Getting Graded

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW and wondering just how smart I am. It's sure not the first time. But this new game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? has really got me thinking.

"Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" premiered with a splash earlier this month -- in part, thanks to its powerhouse lead-in, "American Idol." But now that it kicks off Fox's Thursday night schedule, will it make the grade?

The show is sort of like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on training wheels, with a lone contestant answering questions for a top prize of a million dollars.

But the big difference is the contestant's so-called classmates, five precocious fifth graders (Alana, Jacob, Kyle, Laura and Spencer) who take turns playing alongside the grownup. At times, they serve as a valuable ally in answering a question; at other times, as a source of chagrin thanks to their often superior knowledge.

The host is Jeff Foxworthy, who may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but is smart enough to have carved out a successful career as a comedian, without being funny.

As for each contestant, he or she behaves with appropriate excitement, sort of like a kid on a sugar rush.

That would certainly describe Philip, a 29-year-old accountant who wavered agonizingly over which month summer ends, in the northern hemisphere. He was about to pick August, then saved himself by impulsively taking a cue from the child beside him, and correctly guessing -- well, I'm gonna assume that, whatever your grade, you know the correct month.

I guess Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? is supposed to be fun. But for me, watching it is kind of depressing, on two levels. That is, I remember how I was in fifth grade. And I know how I am now.

As a fifth grader, I was pretty good in English. But as for my ability to learn and recall any information that didn't relate to TV or rock music, often I felt like a dunce.

And now, in adulthood, there are times when I'm thrown even by a simple question like: Where are my car keys?

On the show, the questions are arranged by subject matter and grade level, first through fifth grade.

Watching contestant Philip struggle with a question supposedly at the second-grade level, young classmate Jacob cracked, "Good luck on the fifth-grade questions." Which, if nothing else, demonstrated Jacob's smart mouth.

Now you may have heard me in the past mention my 12-year-old son. And as with most things, he has an opinion about the show. "It's so easy!" he declared when we watched it last week.

Of course, he is a sixth grader, which makes him smarter than any fifth grader or any adult on the planet. And he's sure he could make it big on the show. So he's irked that all doors are closed to him. As he put it, "I'm too old to be a fifth grader and too young to be a contestant."

Well, he and I played at home anyway, and we were both astonished when a contestant named Sammy dropped out of trying for the $100,000 question, which was: What is half the area of a square with 12-inch sides? Sammy said he didn't have a clue.

He took his $50,000 consolation prize, uttered the loser's ritual concession, "I am not smarter than a fifth grader." Then, right there on the air, got down on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend, who had been in the studio audience.

Ha! Maybe popping that question was when he proved just how smart he is!

Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.