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Author Topic: 10yo contestant on unaired Our Little Genius, now 22, tells his story  (Read 2365 times)

Kniwt

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The Arizona Republic is out with a massive (8,000-plus words) story about Ben Mohler, one of the contestants on Fox's ill-fated and unaired game show Our Little Genius.

Cached version: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ymancWc8usQJ:https://www.azcentral.com/in-depth/news/local/arizona/2021/05/18/children-tv-boy-who-loved-dinosaurs-survives-game-show-scandal/4313910001/

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... Burnett Productions and the Fox Television Network pulled the plug just a week before the first episode was scheduled to air. They cited concerns over the integrity of the show after allegations surfaced that someone had improperly fed answers to parents, tipped them off on what to have their children study, or otherwise improperly coached contestants.

A New York Times story at the time said the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation after the father of a young music expert said his child was fed answers to questions by a producer.

... But even though the show never aired, one episode constantly plays in Ben Mohler's head.

Ben was in fifth grade at the time. The year was 2009, and the nation was in the depths of the economic recession. Even though Ben was only a child, he knew that families in his neighborhood were losing their jobs and their homes.

“One day in late summer of 2009 my dad came to pick me up from the bus stop, and I got in the car and he said, ‘So we've got kind of an interesting offer for you,’” Ben recalls.

“He was the one who was contacted first. Obviously at 10 years old, I did not have an email yet. He did give me the option if I wanted to do it. And I said yeah. I mean, how do you turn something like that down, right?”


jage

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Thanks for sharing. What a story.

Sodboy13

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Well, I'd say that pretty well confirms those suspicions of impropriety. Straight out of the fifties.
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Loogaroo

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Not gonna lie, reading this makes me feel kind of icky about the business I've gotten myself into.
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There are letters on the floor. They spell "NOPE".

colonial

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Pretty in-depth -- something you don't see often in daily "digital first" newspaper journalism these days.

Per the reporter's Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, he worked on this story for over a year, and that Ben Mohler reached out to him personally to get the story out there ...

https://twitter.com/azgreenday?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

That Don Guy

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I did notice one error.
The story says that Kid Nation "was canceled before it ever aired." In fact, 13 episodes aired on CBS in the fall of 2007.

MSTieScott

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Not gonna lie, reading this makes me feel kind of icky about the business I've gotten myself into.

Every profession is going to have bad actors in it (although granted, not all of them have the ability to violate federal law). What game shows need are people who know the history of the genre who can say, "What you're attempting to do is exactly what happened in the 1950s. And if you do that, we're all going to be out of jobs."

I don't know who all worked on Our Little Genius, but I get the impression that they may have largely come from reality television, where getting the on-camera participants to say what you want them to say is a standard part of the process. I have to assume that there was nobody there to tell them that game shows work differently, because nobody who knows what the consequences are should ever even think about feeding an answer to a contestant.

So don't feel icky about the one production that screwed up big time. Recognize that you have the ability to make sure it doesn't happen again so the genre that we love doesn't get taken off the air.

Postscript: I was a question researcher on the first game show Fox bought after it attempted Our Little Genius. Security was stricter than any other show I've worked on.

weaklink75

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Yeah- nothing in the story makes the production people look good at all. And the question researchers/writers didn't do a good job either (you really shouldn't have a question with such an obscure/controversial answer- so much so that if he had known it people in his field would have suspected there was cheating and it would have hurt him academically in the future, per the article)

chris319

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Quote
So don't feel icky about the one production that screwed up big time. Recognize that you have the ability to make sure it doesn't happen again so the genre that we love doesn't get taken off the air.

Postscript: I was a question researcher on the first game show Fox bought after it attempted Our Little Genius. Security was stricter than any other show I've worked on.

It used to be that at the real networks, game shows were produced under the careful supervision of a Standards and Practices department. NBC had a department called "Compliance and Practices". Because all of the networks owned TV and radio stations which are licensed by the federal government, this was done to protect the licenses of those broadcast stations. Rigging a game show wouldn't go over well at license renewal time. The S&P rep was actually on the set and was within earshot if a producer wanted to speak to a contestant, panelist or emcee. The rep would also accompany contestants to the rest room. Staffers had to sign papers saying they would not participate in quiz rigging or accept anything of value (payola) . The papers spelled out the penalties for violating these federal laws. At the office, game material had to be kept out of areas where contestants would come to audition for the show. My office was on the 4th floor where the material was handled, and the contestant office was on the 10th floor. Nighttime TPIR was syndicated to the NBC station group and a rep from NBC C&P showed up at every taping of nighttime TPIR. This was in the days when NBC, CBS and ABC were the only TV networks.

Nowadays the networks farm out the S&P functions to Sullivan Compliance, founded by Tim Sullivan, a lawyer who used to be head of NBC Compliance and Practices. Fox apparently lacks such infrastructure. Note that it was a whistleblower (parent) who busted Genius, similar to the way Edward Hilgemeier busted Dotto. Fox didn't catch the attempt at rigging internally because they didn't have a department to monitor game-show production and didn't have the smarts to engage Sullivan Compliance. This caper is no different from Dan Enright feeding answers to Stempel and Van Doren, except that nowadays it's a federal offense.

Did they even tape a show of Genius before the plug was pulled?

https://enteractivesolutions.com/tv-compliance/

Prizes

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Did they even tape a show of Genius before the plug was pulled?

My understanding is yes, eight episodes. In a NY Times preview* from 2010, a few of the specialist subjects are loosely described. The fact dinosaurs are included in this piece opening blurb makes me think the others were similarly taped. It also gives a brief overview and profile of a child, Jaden, who has a presidents specialist subject, in addition to pre-taping an incorrect answer segment in case things got messy.

I still kind of want to see this, in a warped way. Because as much as questions were fed, some of it likely feeds off of internal knowledge, and if made fairly, sounds like a guilty pleasure type of show.

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Children can exhibit a remarkable ability to obsess about the most detailed subjects: train timetables, species of dinosaurs, the names of 18 different dolls and their imaginary occupations.

*Found at https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/arts/television/06genius.html

For a preview video: https://youtu.be/eU_1bFu0Kuw
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That Don Guy

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Did they even tape a show of Genius before the plug was pulled?

They pretty much had to have, given that the decision to pull the show was made less than two weeks before its premiere. IIRC, Fox scrambled to fill the show's first time slot by extending the American Idol episode mentioned in the promo by 30 minutes, and then repeating the 500th episode of The Simpsons, which had aired three days earlier.

I also seem to remember that Mark Burnett, whose decision it was to pull the show (I think he said it was going to be "retooled" and put back on the schedule, but nothing ever became of that) pretty much personally promised that whatever money the kids did win would be paid, even if the episodes did not air. This is in contrast to Fox's The Rich List, where the only episode aired was not the first one produced, as it had a returning champion at the start of the show, reportedly because other champions had won well over $100,000, but there was a clause in their contracts that said that if their episodes did not air, then they would not be paid anything.

colonial

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As has been mentioned previously, eight episodes of "Our Little Genius" were recorded but never aired ... per this THR article, Fox and Burnett said the episodes would never see the light of day, though I would presume that, for legal reasons, said episodes are in the custody of Fox and Burnett.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/fox-pulls-our-little-genius-19272/

I'm doubtful that this is the case, but I am curious if a contestant's family received a copy of their son/daughter's episode from Fox or Burnett Productions. One never knows.

I also have to wonder if we may hear from other "Genius" contestants down the line about their experiences and how they compare to what Ben Mohler dealt with. The article references CBS' infamous reality show "Kid Nation" and, about a decade or so after it aired, several of its participants started popping up online, discussing their experiences with the show on Reddit, YouTube and Cracked, among other sites.

UPDATE: Turns out Ben Mohler did drop hints that this interview was coming on Reddit several months back. He posted a photo of himself with other contestants and host Kevin Pollak nine months ago on a Reddit picture forum, calling it "the only surviving cast pic."

https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/ia7uza/the_only_surviving_cast_pic_of_allegedly_rigged/

He mentions that he wants to reach out and talk to the other kids in the picture, but there's no clue if he's every been in touch with any of them.

He later discussed "Genius" on a Reddit forum about "the craziest crime you or someone in your family committed."

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ki7v4r/whats_the_craziest_crime_you_or_somebody_in_your/


Any clue who "W_I_Water" could be? The person describes themselves as a "former game show developer."


JD

« Last Edit: May 24, 2021, 05:33:01 PM by colonial »

vexer6

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Damn shame, part of me hopes these episodes see the light of day as this was a cool idea for a show.

Neumms

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Reading the article, which was great, I can't imagine any way of doing this show without scarring most of the kids even if it weren't rigged. It was an awful, awful idea. All I can say is I hope Kids Week on The Joker's Wild didn't produce any stories like this.

chrisholland03

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Damn shame, part of me hopes these episodes see the light of day as this was a cool idea for a show.

I couldn't disagree with you more.  And for once I agree with Neumms.  Even if it were without scandal, the premise was nothing but exploitative.