Our Little Problem
"Portions of the program not affecting
the outcome of the game have been edited/re-created."
If you've ever seen a game show, then you
are probably aware of the above phrase, often stuck within the credit
roll somewhere between fee plugs and the executive producer credit. It
is basically a catch-all for any instance where a production snafu would
have to be either reshot or trashed altogether. Since the days of the
game show scandals of the 1950s, this phrase was a requirement handed
down by BS&P to protect the production company from any liability on
And there are more practices in place to ensure
that anyone who is given their day in the sun does so fairly. That is, after
all, why Jeopardy! has a crack team of line judges on set and a hotline to the
writer's war room. That is, after all, why a contestant or team of contestants
is brought back to compete on a future show if an ambiguity in question or
ruling comes into question.
At least that is what the old way of doing things
was. Now in this close-ended era of game show production, things are edited to
create an outcome that can be spliced cleanly to complete a show in time for
whatever else was to begin afterwards. This, a side effect of the reality-TV era
story-telling-over-outcome, sell-the-entire-package way of doing things.
Mark Burnett is king of this practice, but at the
same time, he's not an idiot.
Think about it for a second. You ever notice how
everyone on his "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and "Shark Tank" wears the
same thing over and over again? It's for production purposes. It's to edit
several games into one block of television programming, enabling him to knock
out several episodes a day on reduced cost with little to no effort. It really
is a surprisingly efficient racket. But when the game doesn't flow naturally,
something tends to get lost in the shuffle.
While we really shouldn't count chickens before
they're hatched, it seems that not only have the chickens of "Our Little Genius"
hatched, they've left the coop with the door open and are currently making ca-cas
all over Fox's schedule.
For those who haven't heard the story, Fox
ordered eight episodes of "Our Little Genius", a quiz show where a child has to,
like almost every quiz show conceived after "Millionaire", answer questions of
increasing difficulty for increasing odds, ultimately ending in a payoff of
hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the players could be stopped at any
moment by their parents, who are watching them compete.
And thus we enter a grey area of advance
knowledge, where we know that contestants are given the subjects to be covered
beforehand, but we don't know exactly what that would entail. This practice is
not new. Dating back to the original run of "Iron Chef" in 1993, challengers and
the Iron Chef that they would ultimately engage were given a list of
ingredients, of which one would be the secret ingredient at the center of the
game. But there's a bit of difference between that and being given the answers
to every question, as was the case with Charles Van Doren and "Twenty One".
The question now is one Mark Burnett doesn't need
to answer since he requested that the taped shows be shelved: "Is it fixing?" He
said, "I believe my series must always be beyond reproach, so I have requested
that Fox not air these episodes." That Burnett would step in and say "this is
the line" is admirable, considering allegations some time ago about whether or
not the voting on "Survivor" was fixed to keep more desirable characters on the
And let's not forget the network side of things
either. Fox can't wash their hands of this either. As it is right now, they have
at least two hours of scheduling to fill, and that's only the start of what's
going to be plan B for their midseason. All we know is that they're a bit
confused as to what's more important: putting on a glossy show or playing a game
fairly, as evidenced by their statement: "Even though we were incredibly pleased
with the quality of 'Our Little Genius,' we respect and appreciate his due
diligence and the decision to pull these episodes. We agree there can be no
question about the integrity of our shows."
This from the network that brought us sketchy
survey questions worth $2 million and a game show based upon a mechanism with
only a 90% degree of accuracy (and I'm being generous). No, this is basically
saying, "We don't want to have to rethink our game plan, but we understand that
given the degree of power this particular person holds, we don't want to take
our chances in swaying him elsewhere."
So what happens next? Burnett has invited the
players back to play again and even pay the winnings out of his own pocket if
necessary, but if anything needs to be nipped in the bud, it's the concept and
the production. You can't be in a hurry to edit things to tell the story at the
cost of the heart of the game.
Because without that, there's no story to tell.
Game Show Alphabet & 25 Days will return next week. Seriously. E-mail Chico Alexander at