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Big Week, Big News
February 23

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this time around with the absolute bombshell that the FCC is now investigating the claims of cheating and contestant manipulation on the Fox show “Our Little Genius”. A seven-page letter was sent to the FCC on December 17, 2009 and received on December 22. The New York Times received the letter on February 19 through the Freedom of Information Act. The letter, rules and release agreement are found here at:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/27343214/Our-Little-Genius-Letter

If the claims in the letter are true, it is a manifesto on how to rig a game show. According to the NY Times article, some of the letter’s accusations includes:

--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 alleges that a day before the contestant’s scheduled taping, the producers issued a rule change giving a player a second chance, or “reload,” if he failed to successfully answer any of the first four of 10 rounds of questions.

The violation would be under 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.”

At this time, the question isn’t IF Mark Burnett and his production company are going to get punished, but how much and how high this goes up the Fox chain of command. If Mark Burnett didn’t know anything about the allegations, he comes off as being ignorant and not caring about the process. If he did know, he comes off as having no integrity for the game show media at all. And how much does/did Fox president Mike Darnell know about this?

From 2007 to 2008, there were a variety of phone in quiz scandals in the United Kingdom which cost networks like ITV, Channel 4 and others millions of pounds in fines and penalties. They were caught after it was shown that they were faking winners and soliciting for people to call in (and pay to play) after winners were chosen. This potential scandal makes that look like nothing.

I hope the FCC comes down incredibly hard on Burnett and Fox. They have to fine and punish this infraction because if you don’t, it compromises the integrity of EVERY game show and reality competition show on the air. This story isn’t going away, and is the story of the year bar none.

Speaking of Mark Burnett, on February 11 “Survivor: Heroes v. Villains” returned to CBS.  For Survivor fans like me, the two-hour premiere was like fitting into an old-pair of jeans. Everything about the show was fun. You had the over the top entrance of the 20 returning players in New Zealand Air Force Helicopters. The physical game play was violent and brutal. In the first reward challenge, you had Rupert Boneham suffer a broken toe, and Stephenie LaGrossa separated her shoulder. But she was tough enough to have it popped back in. And for the men, we saw Jessica “Sugar” Kiper take her top off! And the social game play was great too, as Russell was back to his old ways.

The reward and immunity challenges are repeats from previous seasons, which is a nice touch. Other nice touches included giving both teams fishing nets and gear. The producers are taking a no nonsense approach to the minor stuff. The Villains won the immunity challenge, and in the first tribal council Sugar was voted out in a unanimous vote.  The tribe didn’t like her tears and the Sugar Shack is closed for business early.

In Episode 2, Boston Rob succumbed to the Samoan Flu, but didn’t quit the game. The Villains won immunity once again, and Stephenie was sent packing after a vicious tribal council where she and James went to verbal war.

I am so happy to see this back on the air. This was amazing stuff, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.


The other big premiere was the 16th Season of The Amazing Race on February 14th. While Survivor came back strong, the premiere of AR was a bit underwhelming. I loved the elimination at the starting line of last season, and missed it here. The teams had to get to Los Angeles Airport via public transportation. Once they got there, they had to get to Valparaiso, Chile to cable walk, and paint houses. The Big Brother couple, Jordan and Jeff won week 1, and Dana& Adrian, were eliminated in Week 1 as Adrian couldn’t complete the cable walk road block. You know it was bad when Phil comes OUT to the roadblock.

Week 2 was a lot better as the Cowboys, Cord and Jet, finished first after making the right choice of buses to get to Puerto Varas, Chile. They dressed a llama, got ingredients for a German “kuchen” and was first to the Pit Stop at Gruta de la Virgen. The last team to check in was the grandmother/granddaughter team of Jody and Shannon. They are gone. 

The Amazing Race is appointment television. And this season is starting to shape up as a good one.

Speaking of Appointment Television, the voting portion of American Idol is back. The Top 24 was decided but after Hollywood Week was taped, it was discovered that Chris Golightly was under contract with Lawrence Franklin of Dream Projects Entertainment. "Chris was still under contract with Dream Projects Entertainment," Franklin told USA Today. Franklin says Chris was part of a vocal group called D.R.E.A.M. 5 and claims that the singer had signed a new, two-year recording contract on May 30, 2009, less than two months before he first auditioned for Idol.

Franklin says he contacted 19 Entertainment in January after learning that Chris was appearing on the show.

"We asked them for release documents, and they were supposed to send them over last Friday," says Franklin. But, according to Franklin, those forms never came. "We were prepared to give our own release documents, but after waiting on the attorneys from 19 to send over their paperwork, time kind of ran out for Chris," he says.

So the Top 24 was established and they are:

Didi Benami, 23, Hollywood, California
Crystal Bowersox, 24, EllistonOhio
Lacey Brown, 24, Amarillo, Texas
Michelle Delamor, 22, Miami, Florida
Katelyn Epperly, 19, West Des Moines, Iowa
Siobhan Magnus, 19, Barnstable, Massachusetts
Paige Miles, 24, Naples, Florida
Ashley Rodriguez, 22, Boston, Massachusetts
Lilly Scott, 20, Littleton, Colorado
Katie Stevens, 17, Middlebury, Connecticut
Haeley Vaughn, 16, Fort Collins, Colorado
Janell Wheeler, 24, Orlando, Florida 

Lee DeWyze, 23, Mount Prospect, Illinois
Andrew Garcia,24, Moreno Valley, California
Tyler Grady, 20, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Todrick Hall, 24, Arlington, Texas
Casey James, 27, Fort Worth, Texas
Aaron Kelly, 16, SonestownPennsylvania
Alex Lambert, 19, North Richland Hills, Texas
Michael Lynche, 26, St. Petersburg, Florida
Joe Muńoz, 20, Huntington Park, California
John Park, 21, Northbrook, Illinois
Jermaine Sellers, 26, Joliet, Illinois
Tim Urban
, 20, Duncanville, Texas

Week 1 was a very mixed bag. The women were a lot better than the males. The males took way too many risks, and I believe that Haeley Vaughn, Lacey Brown, Alex Lambert and John Park will be going home this coming Thursday. This next week will be the week where the singers have to separate themselves from the pack. If not, it will be game over for them.

Block Party Quick Hits time:

--“Million Dollar Movie Week” comes back to “Who Wants to Be A Millioniare” from March 1-5.

--BBC Worldwide is developing game show apps for the Iphone including “The Generation Game” and “Mastermind”.

--Ant and Dec resign with ITV through 2011.

--Vanna White co-hosted the Lion Winter Fashion Show at the 2010 Craft and Hobby Trade Show held recently at the Anaheim Convention Center promoting her Vanna’s Choice line of yarns, which is now expanded to 23 colors and 5 prints.

--GSN is casting for a dating show where you have to “discover each other’s quirks.”

--Don’t Forget The Lyrics is cleared in 65% of the country so far, with more to come.

--A man proposes to his GF on UK’s Deal or No Deal, and the banker increases the offer.

--In an interview with USA Today, Patti Labelle says, "Some of the judges, I don't think they're qualified to even judge." She didn’t specify who those judges were.

--In a NY Times Article we are shown how much Idol contestants make even though they don’t sell a record. Kris Allen, last year’s winner, has earned at least $650,000 from “American Idol,” according to contracts that last season’s contestants signed with the show’s producers during the competition. That amount reflects the minimum a winner would earn. Including performance fees and merchandising royalties from the “American Idol” tour, as well as other opportunities, winners have never failed to earn less than $1 million in the year or so after the contest, people close to the show say.

It is not just the winner who cashes in; finalists who reach the Top 5 this season are likely to earn close to $100,000 from the show — and three to four times that if the “Idol” producers sign them to a record deal. The Top 12 contestants are guaranteed several thousand dollars for their efforts. And that is before accounting for the Top 10 finalists’ earnings for appearing in the summer’s “American Idol” tour. These details emerged from copies of last year’s contracts filed in state court in Los Angeles under laws requiring court approval of entertainment-industry deals with minors.

--“Minute To Win It” will have a 2-hour debut episode on March 14th on NBC from 7-9PM EST. That same night, “Celebrity Apprentice 3” will premiere from 9-11PM. And Guy Fieri is cooking for the President, the First Family and their staff in a private, non-recorded event.

--On March 10th, Drew Carey will be celebrating his 500th episode as host on March 10th. The show and prizes will have a “500” theme to it. To celebrate this milestone, every contestant who makes it on stage will receive $500.

--Entertainment Weekly is reporting that the Facebook campaign to get Betty White to host SNL has been successful...somewhat. They are putting together a “Women of Comedy” episode that would team the former Rose Nylund with several of her younger contemporaries. Ex-SNL MVP Molly Shannon is on board, I hear, and feelers have also been put out to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. (An NBC spokesperson insists no one has been confirmed at this time.) 

--Todrick Hall’s rep takes a hit as he confirmed reports that he owes people money for a failed musical called “OZ: The Musical”.

--Tim Gunn makes a speech at Georgia State University.

--Padma Lakshmi is now a mom to Krishna Thea Lakshmi

--tvbythenumbers.com is reporting good ratings numbers for both “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make A Deal”. “Price" is up season-to-date 12% in viewers (5.03m from. 4.51m), while "LMAD" is up 12% in viewers (2.42m from 2.16m) from a year ago, according to Nielsen most current ratings through the week ending Feb. 14.  Price is up 9% among households and up 11% among adults 18-49 compared to last year. Let's Make a Deal, has improved its time period in households by 13% (1.7 versus 1.5), in adults 18-34 by 67% (0.5 versus 0.3) and women 18-34 by 20% (0.6/0.5).

--Nickelodeon officially renews BrainSurge for Season 2.

--The Biggest Loser hits the road for new people who need help in changing their lives.

--In the “You can’t Make this stuff up” department, Noel Edmonds is developing a quiz show format with the working title Beat the Monkey in which the master of ceremonies is a real monkey.

Jason Block still stings from the loss of the Colts. E-mail him at jiblock@yahoo.com.