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Any Way You Look At It, It Doesn't Look Good
January 19

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this time around with the scandal surrounding the Mark Burnett produced game show "Our Little Genius". It was supposed to debut on Fox this past week, but it was pulled and/or cancelled. There were whispers of inappropriate production tactics which were reported by multiple sources including the New York Times, Buzzerblog and Hollywood Junket. Hollywood Junket reported this from a set visit: "Two of yesterday’s contestants were given second chances after missing one of the first two questions in the game. Their games were halted, and everyone left the stage, only to return to start a new show with new questions. This may seem like game show blasphemy. But, according to the show’s stage manager, “Our Little Genius” producers have stated in their rules that each contestant is guaranteed to win at least $10,000. In order for that to happen, contestants must answer correct the first three questions. Not sure why this rule was written into the guidelines of the show. But, I’m going to guess that it could be one or both of two things: 1) to help show ratings, and 2) the fact that a genius contestant misses one of two of the easiest questions directly conflicts with the image of being a “genius”.


The junket report continues: "The category of a question is given to the kid before the decision to stop with the money or play the question is stated by the parents.  In one game the category was given and the kid said he didn’t know it. At this point taping was stopped for a few minutes.  After this, the game began again and a new category was given.  The kid knew this category well and the game proceeded.  Someone from the show afterwards, to brush the situation off, said it was a “technical error” and the categories were “mixed up by mistake”.

Those whispers led to a New York Times piece where Burnett stated this: “I recently discovered that there was an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the preproduction of ‘Our Little Genius.’ As a result, I am not comfortable delivering the episodes without reshooting them. I believe my series must always be beyond reproach, so I have requested that Fox not air these episodes.”

Before the show even aired, the show was pulled. As of Monday January 11, Fox President Kevin Reilly said this at the Winter Television Critics Press Tour: "Mark, to his credit, I think, from a very early stage looked at this and said if there’s even the possibility of impropriety, I’m gonna shut it down. He wants to reproduce the show himself” though the network has not yet engaged in negotiations about reproduction.


Let's get this out of the way first. Burnett tried to RIG the show and got caught. If you change categories to suit a child's knowledge and guarantee a prize of $10,000, that's rigging plain and simple. It's as bad as Charles Van Doren in 21. This is huge and Burnett's reputation does and should take a permanent hit. It stains the integrity of every show he produces, including Survivor and The Apprentice.


The New York Times piece also said: "During a visit last month to the studio and the set where eight episodes of the program were taped, a reporter was told that the children knew they would be quizzed on topics in which they were experts, like World War II aircraft, the Civil War or Egyptology. That knowledge alone might not be helpful, but if a contestant knew, for example, that the questions would involve the location of Egyptian landmarks built during the reign of Ramses II, that contestant might have an advantage."


That is not totally true. On his other hit show with children "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader", while the "classmates" may have been given information about certain subjects they are not the contestants they are lifelines and helps.  While there is no problem with that on 5th Grader, that is, and SHOULD HAVE BEEN a HUGE no-no on "Genius."


Finally, Fox and Burnett should let this show die. Before the show even aired, this show was exploitative at best, and now this show has a permanent stench on it of cheating and rigging. Let it go and it will go in the scrap heap of bad shows and bad concepts.


Fox has another big problem to deal with and that is the end of an era on American Idol. After weeks of rumors and speculation, Simon Cowell confirmed that this is his last season of American Idol. At the same press tour I spoke of earlier, he confirmed that is leaving Idol in May 2010 to concentrate on the US launch of the UK megahit "The X-Factor" in the fall of 2011...on Fox.

The press release stated: "I'm thrilled that we have put a date on the launch of the U.S. version of THE X FACTOR, and delighted to be continuing to work with FOX," said Cowell. "We have a fantastic relationship, a great team and are all very excited about this." Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company, said, "We have had a very successful relationship with Simon Cowell for many years, and we're absolutely delighted to continue our relationship with him. THE X FACTOR has been a massive success around the world, and we can't wait to bring it to the U.S. in 2011."

The reason WHY he is leaving is that his Idol contract does not allow him to judge on another show besides Idol. After his contract expires in May, he is done with Idol....right?

Don't be so sure about that. While Paula Abdul's spot on the judging panel was easily replaced by Ellen Degeneres, Simon Cowell's spot won't be. He is the voice of brutal honesty. He gets to tell the delusional people who think they can sing where to go. He is the villain and knows it. And more often than not, he is right. Who they get to replace him will be the biggest job search in the entertainment world...but my guess is that Fox and Idol will work it out and we will see him do both shows. He is the heart and soul of Idol. If he truly goes, the show is finished.

Speaking of Idol, it did return this week with audition rounds from Season 9. While guest judges Victoria Beckham and Mary J. Blige brought nothing new to the table, I liked the fact that the formula was tweaked a little bit where we saw a little LESS of the nutty and more of the talent. There were still parts of the formula I didn't like. We didn't get to see EVERY good audition, and instead spent time on a violent curser and a 62 yr old Larry Platt who got to sing a rap called "Pants on the Ground". Not only was that gimmick done before in season's past, it felt old and tired. I have no disrespect for Larry Platt. According to the Access Atlanta Blog, he marched with Martin Luther King and Hosea Williams for civil rights in Atlanta in the 1960's. The producers should have focused on people who are going to win your vote, not a man who wants men to pull up their pants.

More big news from NBC and it had nothing to do with Jay, Conan or Jimmy Fallon. The replacement for David Hasselhoff has been announced and it is "Deal or No Deal" host Howie Mandel.

"Howie is one of America's favorite entertainers and his sense of humor and energy are irrepressible," said Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios in a press release. "He's passionate about new talent and his years of experience across a variety of disciplines in entertainment, not to mention the fact that he headlines and performs in Vegas all the time, will bring new depth to our panel. He will be a real asset to our contestants and help them take their talents to the next level. We are thrilled to have him join Sharon and Piers and are sure that sparks will fly!"


There are two questions that need to be answered: Will Howie Mandel know how to be a good judge of talent? I think he will be good with the quick joke, but I am not sure. Mandel does bring a cleaner image than Hasselhoff, whose off screen antics may have been enough for the producers of the show.


Secondly, what does this mean for Deal or No Deal? I think this may be the nail in the coffin for the syndicated show. The most recent ratings show Deal at 1.3 when last season the ratings peaked at close to 2.0. I don't know if the ratings are enough to warrant a third season.


Block Party Quick Hits:


--It's time for the yearly Jeopardy! Online Tests: Dates are:


--The Adults Online Test will be offered on the week of January 25.

- The College Test will be offered on February 9 at 9p ET
- The Kids Test will be offered on February 23 at 8p ET
- The Teen Test will be offered on March 2 at 9p ET


Go to Jeopardy.com for more information.


--ABC has ordered 7 episodes of "Bachelor Pad" which will bring back 20 memorable contestants from the previous 13 cycles of "The Bachelor" and five editions of "The Bachelorette." The program will represent the first "all-stars" reunion series for the franchise. Contestants will live together in a house and compete in challenges, with some competitions inspired by incidents from past seasons. Each episode will conclude with evictions from the residence. And Roslyn Papa denies claims she had an "inappropriate relationship" with a staffer as she is booted from the Bachelor.


--Dancing With The Stars will be returning for Season 10 on March 22.


--Millionaire is going to Uganda and teaming with Valpak with a home viewer's sweepstakes.


--Silent Library debuts for Season 2 on MTV.


--New Zealand escalates attacks on the Anti-Whaling Ship Bob Barker.


--Mel B replaces Marissa Janet Winokur on Season 2 of "Dance Your Ass Off"


--Top Chef Masters Season 2 comes back for more deliciousness on April 7.


--Ethan Zohn missed the 10th Anniversary party for Survivor because of his last cancer treatments. His girlfriend, Jenna Morasca, made an appearance. Richard Hatch made one as well and had some words for Russell Hantz. “Russell played well,” Hatch says. “I don’t think he played as well as I played, and I think the reason is because he lost some of the subtlety of the game and I explained that to him. I think he lost sight [of] how he himself, while playing well, impacted jurors, his peers who then have to decide how he lives or dies at the end. And that’s a crucial part of the game.” He went on: "Even though it was the first season and I really walked a fine line, I still had to consider [my peers] and barely won because Greg Buis told me — when it was 3-3 and his vote gave me the win — that it was almost my hubris that cost me the game. But he respected my game and gave me the vote. Russell went too far and was too ‘in your face’ to the contestants. I talked to the camera, I talked to the viewers openly as the game is designed for us to do, and was cocky and arrogant but I wasn’t to the contestants. That’s where you lose.”


--Nina Garcia talks up Season 7 of Project Runway.


--Cycle 14 of America's Next Top Model will debut March 3.


--Drew Carey stops by and helps out Wayne Brady with a poetry deal on Let's Make a Deal. Drew Olanoff makes an appearance in studio at Price. Drew Olanoff and Drew Carey are raising money for the Lance Armstrong LiveStrong Foundation for Cancer Research.


--Heidi Klum launches a maternity line.

Jason Block is not the incarnation of Dan Enright. E-mail your rig-free letters at jiblock@yahoo.com.