Gifted kids prove up to the task on NBC’s ‘Genius Junior’

Young brainiacs show their stuff

Neil Patrick Harris hosts “Genius Junior,” premiering Sunday, Mar. 18, on NBC.

Those who were around back in the day will remember Neil Patrick Harris as the child prodigy who became a boy physician among adults on the 1989-93 ABC sitcom “Doogie Howser, M.D.”

Now 44, the multi-talented star of stage and the small screen finds himself surrounded by kids with extraordinary gifts, as host and executive producer of the game show “Genius Junior.”

Premiering Sunday, March 18, on NBC, the hourlong series pits 12 teams of gifted kids ages 8-12 in a series of quizzes that test intelligence and endurance in areas such as math, spelling and the ability to memorize. The team that wins the first three rounds in each episode will get to take on the toughest problems in The Cortex, where they will build up their prize fund and win a grant for future use.

But first they have to get through the challenges. In Sunday’s opener, the teams of three are tasked with solving math problems of increasing complexity, spelling multi-syllabic words backwards and memorizing the order of a deck of cards, an ability that would certainly come in handy at the gaming tables.

All handle them with the ease that the average adult has in remembering an ATM PIN.

“I was impressed with their capacity for information and their ability to have this special skill-set but also have so many other interests,” Harris says. “In addition to wanting to be a nuclear chemist, they also wanted to play on the rugby team. And I love that they’re not single-minded.

“And I was also kind of moved,” he continues, “by their ability to have a competitive spirit and wanting to win the competition, but also being remarkably supportive of each other. I would assume that many of these kids excelled so much in their own schools but aren’t around a group of people that are like-minded, and so them getting to interact with each other brought a sense of camaraderie that I really truly appreciated.”

Harris, a father of two, also appreciated that these competitors are very young and not accustomed to being in front of lights, cameras and a studio audience, and so was very protective of his youthful charges.

“I really wanted to make sure that this experience for them was a net positive,” he says, “that they didn’t get too caught up in the competition element of it. But we wanted to make sure that this was a celebration of all of them, and so I was spending most of my time when we were shooting things observing kids and trying to gauge their stress levels and making sure that they were having a good time. So my parent pants were put on more so than my competitive spirit.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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