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Interview with Mark Burnett,
Barry Poznick and Jeff
Foxworthy of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" on
FBC Publicity: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
May 22, 2015/10:30 a.m. PDT
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by.
Welcome to the Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Conference
Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only
mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session.
(Operator instructions.) As a reminder, this conference is
I would now like to turn the conference over to our host,
Mr. Michael Roach. Please go ahead, sir.
Michael: Thanks a lot for joining us today for the conference
call on behalf of the season premiere of Are You Smarter
Than a 5th Grader? which returns to Fox on Tuesday, May 26th
at 8:00 p.m., 7:00 Central, and joining us today on the
call, our host Jeff Foxworthy and executive producers Mark
Burnett and Barry Poznick, and just wanted to thank everyone
for taking the time out for this call. Jack, weíre ready to
Moderator: (Operator instructions.) Our first question comes
from the line of Laura Benefiel from Fox. Please go ahead.
Laura: Hello. I work on the social media for Are You Smarter
Than a 5th Grader? and I was wondering if there was anything
that you learned in fifth grade that you find is still
helpful today, through daily life?
Jeff: Wow. Thatís telling, isnít it?
Laura: Or your childhood, maybe.
Mark: Jeff, no pressure. Just be funny, Jeff.
Jeff: You know what, probably the only thing that I learned
during that fifth grade year were the lyrics to the
Gilliganís Island theme song. Everything that I learned in
school is gone and that is in a file that has a permanent
do-not-erase tab on it, which is what makes the show work.
When Mark first called me, Lord, almost a decade ago, and
his first question was ďWould you be interested in hosting a
game show?Ē and I said, ďOh, I donít think so.Ē I said,
ďWhatís the premise?Ē And he said, ďAdults taking an
elementary school test for a shot at $1 million.Ē And I just
I said thatís brilliant, because everyone is going to think
they can do it. Everybody is going to think oh, itís an
elementary school test? Yes, I can do it. And you just find
out that you canít, that all those things that you learned
for a test, my brain goes, keep the Gilliganís Island song,
get rid of anything about triangles. We donít need
triangles. We never use triangles.
Laura: Absolutely. And do you think that, because I watched
the first episode and there was a question on there, I wonít
spoil it, but where if you had just thought about it for a
second, itís the one about the states, andóright, that one?
And so, that if you had just thought about it, but maybe he
was overthinking it too much and thought oh, thereís no way
Iíll be able to figure this one out, but you maybe play a
mind game with yourself, like you wonít know the answer if
you overthink it, or something.
Jeff: I think that you totally do, and you think theyíre
first grade questions, so six-year-olds are answering this
every day, and then when it comes up on the screen, as an
adult youíre thinking thereís a trick to this. And thereís
really not. As adults I think we tend to answer too quickly
without thinking things out, and thatís what makes the show
entertaining to me.
I can look at somebody, when they come out there, because
the producers might walk out there before the show and go,
this lady is really smart. We may be giving away $1 million.
And sheíll get out there, and the crowd starts yelling, and
those lights come on, and I look at her face and Iím like,
we arenít giving away $1 million. Itís different. Itís
totally different when you get out there and stand on that
Laura: Yes. And Kelly Pickler is one.
Jeff: Not a week goes by somebody doesnít bring up Kelly
Laura: Sorry to do it, but that was [indiscernible].
Jeff: No, thatís beautiful. And when youíre a comedian and
that starts, youíre just looking up going thank you, God.
This is gold right here.
Laura: Absolutely. Perfect. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you. (Operator instructions.) Our next
question comes from the line of Kyle Smith from Fox.com.
Please go ahead.
Kyle: Hello. Thanks so much for doing the call with us today.
This show is very family friendly and appeals to many
generations of viewers. Why do you think that is?
Jeff: Well, and Barry and Mark, feel free to jump in, I think
part of the appeal, itís probably one of the few shows
thatís on at primetime that appeals to three different
generations. When we first started doing the show, I would
getóI still get letters from teachers going, youíve made it
cool to be smart again. So the show appeals to kids because
it shows them knowing the answers that adults donít know, or
saving the day with adults.
Itís popular with their parents because these parents are
going over this stuff nine months a year with their kids,
helping them do their homework, and itís popular with the
grandparents. So its three generations, and I canít really
think of anything off the top of my head that appeals to
three different generations.
Kyle: Awesome. Thank you.
Jeff: Thank you.
Barry: Hello, this is Barry. I was going to add one thing to
that, which is also the questions on the show are all pulled
from grade school curriculums over the last 40 or 50 years.
Itís not stuff like any tech stuff or changes in historical
or scientific data, like Pluto not being a planet, isnít
part of our show.
Thatís, I think, also why it relates to everybody, because
we all learned it and nobody feels left out, whereas shows
like Jeopardy! do appeal to a wide audience, but they also
alienate a lot of people who donít knowówho never learned
that information. So I think thatís also part of the broad
appeal, is the reference material that we use.
Kyle: Cool. Thanks so much! Looking forward to it.
Jeff: Thank you.
Moderator: (Operator instructions.) Our next question comes
from the line of Megan John from TV.com. Please go ahead.
Megan: Hi, guys. Thanks so much for doing the call today.
Jeff: [indiscernible] you, Megan.
Megan: My main question is this time around, what are the
biggest differences this show has this season?
Jeff: Well, since we began, technology just keeps growing in
leaps and bounds, so I think thatís the first thing youíll
notice is electronics wise, theyíre much more sophisticated.
We do profile pages on the kids, which speaks to what
theyíre doing in their real life, where we show you what
subjects theyíre good at, what they like to do when theyíre
not in school, their pets. And so you learn more about them,
because I think theyíre the stars of the show.
One of the coolest things that weíve added this season is a
thing called the Grade School Giveaway, and we actually went
out and researched looking for elementary schools that
needed something, whether it was playground equipment or
band equipment, or there was one town where the two major
industries there had shut down, and these kids, they were
struggling. They didnít have enough lunch money and the
teachers were actually pulling their own money out of their
pockets so these kids could eat, and so on the $10,000
question we Skype with that school.
Theyíll have the entire school in the cafeteria or the
auditorium and find out a little bit about whatís going on
with them, and then if the contestant answers the question
right, we turn around as a show and give that school
$10,000. And just to see them jumping up and down and so
happy andóitís just really one of those feel-good moments.
The kids on our show, the ones that are in our classroom
just get such a kick out of helping another school out. I
think thatís wonderful, and so having the ability to sit
there and Skype with somebody and do something cool for them
is really neat.
Megan: Awesome. Thanks so much.
Jeff: Thank you for the question, Megan.
Moderator: Our next question comes from the line of Bill
Harris from Sun Media. Please go ahead.
Bill: Hello, guys. I know that when you get to my age,
certainly I can blink and five years goes by, and yet for an
entire high school class runs through or an entire primary
school class, they run through the whole gamut of it, five
years is a long time when youíre that age. Iím curious,
though, when you look at it now from having done the show, I
guess it was five years ago or so that it went off the air,
have the kids changed dramatically? Have the adults changed
at all in terms of what they know? Whatís the biggest
difference between whoís changed the most, the adults or the
Jeff: To me it was a little bit like riding a bicycle, and
since in that five years I had done a bunch of other shows,
and Barry and Mark had, and I will say thatís one thing
thatís really unique about this show. Out of anything Iíve
ever done on television, this was the thing, if I was in the
grocery store or the Home Depot, people would walk by me and
go, they need to bring 5th Grader back.
And you smile and nod, but youíre thinking they donít do
that. Once something is gone, itís gone, but every time I
would see Barry, every time I would see Mark, we would bring
up this show. There was just something special and unique
When we started talking about it and then Fox called and
said they wanted to bring it back, that was the question in
my mind, okay, will itócan we still do the same thing? Once
we got back, like I said, technology has changed and these
kids are much more techno-savvy, I think they were, than in
the beginning, because itís the world they live in. They
donít use notebooks anymore. They use iPads. [indiscernible]
And I laugh, and I donít know how old you are, Bill, but I
sayóIím 56, and so Iím like, technology wise, Iím in the
middle, because my parents canít text and my kids canít
write. They donít even teach cursive anymore. But Iíve got
to tell you, this group of kids that weíve got on this
season, theyíre as fabulous as any group weíve ever had.
And theyíre just regular kids. Itís not kids that want to be
TV stars, theyíre just regular kids. And I had a ball doing
it. I donít know how Mark and Barry feel, but to me, after
one day back, it was like oh yeah, man. This is like your
comfortable pair of cowboy boots. [indiscernible]
Mark: Iíve always loved it. Jeff and Barry know that, and as
you said, every time we meet we talk about it. But whatís
great, even though weíve updated the show a little bit, it
really is the core values.
This is a show that comes out of when you have a kid whoís
ten years of age, you suddenly realize you cannot do their
homework. What used to be basic stuff, and our hard drives
get full. Thereís so much going on with jobs, marriages,
life, and the kids have only got to think about, pretty
much, their grade school.
You bring in these super smart contestants, some of them
went to law school or great universities, lawyers, and they
cannot answer first, second, third, fourth, or fifth grade.
Itís an amazing show, because what it does, it makes the
kids feel empowered. It raises up kids, and thatís what
happened for years on television with this, and itís coming
If you look at the landscape of nonfiction TV, itís the old
standards that are the winners. Like, you still know Dancing
with the Stars, rock solid. The Bachelor, rock solid.
Survivor, Apprentice, The Voice. These shows have been going
on forever, and when you find a show that just works and you
know it feels good and itís very entertaining, thereís a
reason it should be on TV, and it really, for the three of
us, have made hundreds of episodes over a decade together.
This was great fun getting back together, and the show looks
amazing, and it just makes you feel good. You love it when
you see that the contestant, deer in the headlights, the
light is on, the audience, and theyíre asking a fifth grader
to come and help them cheat on the test. Itís hilarious.
Bill: Do you think that if there wereóI know itís an easy
thing. Sometimes people can look at society and say oh,
society is getting dumber, weíre specialized in some things,
but we donít have general knowledge of things anymore. If
this show had existed, say, in the 1950s or 1960s, do you
think that the adults would do better, or about the same, or
Jeff: Thatís a great question. I donít think Iíve ever been
Barry: I would think that it would be the same, in that as a
parent, you do move on with what youíre focusing on and what
youíre studying, and so I think you do put all that
seemingly useless information aside. But with any of us, if
when I was in school somebody said pay attention, you could
win $1 million remembering this stuff someday, I would have
paid more attention!
Jeff: I remember when my youngest daughter and my niece, who
lives next door, was taking them to school one day, and we
had been studying. That week they had a science test, and it
was about clouds. Weíre riding to school and I look up in
the sky and I say, ďHey, girls, what kind of clouds are
those?Ē And my daughter goes, ďDad, that was three days ago.
I have no idea.Ē
So she learned it for the test, which we all did, and then
it was gone. I think that probably always has happened. And
then as an adult, when you find, once you get out of school
nobody is asking you the difference between an adverb and an
adjective, and so you forget those rules.
Barry: Thereís something I was going to add, also, about when
you were talking about who has changed more, the kids or
adults. When we did the casting search cross-country, we saw
kids from all different cities and states, and what was
funny was these kids were just born when the show was
created. They didnít really grow up with the show, because
in the last five years, we werenít on the air and they
werenít aware of us.
When they were auditioning for the show we were telling them
what the show was, and these kids couldnít believe that
grownups didnít know this stuff. It was funny to see their
reaction. They were genuinely shocked when we told them that
there are grownups who donít know how many quarts are in a
pint, or pints are in a quart, and so it was really funny.
So I think thereís a humor that still exists that kids get
excited by knowing stuff that their parents donít know. That
With the contestants, what was interesting was money values
have changed, I think, because of the way the economy dipped
and rebounded over the last few years. We werenít sure if
they were going to be as greedy as they once were in risking
Bill: Oh, okay, yes. Interesting.
Barry: But I think for our sake, whatís great is people are
just as greedy as ever. Theyíll take the gamble, but it was
a little bit less predictable this time, which I think makes
for a fun show, because before, it was like everybody would
go for it. Everybody would risk it, even though Jeff would
be out there saying this is $100,000. I could put it in your
pocket right now. You could take that. And they would almost
always go for it.
Now we had a different ebb and flow where people really took
a beat [ph]. Once they got up into $100,000, $175,000,
$300,000, they really started to think about how that would
change their lives, and I thought that was a really good
addition and evolution of mankind in some way.
Bill: So maybe we are getting smarter.
Bill: Thanks, guys. Pleasure to talk to you.
Jeff: Thank you.
Barry: Thank you.
Moderator: (Operator instructions.) Our next question comes
from the line of Kate OíHare from Patheos.com. Please go
Kate: Hello, guys.
Jeff: Hello, Kate.
Kate: I was wondering if youíve heard from the effect on the
kids of having been on the show, if it has effect on their
academic life or anything else.
Barry: Whatís really cool is when we were talking about
relaunching the show, just out of curiosity we reached out
to all the kids from the first class who are all in college
now and doing great, excelling in sports and academics and
studying medicine and just really, theyíre all really good
One member of the class stayed in show business. She went on
to do the show on Disney, Austin & Ally. It was Laura Marano.
When she left and we replaced her, those five are all in
university and doing great, and so I think we picked good
kids and then they were also part of a good show that
celebrated them for being smart, and so I think it really
does set them on a good course. All of our kids in the
subsequent classes allóthey were smart when we met them and
theyíre still doing well.
Kate: Do they come back to you and say that it changed their
attitude about school, that theyíve come on and theyíve
really felt the effect of having a good education, of having
answers, of being able to shine?
Barry: Weíve heard that a lot from viewers, fans of the show,
where parents will say Iím glad you made it cool to be
smart, because Iím able to use that as an example to my
kids. My own kids, who are in first grade and third grade,
every time they say am I going to be able to be on the show
when Iím in fifth grade? Iím, if youíre smart enough, so
work hard. I think itís a good excuse for parents to
encourage their kids to work hard in school.
Kate: Thereís a lot of places where intelligence is not
celebrated, and this is one where it is.
Barry: Exactly. Yes.
Jeff: Well, and we also live in a world where negative drives
headlines, because thatís what makes people watch. So many
of the things that you see and hear about kids now, it comes
from a negative aspect. Itís like Mark said. This is a show
that empowers kids. I think it shows kids, hey, if I apply
myself and do well at this, this gives me power in the
world. It shows kids in such a positive light.
One of the things that we changed this time around is when
we do the copy, the child at the podium actually gets to go
confer with their classmates. I would go into the little
huddle and weíd bring the camera into the huddle, and to
listen to them discuss the question, you realize, oh wow,
that theyíre paying attention, because theyíre talking about
not just the question, but things leading up to it and
details and no, I remember when we studied this that
so-and-so said this and Iím like, they blew me away. Iím
like, wow, they know what theyíre talking about. Theyíre
just not up there guessing blindly.
Kate: Oh, by the way, Jeff, is there any future for your
other game show, for Bible Challenge?
Jeff: I donít know. They had an option on it. Itís hard. It
was only one of two original programs on GSN, and it costs
money to do an original program. I think it was an economic
thing, because it was the top-rated thing on GSN, and I
enjoyed doing it, but as of now, we havenít heard anything
about doing more of them.
Kate: Between the two, are you really now a professional game
show host as well as a comedian and everything else?
Jeff: Itís so funny. Never say never, because when Mark first
talked to me aboutóI think my first thought was, game show
host? No, thatís cheesy. And I found that I loved doing it
because I like people.
People will come up to me in the airport and go I know you
hate people bothering you, and Iím like no, I really donít.
I like people. I like to get to know their stories and where
theyíre from and I love kids. Iíve spent so much of my life
working with kids off the stage, whether itís being a parent
or having my nieces next door or working at the school. My
wife and I have been chairmen of the fundraising stuff for
the Duke Childrenís Hospital for over 20 years, and so that
was a natural for me.
And I could be funny. Thatís what I liked about this show is
I didnít have to act like I was Alex Trebek and I knew all
this stuff, and so I could make jokes. Because even when
youíre doing well, youíre answering questions an
eight-year-old is answering, you canít get too puffed up
about it. I just found I enjoyed hosting. I was like well,
isnít this a pleasant surprise at this point in life? You
found something else you really like doing.
Mark: People said to me the other day, ďHas Jeff Foxworthy
ever done anything else other than 5th Grader?Ē The whole
career has been erased.
Kate: Thank you so much.
Jeff: Yes, I had two lives before this. But hereís the funny
thing. I really thought that I was going to go through life
being the redneck guy because of the redneck jokes, because
everywhere Iíd go, people were like hey, you might be a
redneck. Once I started doing this show, I have 50-year-old
guys walk by me in the mall and tapping me on the shoulder
and go, Iím not smarter than a fifth grader. Yes, so now Iím
the 5th Grader guy.
Kate: You never know what you can do until someone gives you
a chance to do it.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. And Iím so glad I said yes to it. Itís
been one of my favorite things Iíve ever done.
Mark: Itís such a great brand. The amount of people who talk
about 5th Grader in passing, when they talk about different
shows Iíve done. It is because it raises up the kids and it
is because you see blue collar, white collar, you see white
collar, college-educated contestants who literally are deer
in headlights. They really cannot remember how to calculate
the area of a triangle. They canít even remember first grade
art, what do you get when you mix primary blue and primary
Itís funny for the audience, and the kids are laughing, but
Jeff Foxworthy did something brilliant in the first ever few
episodes which we continue to this day. Jeff never, ever
allows a contestant to be humiliated. Jeff will laugh along
with them. He wants them to win the money. The kids are
kind, and this is a show that was ahead of its time.
Now, kinder, gentler TV works, obviously. Weíve seen the
shift in television. 5th Grader was always that way, and
itís just great to have 5th Grader back on network TV. I
love the show, and it is a thing thatís one of those things
that got in the lexicon of the United States of America,
hey, youíre not smarter than a fifth grader, and thatís a
hard thing to achieve in this nation.
Mark: And that really happened. Itís a catchphrase in the
Kate: Iíd like [audio disruption] college students against
these kids. I think that could be a wake-up call.
Jeff: I would not bet against these kids, Iíll tell you that.
Barry: We did have a valedictorian on, a current
valedictorian on in the last version of the show, and she
did okay, but not great, and I think it just proves that
these kids are in it to win it.
Kate: Well, thank you very much.
Jeff: Thank you, Kate.
Moderator: And we have time for one more question. Our final
question comes from the line of Krista Chain from The TV MegaSite.
Please go ahead.
Krista: Hello, guys. Thanks for talking to us today.
Jeff: Thank you, Krista. Thanks for being here.
Krista: My question, I just wondered if you could give an
example of the process that the kids go through to be on the
Barry: Sure. Well, itís three parts that we evaluate them on.
One is they take a test that they have to excel at. Two is
they take a personality test, like an audition, where we
make sure that they take the game seriously but they still
have a personality thatís not typical showbiz kids. We
wanted them to have hobbies and interests outside of show
business, so some of them are sports and piano and lots of
And then the last part is, honestly, is we meet with their
parents, because we learned early on that weíre going to be
spending a lot of time with their parents as well, and we
wanted to make sure they were people that were polite and
professional and fun and easy to work with. If they passed
all three tests, then we put them into the next level of the
process and we discuss them with the network and pick a
diverse mix of kids with different areas of expertise and
from different parts of the country so thereís a real cross
Krista: Okay, great. Thanks, and I look forward to it.
Barry: Thank you.
Jeff: Krista, what part of New York are you from?
Krista: íBama, but I have a cold.
Jeff: I say that lovingly. I love to hear somebody else that
has an accent.
Mark: Thanks, guys.
Michael: Great. Well, thanks again, everyone, for
participating in this call today, and as a reminder, Are You
Smarter Than a 5th Grader? returns Tuesday, May 26th at 8:00
p.m., 7:00 Central, on Fox. Thanks, everyone.
Jeff: Thank you.
Mark: Thanks, guys.
Barry: Goodbye, guys.
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, this conference will be made
available for replay after 12:00 p.m. Pacific time today
through May 29, 2015 at midnight. That does conclude our
conference for today. Thank you for your participation and
for using AT&T Executive TeleConference. You may now
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