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Our Little Genius: Exclusive Interview with Executive Producer Mark Burnett

Posted on 12/22/2009 by Lindsay in Our Little Genius and Cast Interviews

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By Lindsay Strouse


Executive Producer Mark Burnett returns to Fox in January with the premier of his new show Our Little Genius. The show gives child geniuses from the ages of 6-12 the opportunity to win up to $500,000 for their families by answering Ivy League-level questions. The geniuses must answer increasingly difficult questions while their parents make the decision to stop the game at any time and choose to walk away with the winnings for their family. To see how the little geniuses are doing, there is a panel of leading adult experts – ranging from Ivy League professors to renowned doctors to award-winning scientists.  Recently, Mark spoke to reporters in a press conference call about what viewers can expect when they tune in to Our Little Genius.


Q. Lindsay, Reality Wanted: Where did you get the idea to change the focus to kids for "Our Little Genius?"
A. Mark: That was the real genesis of it. It’s very family-friendly, very sponsor friendly and we clearly couldn’t copy our own show so we decided to turn it around and make it so that very, very smart kids were the focus of the show and the adult element of it will be two-fold. One would be the totally amazed experts.  Also, the parents, while the kids are just used to knowing the subject they love, and it’s very easy for them typically, the parents don’t particularly know anything about the subject but do have a total understanding of the value of the money. The parents and the experts are really the adult part of the game and the questions are answered by young geniuses. 


Q: Lindsay, Reality Wanted: Do you anticipate this show to have more or less success than "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"
A. Mark: I have absolutely no idea.  I know that we’re loving the way it’s all coming together. I’ve watched it now with my family and I find the kids are so cute and so amazing.  As the questions are being asked over and over while they’re on the set I was saying to myself or out loud, “How on earth do these kids know this level of detail?”  I think part of it comes down – they are geniuses – but also is the lack of clutter in a kid’s mind. That’s why the real experts, the adult experts, continually get stumped but the kids are very clear in their minds about their subject.


Q. What is importance of casting on your shows, specifically this show, and is it getting easier to cast your shows or harder?
A. Mark: It’s no different on this show from any other show in that there is an element of charisma and cuteness that translates through a camera onto a television screen into your home.  In this case, it’s much more specific.  The pool of kids we can put on Our Little Genius is infinitely smaller than a general pool of people who think they’d like to be on television in some way.  So it’s a much more specific type of casting, but still being charismatic, cute, and audience friendly is still a big factor however you look at television.

Q. Why did you choose Kevin Pollak as a host for the show?
A. Mark: Kevin Pollak agreed to come to a test taping, like a run-through in a hotel ballroom, with producers playing parts just to see what would happen with a test kid.  It was absolutely like lightning in a bottle.  It really came from him wanting to come and try it for fun and just the total amazement of how good he was with kids, an audience, and how quick on his feet he was.


Q. It seems that the cliché is that the genius kid was always socially backwards and so forth.  You’ve always had smart kids who were really socially charming, too. Are there just lots and lots of genius kids who are also really charming?
A. Mark: I don’t know how to quantify it but I will say to you that I do believe that these genius kids probably have a little more difficulty socially in peer groups.  What I’m seeing, and what you’re seeing in promos, and you’ll see on the show, is the kids in their element. They’re being celebrated for their genius.  I’m not seeing them playing pickup football or X-Box or other things kids hang out and do.  So I can’t speak to it, but I have to believe they are probably more comfortable around kids much older because it is an astounding level of intellect.

Q. There is a lot of talk in the media this year about children being exploited. Given the pressure that kids on Our Little Genius are under, were you concerned about that at all when you were working on the show? 
A. Mark: Concerned is not the right word, aware is a much better terminology.  We decided kids get celebrated for gymnastics, football, singing, acting, all the time, are put in this position.  It’s only really spelling bees, which is kid versus kid on ABC that you see academia celebrated.  Here’s a chance where the kid is not against another kid.  This is a kid in their subject, very specific subject. 
Q. How do the parents determine when to take the money and run.  How would they know if they’re right to do that?
A. Mark: They don’t. They’re very ordinary families, typically.  You don’t know.  They’re not easy questions.

Q. Is this going to be entertaining for an average twelve year old?  Or is the average twelve year old just going to want to punch these kids? 
A. Mark: All I know is I’ve watched it with my own kids; I have a twelve year old who couldn’t tear himself away from it because it’s just fascinating.  You keep thinking –this kid is so confident -- they’re about to get it wrong, they’re about to get it wrong.  The parents are looking increasingly nervous, and Kevin Pollak will go and talk to them.  There is a dramatic element. 



Our Little Genius premieres on Wednesday, January 13th at 9 PM ET after American Idol on Fox. 

(Image courtesy of Fox)


For more Our Little Genius Links visit Sirlinksalot.net


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