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Our Little Problem
January 7

"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 their part.

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 show longer.

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 chico@gameshownewsnet.com