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In January, Boston’s WGBH will start production on High School Quiz Show, a fast-paced question-and-answer game show featuring up to 144 students from 24 Massachusetts schools. But don’t expect any physical challenges, virtual worlds, special celebrity versions, zippy graphics, family editions or slime slides for losers. Just plain old questions for plain young-kid brains.
If it’s a surprise local hit, expect more TV producers and stations to follow suit. After all, this is how Antiques Roadshow became the American Idol of PBS (after starting as a local documentary in England). If High School Quiz Show comes and goes with barely a ripple of interest, expect people to blame the lack of physical challenges, slime slides, virtual worlds and zippy graphics.
Of course the latter is the more likely scenario, which is a shame. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after having worked in kids media for nearly 10 years, it’s that most kids want to be perceived as smart -- even if that's a secret. But the media rarely gives them that opportunity. We’d rather cast real kids as entertainment junkies, dismissive of school and authority, consumed by games, electronics and pop culture. And kids have a habit of meeting the expectations created for them, whether high or low.
I’m much more interested in watching High School Quiz Show -- perhaps re-branded as Who Wants A College Scholarship? --than Kid Nation, Double Dare, Brain Surge or even Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? With shows that put smarts and competition over entertainment and eye candy, there’s just more to care about, more to be impressed by, and definitely more to be proud of.
High School Quiz Show premieres in March, but you can actually find brainy kids all around you if you look hard enough.