these helpless children when even consenting adults cannot handle the experience of being shown in a negative light? In my opinion, these parents (J&K) are despicable grifters and need to take their kids off TV and get real jobs. Disgusting.

    November 18, 2009 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. Karen

    Just look at Jon & Kate, that is child exploitation, they never asked to be brought up in front of cameras, just wait 10 yrs or so & see how these children will turn out.
    I'm sick of seeing more reality shows popping up, I might watch one show just to see what television producers are trying to do & the greedy people exploitating more children.
    Mostly I keep the tv off.
    It would be nice to see real actors & actresses doing shows, whether it is comedy, drama etc...
    Bring back REAL tv shows !!!!

    November 18, 2009 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  11. Connor

    Sure it's not going to be good for the kids, but it makes for quite entertaining TV. Reality TV is quite trashy and manipulated, however it makes for some darn fun viewing if you are comfortable enough with yourself to admit you enjoy it.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. kittycat

    This is so wrong. Wait until the kid's at least 15. Kids who are involved in this kind of thing grow up to be really screwed. I mean, just look at Michael Jackson or Britney Spears.

    P.S. "Reality" shows suck.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Karen, San Francisco

    Of course children shouldn't be on reality shows. If they are being paid, it means they're working, right? Don't we have laws in this country about child labor? Shouldn't that include when your own parents make you an unwilling participant in reality TV? Kids need privacy and a 'normal' family. Normal is a moving target but I dare say it doesn't include have tv cameras around all day long. And, now the divorce is also, unfortunately, very puplic. I think at least some of these kids will end up with anger issues over this part of their lives. Overall, its just a sad situation.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. F


    Yes, the Gosselin kids would be better off if their parents worked regular jobs and struggled to put food on the table. There are hundreds and maybe thousands of families that do that every day in this country and around the world. Why should the Gosselins be singled out? With the way the world is today, I don't think a lot of people want to watch them spend money the way they do – they might as well live in a shack and burn the money on the front lawn for all the good it does the kids. They won't see a penny of this money.

    Kate wouldn't have turned into the grasping, greedy witch she is today (watch the first show and compare that Kate to the last show aired and you'll see what I mean). She treats the kids (and Jon) worse than she treated the dogs she gave away and all for the almighty dollar. She's over the top and I'm being nice when i say that.

    If she had just gone about her business and worked a regular job (and not talked Jon into following her lead), those kids would have the love and attention they need from their parents and not be scared every time they open their mouths that they will be spanked with the "red spoon" or thumped on the head for having the nerve to go against Kate, the Queen of the house.

    I feel very sorry for any children who have to live like this and I think all these shows (most are on TLC) should go the way of the do do birds.

    When will their parents get a clue that they're not doing anyone any favors? The kids don't need "things" and "trips" and "a big house". They need a mom and dad to care for them and about them.

    November 17, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. V

    Wife Swap is NOT a bad show. Oftentimes, the conflicts that arise help force a break-through, which inevitably leads to an improvement in overall family life. By pitting opposites against each other, it forces each side to take a closer look at their own behavior / parenting style.

    I LOVE television and I LOVE reality television. Some shows are indeed bad, but there are also a slew of positive reality shows with awesome outcomes. Plus, it allows outsiders like us to glimpse others in their natural habitat, which when done correctly allows us to find ways in which to better ourselves as well.

    They're two ways to view life: positively or negatively. If you harbor negative sentiments, you will never be happy no matter how hard you try. But if you instead try to find goodness in everything, you'll be surprised at just how much you can learn.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Kim

    Can not stand reality shows!! The poeple who do them are just like Springer contestants. Who in their right mind would watch such trash. People need to get a life.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Kittylovey

    When you put the pressure on the child to make the money – that's just wrong on so many levels! The child will feel like a failure if they don't get the answer correct for the parents to get the money. And if the parents pull out and the child knew the answer, then the child will feel like the parent doesn't have faith in them or think they are smart enough. There is no way to win in this for the child! On "Smarter than a 5th Grader" at least the kids HELP the adult. The entire pressure is not put on the child to win! Yes, the adult may have to ask the child for help, but the child doesn't feel the entire thing is riding on their shoulders!

    November 17, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Kellie

    I hate these shows because I feel they exploit the children. For years, a co-worker would ask me if I had watched Super Nanny, Nanny 911 or whatever it's called. I watched once and was sick to my stomach. The end show is manipulated in such a way to make parents and kids look bad until their savior – the Nanny arrives. I always said I'd like to be an attorney to get a piece of the pie when those children get older and start suing the production companies, networks and their own parents for having them in the show when they were minors. If people would stop watching them, the shows will go away. It's the same with many of the TLC shows, Dr. Phil, etc.

    November 17, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Ed Tallahassee

    I feel sorry for the kids. It would be hard to have the world feel like they know you based on some elses editing of your life.

    November 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Diana

    These are NOT "reality shows"! TruTV has REALITY-the rest of the stations are showing "take advantage of idiots" shows, exploiting participants to the max. I refuse to watch any of those exploitation shows because they don't show real life. These are people playing to the cameras, not doing the things the rest of us do in our lives. Shame on those of you who get their jollies off of the troubles the people in the exploitation shows have to deal with. Aren't our own lives reality enuff?

    November 17, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  21. G Rogers

    Has everyone forgotten about the parents that pretended their six-year old was high in the heavens in a weather balloon in order to snatch their own "reality show"? My concern is that even loving parents sometimes make bad choices that damage their children in order to get them on television. I suspect we have some really lazy, egotistic parents out there willing to do almost anything. The more of these shows there are the more of these parents are going to "go for it".

    November 17, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  22. K

    I remember that when I was six years old, I cried in class in front of 20 classmates when I spelled "heart" incorrectly. I can't imagine what I would have done if hundreds of thousands of dollars were on the line.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Mary

    Unplug the TV. We did, and it's been such a relief. Can't even begin to tell you how much it has changed our lives for the better not to be bombarded with junk like reality shows and commercials. Now, even just the sound of a TV makes my skin crawl.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Rachel

    I think children on reality shows is harmful – we'll see the full impact on these children when they are grown. As Jon & Kate have demonstrated, even adults on reality shows featuring "their lives" implode right before our eyes. Watched Little People, Big World recently? The parents relationship is not in a good way, and Monday's episode had the mom wondering why Zach's grades started dropping at the beginning of high school. I wonder – could it be because he and his family live their lives for everyone to see (and make fun of maybe) and school becomes secondary to everything else? I think so, if not the main reason, a huge contributing factor. It may be entertaining but I have this horrible feeling that shoving a camera is a child's face (sometimes starting at birth aka Jon & Kate) is just not healthy.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  25. shannon

    I do think it could be exploiting these innocent children. I mean take for example the show jon and kate plus 8. Where would these parents be without exploiting these children? That's how they make there money.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Chris

    Reality shows in general suck. I have no idea why anyone would spend their time watching any of them. It 's all play acting by none professional actors. How is that entertainment? Too watch how stupid someone can look on camera? Reality TV is the biggest scam to hit television. Big time wrestling is more real than the so call reality shows. Keep kids away from this garbage.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Delena

    Honestly, I think that show is dumb. You know exactly what most of those parents will do with that money...They'll probably buy themselves a new home instead of putting it away for college. It should be the Child's money not the parents. The child should choose whether or not he should continue on or not...People are starting to annoy me now with all these reality shows about their kids. It's getting ridiculous! Fame and fortune isn't everything!

    November 17, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  28. g08

    Ugh! How "real" can things be with cameras stuck in your face? So what if a kid is a 'genius' – how is their emotional level? I'd say this new program is more for that parents than the child, after all, *all* parents think their kids are "geniuses".

    I miss the pure entertainment programs, like Carol Burnett, Red Skelton – that's a family program. (We watch the DVDs.) I watch, history channel, discovery, lots of PBS, some retro channels (love Ellery Queen), and depending on who's on – the food channel. Otherwise I'm listening to the old-time talk shows on

    And in case you think I'm an "old fogey" – I'm only in my early 50s but remember decent TV programs.


    November 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Kit

    Bad idea, on several levels.

    Kids on "reality" shows have no say in their participation.And, as has been documented, in many states, reality shows are not subject to the same child labor controls and restrictions that using a child in a scripted tv show would be. Yet these shows are often just as scripted as any regular show. And living your life in front of the cameras changes you even without two parents like the Gosselins. One only has to look at the changes that have happened in other tv reality families to see that .

    As for the game show, the problem is that reciting pi to the 70th digit in no way indicates "genius." It indicates a good memory and a willingness to spend a lot of time memorizing trivia – or in some cases, a demanding parent forcing the memorization in hopes of a big win. If you've seen the shows "Toddlers and Tiaras" or "Little Miss Perfect," which cover the child pageant circuit, you will see a lot of kids being bullied into practicing inane routines endlessly in hopes of winning...a rhinestone crown. If real money is at stake, I shudder to think of how many parents will start evening training sessions.

    I have no problems with a kid-oriented game show. There have been several over the years that were amusing. But the "genius" idea is a bad one, because it will encourage a lot of parents to try browbeating ther kids into memorizing all this stuff in the vain hope of making it big. On an audience appeal level, one curious fact is that nobody wants other kids to be "smarter" than their kids. "Smart" kids are often disparaged by both their peers and the adults around them. I suspect this show will have a half-life of about the time it takes to blink.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Carmen

    Reality TV is a complete waste of time...period. Adding children to the mix is exploitive to say the least. Our children should certainly be recognized for their achievements, whatever level, but it should be done in a more positive manner. Reality TV has given families out there a vehicle to use in their money making schemes...the more bizaare the better...what does that tell you? For example, lets take Kate and Jon...forget the TV world...what are those children going to think of their parents, whose actions have MOST DEFINITELY been influenced by their fame, when they look on all they let happen for the world to see? What was true? What was false? In my opinion both are unfit parents who used their children to make MONEY and those who watched the show supported them...what happened to them became nasty and ugly...the nastier and uglier it got the more attention we gave them...WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT US? Reality TV has certainly gone overboard but what should worry us more is why have they been successful?

    November 17, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  31. laura

    Take issue with all reality shows that feature minor (yes Minor children) who have no say in what the adults in their lives sign them up for so that the adults can have bigger and better. This is exploitation and is illegal.
    As for the Goesslin children being better off because their parents didn't have to work, they didn't have to be latch-key children, etc. The disturbing part of this story is the parents didn't work; the kids did.
    This show is another trainwreck waiting to happen and will most likely tear apart families.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  32. MaryA

    Can't believe that people really watch this garbage! Must be the same folks who think Sarah P. would make a good President!

    November 17, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Lisa

    Exploitive, and I agree with others here – I do NOT watch, and have never watched any reality TV. No survivor, apprentice or any of that garbage. It's all incredible boring, and most is offensive. The only "reality" shows worth watching are on the Discovery Channel – Myth Busters and Dirty Jobs, and that's because they don't showcase idiots.

    And Bethany – I disagree, while the show may help with college for the Gosselin kids, their parents having a screaming match on TV allows millions (how many people watch that?) to see their dysfunctional family life, a screaming match in Disney allows maybe 100's. Big difference.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  34. tilly kroener

    TV in general sucks. Spend time with your family and friends instead

    November 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Garu

    How about this for a game show: "Are You Smarter Than Jon and Kate?"

    November 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Barb

    I am also sick to death of reality shows. The stations make more money on these shows than others.
    Personally, I am waiting for my show. Someday they must be running out of skanky woman-yeah right.
    Kids are the worst because it's so emotionally confusing for them like the Jon and whatever circus they belong to seeing and hearing all the stuff about divorcing and cheating and then had to be acting normal.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Bethany

    Mr. Dinan,

    I still don't understand why the media gets all riled up about children and reality television. Actually, there can be many arguments made FOR it.

    Would the Gosselin kids have been better off if Jon and Kate worked regular jobs, struggled to put food on a table for 10, and could never afford to send them to college? Are screaming matches about a $2,000 grocery bill more or less damaging than public fights about spilling ice cream at Disney World?

    Would the children have gotten more love and attention as latchkey kids (with 2 "good" parents working full-time) instead of having nannies and a staff (with 2 lousy parents playing Hollywood primadonna)?

    There is a strong, natural desire to shelter children from any potentially negative experiences, but what about building character through facing challenges?

    Overall, the Gosselin kids have it a lot better than most children, even after being thrust into the public eye. They are well-fed, dressed, cared for medically, take fun trips all over the country, live on a sprawling estate with a pool, go to excellent private schools – and most importantly, they have each other for support. So they have cameras in their faces. Boo-hoo. The cameras will be gone in a year, but the trust fund will still be there (hopefully).

    Not that I don't feel some sympathy for the Gosselin kids. I know they had no choice in the matter, and it's awful that their parent's ugly divorce is a public spectacle. It's just that I have much more sympathy and concern for children going through neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse in PRIVATE. I'm sure a few of them would gladly trade lives with the Gosselins.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Daniel

    Has anyone thought of the compromising position this puts children in with respect to their parents? The kind of resent and anger this could bring to a family?

    November 17, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  39. Liz

    Just imagine how most of these shows will end. Just like most game shows, people never quit when they're ahead, they always go that extra step and risk a little more than they should. So the parents say something like "I know s/he can do this" and decide to go for one more harder question, and then the kid gets it wrong. And then the kid feels as if he or she has just disappointed everyone and ruined the whole experience, all in front of an audience of millions. That is pretty cruel to do to a kid, especially a precocious, "gifted" child who puts a lot of stock in excelling at academic challenges.

    I don't watch TV to see children sucker-punched like that..

    November 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Melissa

    I am so sick to death of this reality tv show crap. This kind of garbage is why the networks are failing. People would rather watch REAL shows on cable.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Maegan

    I feel that these shows are so unethical. For example, Wife Swap. If I was a child psychologist and went to the ethics board wanting to do a research study based on removing the Mother from the family (for 2 wks!) and swapping them with another "better" or "worse" Mother and make changes to the household that are extreme! I am sure the ethics board would say no as this could be damaging to the children therefore unethical. But to do it on reality TV is completely fine!
    These are all just examples of how parents are putting their kids through hell for their 15 minutes of fame.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Evers Gone

    It's all about "Now I'm Famous".....for 15 minutes until someone ends up in jail.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Heather

    Children on scripted shows have enough problems and they don't have every detail of their personal life exposed...Children on reality shows are time bombs waiting to happen. There will be those dying to escape the past that they didn't choose. Then there will be the ones that will do anything to keep the spotlight on them....if you think young celebrities are annoying now..just wait

    November 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Debra R

    Neither....I do not feel it is harmless as the pressure on the kids could be too much and the children are not being exploited anymore than if they were on a pre college bowl game.

    It is basically just some ego strutting for the parents.

    November 17, 2009 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |

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