Fox quiz show makes grade

Burnett, Darnell teaming on 'Smarter'

Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell are teaming again, this time for a kiddie-based quizzer tentatively titled “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

Skein — whose unveiling comes just days after CBS confirmed it had its own tyke-themed gameshow in the works (Daily Variety, Dec. 7) — will put one ordinary adult in a classroom set filled with about five average fifth graders. Contestants will start out with $100,000 but will then have to gamble that coin by answering a series of general knowledge questions.

The twist: All the questions will come from textbooks aimed at fifth graders and below. Subjects will range from first grade art to fifth grade math.

Kids won’t be competing for coin but will be available for use as lifelines if players need help. They’ll also be on hand to serve as comic relief, gently mocking the grownups who don’t remember all the colors in the rainbow and the like.

“They’re not playing against you,” Burnett said. “We’re using them as characters.”

If players make the right bets, top prize on the skein will be more than $1 million.

Fox has ordered eight episodes of “Are You Smarter” and is putting the project on an extreme fast-track. Burnett and Darnell said it’s even possible production will gear up over the holiday break, indicating a January or February premiere may be an option.

Darnell, Fox’s exec VP in charge of alternative, said the show “has got a grand sense of humor to it and should play very funny.”

“It’s amazing how much you forget from grade school,” he added. “My understanding is that every (network) exec who played the game during the pitch meetings ended up with zero dollars at the end.”

Fox project plays in the same sandboxes as CBS’ child genius quizzer, which Allison Grodner (“Big Brother”) is spearheading. Burnett, however, said his project is “the complete opposite” of what the Eye is planning.

“Their show is how smart are you,” he said. “Ours, quite frankly, is how dumb are you.”

Burnett said the classroom set “will be just how you remember your grade school looking. It’s very different than all the other shows out there now, with the big lights.”

Producer said there’s a strong play-along aspect to the skein as well.

“There are a lot of moments where you say, ‘My God, I can’t believe I forgot that,’ ” he said.

Burnett said he’s also enjoying his new relationship with Darnell, with whom he’s also working on Steven Spielberg-produced Fox skein “On the Lot.”

It wasn’t long ago that the two men were at odds after Fox rushed on a clone of Burnett’s boxing-themed “The Contender.”

“I’m working so much with Mike now, and I really like it,” Burnett said. “He has a very fertile mind.”

“How Smart Are You” began its life as a pitch Zoo Prods. made to Mark Burnett Prods. exec Roy Bank. Original concept was different, but Zoo will continue with the project, with the company’s Barry Poznick and John Stevens serving as exec producers alongside Burnett.