Cleverly using “American Idol” as a launching pad, Fox generated enormous sampling of this new gameshow, which is really just a means of using a pithy title to try, yet again, to replicate the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” phenomenon. The introductory verbiage pledged that this will be the “most embarrassing gameshow ever,” but after the initial gimmick of seeing kids answer questions that adults can’t, it’s hard to see cute concept enjoying an extended shelf life.
A UCLA grad opened Tuesday’s half-hour version and performed miserably, prompting host Jeff Foxworthy — he of “You might be a redneck if …” renown — to wryly quip that USC alums were no doubt having a good time watching him struggle. Yet for the most part, Foxworthy’s gibes about a 7-year-old being able to answer feel a little forced, mostly because the questions aren’t appreciably easier than most primetime quiz fare.
The main gimmick is that a handful of ethnically diverse children (dubbed “the class”) serve as the contestant’s lifelines, allowing him or her to copy or consult their answers a few times as they climb the ladder toward a potential $1 million payoff. (Readers of the fine print will note that the kids were provided workbooks that “could have provided the basis” for questions used in the show, but quibbling over reality TV fine print is, alas, a long-lost cause.)
In one respect, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” does at least represent a note of poetic justice: Having been copied repeatedly himself on “Survivor,” exec producer Mark Burnett borrows liberally here from the quiz playbook, yielding a program that felt completely familiar about five minutes into its debut, from the moody lighting to the amped-up music.
Fox is rolling out “5th Grader” over three nights in order to drag on “Idol’s” robust coattails, giving the show a healthy running start toward graduation to stand-alone status. Still, heady as those initial numbers were, there’s a sense that this series might be just like a smart-alecky TV kid — something that’s endearing for awhile but, ultimately, isn’t destined to age well.