In a throwback to the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, the FCC is reportedly investigating whether producers of a Fox game show gave answers to contestants prior to their appearance.
According to a report in The New York Times, the show in question is "Our Little Genius," which has children ages 6-12 answering difficult questions. The show was supposed to premiere on January 13. But despite heavy promotion, it was pulled from the schedule six days earlier.
At the time, Mark Burnett, the program’s creator and executive producer, said in a statement that questions had arisen about “how some information was relayed to contestants during the preproduction.” The network said it supported Burnett’s decision and agreed “there can be no question about the integrity of our shows.”
It seems that in December, the FCC received a letter from a parent of a potential contestant. The letter, which The Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, alleges that a few days before taping, a staff member reviewed a list of potential topics with the child and the parents. And the staffer gave the child four specific answers to questions the child either didn't know or was unsure about.
The Times writes:
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.
The letter also says the child showed up for the taping, but it was canceled after the parents met with an attorney for the production company. The parents told the lawyer about the planned questions.
Section 508 of the Communications Act of 1934 makes it illegal for anyone to give, with the intent to deceive the viewing or listening public, assistance that will affect the outcome of a “purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill.”
As is its practice, the FCC would not confirm to The Times whether it is conducting an investigation. Fox would not comment beyond its earlier statement. And Mark Burnett, the man behind such reality shows as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" was not available for comment.