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FCC probes planned TV quiz show 'Our Little Genius'

February 20, 2010 |  4:58 pm

Allegations that a planned game show called “Our Little Genius” developed for Fox might have been rigged has prompted an inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission into possible violations of federal rules that govern quiz shows.

Revelation of the FCC probe follows the News Corp.-owned network's decision last month to abruptly yank “Our Little Genius” from its schedule, only a week before the show was to premiere. Fox took the unusual step after reality show titan Mark Burnett, who was producing the series, informed the network that there was a problem with how the young contestants had been briefed for the competition.

"Our Little Genius" was designed to showcase precocious children between the ages of 6 to 12 as they answered increasingly difficult questions in a bid to win thousands of dollars for their families. Fox executives said no decision yet had been made on whether to air the show.

An FCC spokesman declined Friday to comment on possible outcomes of the agency’s investigation, saying only that the case was pending.

Burnett could not be reached for comment Saturday. Fox officials said they had not been contacted by the FCC nor had they seen a copy of the complaint.

Last month, Fox said that none of the children who participated in the show was provided answers to questions. Supplying answers would have been a clear violation of federal rules adopted in the wake of the infamous television quiz show scandals of the 1950s. At that time, producers of such shows as "Twenty One" and “The $64,000 Question” slipped answers to contestants, who then were able to advance.  The increasingly tough questions -- and rising stakes -- heightened the drama of the televised contest.

In-depth answers to questions apparently were not provided to “Our Little Genius” contestants, according to a complaint filed with the FCC in late December and released by the agency on Friday. But the complaint detailed how show producers went to lengths to coach the children. Parents of the children also were allowed to help select questions, the complaint said.

“They asked us to evaluate topics and questions to be used for their show, and they removed several topics that I found objectionable,” wrote the parent who filed the FCC complaint. The identities of the parent and his child were withheld to protect their privacy.

It was not immediately clear what action the FCC is empowered to take if it finds wrongdoing because the episodes never aired.  Though the FCC has jurisdiction over Fox because it holds FCC broadcast licenses for its TV stations, the regulatory agency does not typically police independent producers such as Burnett.

-- Meg James