Integrity Concerns Force Fox to Postpone Child Quiz Show

Edward Wyatt|The New York Times

The premiere of “Our Little Genius,” a new quiz show featuring child contestants that was scheduled to be broadcast on Fox next week after “American Idol,” has been postponed and possibly canceled, Fox announced Thursday, over concerns about the integrity of the show.


Mark Burnett, the creator and executive producer of the new show, said in a statement that he had “recently discovered that there was an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the preproduction of ‘Our Little Genius.’ ”

“As a result, I am not comfortable delivering the episodes without reshooting them,” Mr. Burnett added. “I believe my series must always be beyond reproach, so I have requested that Fox not air these episodes.”

Mr. Burnett did not respond to a telephone message left at the office of his production company, and a Fox spokesman declined to expand on Mr. Burnett’s comment.

In its own statement, Fox said that it respected Mr. Burnett’s due diligence and his decision to withdraw the episodes. “We agree there can be no question about the integrity of our shows,” the statement said. “While these episodes will not air, the families who participated in the show will receive their winnings, and we are grateful for their participation.”

The sudden withdrawal of the program just days before its debut and the disclosure that “information was relayed to contestants” raises obvious inquiries about whether the contestants were given answers to the quiz questions. “Our Little Genius” has drawn criticism from psychologists and advocates for children who say they think it places unhealthy pressure on the contestants to win a game that offers their family “life-changing money,” according to the Fox promotions.

Two people close to the production — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the production company or the network to speak to the news media — said that contestants were not given answers. But contestants could have benefited from other information, like the topics to be covered or the questions that would be asked.

The issue of whether contestants were given answers or were otherwise directed to fake the outcome of a supposedly fair competition was behind the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Congressional inquiries into the scandals led to a federal law prohibiting the fixing of such shows.

During a visit last month to the studio and the set where eight episodes of the program were taped, a reporter was told that the children knew they would be quizzed on topics in which they were experts, like World War II aircraft, the Civil War or Egyptology. That knowledge alone might not be helpful, but if a contestant knew, for example, that the questions would involve the location of Egyptian landmarks built during the reign of Ramses II, that contestant might have an advantage.

The people close to the production said that while Mr. Burnett intended to retape the episodes, it was not clear if the same contestants would return to compete or if the retaped episodes would appear on Fox.