Monday, February 22, 2010

FCC Asks $64,000 Question: Did Burnett Quiz Show Cheat?

Mark Burnett at his Hollywood Walk of Fame cer...Image via Wikipedia
Mark Burnett Productions, which is responsible for innovative tv fare such as The Apprentice, Survivor, and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?, has evoked nostalgia among Federal Communications Commissioners--giving them a chance to revive the quiz show scandals of the 1950s.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The New York Times, the FCC has produced a letter written to the agency last December by the parent of a participant in  Our Little Genius, a Burnett-created quiz show that was derailed days before it was to debut on Fox Television after Burnett disclosed that some contestants may have received information before their scheduled appearance. An FCC probe may follow based on the letter from the unidentified parent that goes considerably further than that,  explicitly stating that a member of the show's production staff days before taping briefed the child contestant and his parents concerning potential topics and provided answers to at least four questions.

Eight episodes were already in the can when Our Little Genius was pulled from Fox's schedule.  Hosted by actor/comic Kevin Pollak, the show featured academic achieving kids ages 6 to 12 vying for hundreds of thousands of dollars by answering difficult questions. When the show was shelved, Mark Burnett Productions said it would pay the winnings to contestants who triumphed in the eight unaired episodes.

Pursuant to 47 U.S.C. sec. 508 of The Communications Act of 1934, titled Prohibited Practices in Case of Contests of Intellectual Knowledge, Intellectual Skill or Chance, it is unlawful intentionally to deceive the listening or viewing public by "supply[ing] 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." The provision was enacted in response to contestants being fed answers on notorious quiz shows in the '50s, such as 21 and $64,000 Question, that shook viewers and the television industry alike and ended America's reign as a superpower. The last part isn't true, notwithstanding Robert Redford's Quiz Show (2000).

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1 comment:

  1. I think the quiz show scandals of the Fifties DID lead to the end of America's role as a superpower. Charles Van Doren was the canary in the coal mine, Richard Nixon, the poison gas and Dick Cheney, the cave-in.