Mark Burnett’s last-minute decison to yank "Our Little Genius" a week before it aired has prompted questions about what rules and regulations the show was potentially violating.
The "Survivor" producer hasn’t said specifically what motivated him to pull the program, but he did release a vague official statement Thursday that alluded to "an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the pre-production."
Also in the statement, he said he wanted the show to be "beyond reproach"
Indeed, reports have popped up on blogs and on websites since the announcement that demonstrate that while the show may not have been rigged, the circumstances surrounding the production may have existed in a nebulous legal terrain.
If true, it’s possible that had Burnett not pulled the plug, the show could have violated Federal Communications Commission regulations and even led to a possible investigation.
Following the ’50s quiz show scandal, in which contestants were given answers ahead of time for such hit programs as "Twenty-One" and "The $64,000 Question," the commission developed stringent regulations to govern such shows.
According to FCC statute, such shows are barred from engaging in "…any artifice or scheme for the purpose of prearranging or predetermining in whole or in part the outcome of a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance."
It’s this part of the law, that legal experts say might have worried Burnett’s team. (Burnett was not able to be reached by TheWrap.)
If the show producers were giving contestants any information about the questions or categories beforehand — and if that information was relayed behind the scenes — it could be seen as predetermining the outcome, Sharon Gold, an entertainment lawyer with TroyGould P.C, told TheWrap.
Sources within the network say that the show did not violate the most important commandment of game show rules — contestants were not given any answers ahead of time. However, on the website, Buzzerblog, editor Andrew Davis cites audience reports on the web that during one game a general category was given to child before he decided if he would advance in the game or take his winnings and leave the show.
The contestant reportedly said he wasn’t comfortable with this category, prompting taping to be stopped for a few minutes before a different catagory — one the contestant was more comfortable with — was selected instead.
A stage manager allegedly dismissed the decision to stop taping as a "technical error."
"There wasn’t flat out rigging," Davis told TheWrap. "But they did incredibly shady things."
"If [Burnett] owned up to whatever happened, and said he was pulling the show and redoing what went wrong, then the FCC is not going to investigate," said Gold. "If there’s no show, there’s really no evidence of any wrongdoing."
Though Thursday announcement was a stunner, "Our Little Genius" always seemed ill-fated. Critics were gunning for Burnett’s latest program — which had child prodigies fielding trivia questions in the hopes of making off with a $500,000 grand prize — almost before a single frame of film was shot.
Set to debut Jan. 13, it drew criticism from child advocates and psychologists for fear of puttin undue pressure on the pint-sized, would-be half-millionaires was too great.
A recent "New York Times" article by Edward Wyatt, while maintaining an air of journalistic objectivity, came across as sharply critical of the show’s environment. Wyatt’s article documented a scene where a young boy failed to answer one element of a four-part question correctly before disolving into tears when told he was wrong.
Burnett will have another opportunity to make things right. He plans to reshoot episodes, but Fox has not yet made a decision if it will air "Genius" once the overhaul has been completed.
A network spokeswoman said the channel will wait and see what Burnett comes up with.