Six weeks ago,I reported here that Fox had yanked a show called Our LIttle Genius -- a quiz show featuring little kids and big money -- just a week before its heavily promoted debut. In announcing the change, Fox released a peculiarly vague statement from executive producer Mark Burnett saying there was "an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the pre-production of Our Little Genius,"
Now the New York Times has a story that may explain just what the "issue" was: The FCC is investigating accusations that Our Little Genius staffers were rigging the outcome of the show. Two weeks before the show was yanked, the Times says, the FCC got a letter from the parents of a kid contestant saying he was given the answers to questions before the show was taped. When the parents asked a Fox lawyer if that was really, you know, legal, the kid was promptly booted from the show.
Their question was a good one, and the answer is clearly no. Federal law prohibits broadcasters from fixing contests of "intellectual skill," part of the aftermath of a scandal that all but destroyed television's popular quiz-show genre in the late 1950s.
This isn't the first accusation of improprieties in a Fox contest show. American Idol came under major fire in 2005, when ABC's Primetime Live reported one disqualified contestant's claims that Idol judge Paul Abdul romanced him, coached him and bought him clothes, CDs, medicine and a cellphone while he was on the show.
His account was bolstered with sales slips, tape recordings of phone calls from Abdul and testimony from eyewitnesses, including his parents. Fox's subsequent "investigation" was limited to the sexual allegations, and when the network's attorneys couldn't find anybody who actually walked on the couple having sex, everything else was shoved under the rug. Of course, there were no nosy FCC investigators involved in that one.