The New York Times reports that "The Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether the producers of the planned Fox game show "Our Little Genius" gave potential contestants the answers to some questions before taping episodes of the program last year."
At issue are allegations that some contestants were given answers to questions that would be on the show prior to the taping. Producer Mark Burnett proactively pulled the show before it was aired and before the issue became public, citing a commitment to the integrity of his reality programming. According to the New York Times:
Section 508 of the Communications Act of 1934 makes it illegal for anyone to give, with the intent to deceive the viewing or listening public, assistance that will affect the outcome of a "purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill." That issue was behind the quiz show scandals of the 1950s.
Well isn't this fantastic. Government resources are now being marshaled to investigate the integrity of a reality show that never aired.
It's also hard to understand how Section 508 of the Communications Act applies if the show was never aired. If I make a home video of a quiz show in my backyard and tell my friends the answers before I tape it, will the FCC come after me?
But perhaps more importantly, why is the federal government serving as the referee for reality show ethics?