Interview with Mark Burnett and Jeff Foxworthy from "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Krista

Jeff Foxworthy

Interview with Mark Burnett, Barry Poznick and Jeff Foxworthy of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" on FOX 5/22/15

Final Transcript
FBC Publicity: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
May 22, 2015/10:30 a.m. PDT

Jeff Foxworthy
Mark Burnett
Barry Poznick


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 being recorded.

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 begin.

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 started laughing.

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 mark.

Laura: Yes. And Kelly Pickler is one.

Jeff: Not a week goes by somebody doesnít bring up Kelly Pickler [indiscernible].

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 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 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 kids?

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 about it.

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] itís crazy.

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 back.

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 worse?

Jeff: Thatís a great question. I donít think Iíve ever been asked that.

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 seems timeless.

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 their money.

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.

Barry: Exactly.

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 Please go ahead.

Kate: Hello, guys.

Jeff: Hello, Kate.

Barry: Hello.

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 kids.

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.

Barry: Yes.

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 red?

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.

Jeff: Yes.

Mark: And that really happened. Itís a catchphrase in the nation.

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 show.

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 different things.

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 section.

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 disconnect.

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