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The Americanmarker quiz show scandals of the 1950s were the result of the revelation that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the producers to arrange the outcome of a supposedly fair competition.

Background

In the 1950s, television burst into the mainstream. While at the beginning of the decade only 9% of U.S. households had a television, over half had one by 1954 - and 86% had them by the end of the decade. The medium proved to be a powerful influence on American society.

Over the same period, the United States was engaged in a technology race with the Soviet Union, as a component of the Cold War. American military and political dominance was bolstered by the nation's technologies that harnessed the power of the atom. This focus on technological superiority contributed to a national reverence of intelligence and knowledge.

It was against this backdrop that quiz shows became popular. Questions asked on these shows required substantial knowledge across a broad spectrum of cerebral topics. The spectacle of people achieving huge financial success through the exercise of brain power was riveting to a nation that revered intellectualism as well as wealth.

The 1954 Supreme Courtmarker ruling in Federal Communications Commission v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc. 347 U.S. 284, that quiz shows were not a form of gambling, paved the way for their introduction to television. The prizes of these new shows were astonishing in magnitude, and gave them an aura of significance that went well beyond mere entertainment.

The $64,000 Question's predecessor radio show was The $64 Question, and few prizes exceeded even $100. There was no gradual escalation; The $64,000 Question debuted on June 7, 1955 with a top prize 1,000 times greater than its predecessor. ($64,000 in 1955 was equivalent to approximately $500,000 in 2007.)

The scandals

The story is revealed

Herb Stempel's scripted loss on Twenty-One to the more-popular Charles Van Doren occurred on December 5, 1956, and involved his deliberately getting the answer to a question about an Academy Award-winning movie wrong. (The correct answer was Marty, one of Stempel's favorite movies.) After his scripted loss, Stempel blew the whistle on the operation. Initially, he was dismissed as a sore loser and it wasn't until August 1958 that his credibility was bolstered. Ed Hilgemeyer, a contestant on Dotto, announced that he had found a notebook containing the very answers contestant Marie Winn was delivering on stage. But the final stroke came from Twenty-One contestant James Snodgrass, who had sent registered letters to himself containing the advance answers. Such evidence was irrefutable.

By October 1958 the story was everywhere, and the quiz shows' Nielsen ratings were dropping. The networks denied everything and canceled the now-suspicious shows. Meanwhile, New York prosecutor Joseph Stone convened a grand jury to investigate the charges. Many of the coached contestants, who had become celebrities due to their quiz-show success, were so afraid of the social repercussions that they were unwilling to confess to having been coached, even to the point of perjuring themselves to avoid backlash. The judge sealed the grand jury report for unknown reasons.

The 86th Congress, by then in its first session, quickly saw the political opportunity the scandals offered; in October, 1959, the House Committee on Legislative Oversight, under Representative Oren Harris's chairmanship, began to hold hearings investigating the scandal. Anna Marie "Patty" Duke, then a child actress, testified to having been coached, as did Stempel, Snodgrass, and Hilgemeyer.

But the bombshell dropped on November 2 when Van Doren said to the Committee, "I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. The fact that I too was very much deceived cannot keep me from being the principal victim of that deception, because I was its principal symbol."

Aftermath

Law and politics

The entire matter was called "a terrible thing to do to the American people" by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. After concluding the Harris Commission investigation, Congress passed a law prohibiting the fixing of quiz shows (and any other form of contest). However, at the time, while the actions may have been disreputable, they were not illegal. As a result, no one went to prison for rigging game shows. The individuals who were prosecuted were charged because of attempts to cover up their actions, either by obstruction of justice or perjury.

Contestants

Many quiz show contestants's reputations were ruined. Charles Van Doren, who had become a regular on NBC's The Today Show, lost his job in the television industry. He was also forced to resign his professorship at Columbia University. Van Doren took a job as an editor at Encyclopædia Britannica earning about 20% of what he had been making on The Today Show, and continued working as an editor and writer until his retirement in 1982.

He refused requests for interviews for more than three decades and chose not to participate in the production of The Quiz Show Scandal, a 1992 one-hour documentary aired in the United States on PBS. He later turned down an offer of $100,000 to act as a consultant on the 1994 Robert Redford-directed feature film Quiz Show after discussing the matter with his family members who, with one exception, were against his participation.

In 2008, Van Doren finally told his account of his quiz show experience in an essay-length memoir published in The New Yorker.

Hosts and producers

Host Jack Barry and his partner, producer Dan Enright, suffered the most from the scandals as the result of the rigging of Twenty-One. Barry, who had no direct involvement in the rigging, did not work in national television for 10 years, while Enright headed to Canadamarker to continue working in television.

Although he went through a difficult five-year period (according to an interview with TV Guide before his death in 1984), Barry moved to Los Angelesmarker, eventually finding work on local television. Later he would admit in an article in TV Guide, in order to determine if he still had stains on his reputation (because of the requirement to have a license with the FCC), he raised the money to buy a Redondo Beachmarker radio station. Barry would return to hosting in the early 1970s and had success with The Joker's Wild, which premiered in 1972. Barry and Enright would resume their partnership full-time in 1976. Their production of squeaky-clean game shows, notably the syndicated Tic-Tac-Dough (which Barry did not host) and The Joker's Wild (which he did) in the 1970s and 80s resulted in millions of dollars in revenue and, more importantly for both, forgiveness from the public for their involvement in the scandals.

Indeed, Barry and Enright were able to sponsor the teen-sex comedy film Private Lessons, based on Dan Greenburg's novel Philly and starring Eric Brown alongside Sylvia Kristel versus Howard Hesseman, using revenue from their renewed success.

Other producers met the same fate as Barry and Enright, but were unable to redeem themselves afterwards. One of the more notable is Frank Cooper, whose Dotto ended up being his longest-running and most popular game.

Hosts such as Jack Narz and Hal March continued to work on television after the scandals. March died in January 1970 from lung cancer. Narz died in October 2008 from two massive strokes, having retired in 1980.

Television

Quiz shows all but disappeared from prime time American television for decades. Those that continued to air had substantially reduced prizes, and many shows adopted limits on the number of games a player could win (usually five). Quiz shows became game shows, shifting focus from knowledge to puzzles and word games. A quiz for big money would not return until ABC premiered 100 Grand in 1963; it went off the air after three weeks. Big-money jackpots remained on NBC from 1959-1961 on Jackpot Bowling, however relatively large jackpots (on the order of $10,000 or so) returned permanently in 1973 with the success of The $10,000 Pyramid and "Big Money" Match Game 73, both daytime shows on CBS. Syndication showcased even bigger jackpots, usually as part of annual tournaments, such as The $100,000 Name That Tune (1976), The $128,000 Question (1976), a revamped Jeopardy! and its annual $100,000 Tournament of Champions (1984), and eventually the first game show to feature a top prize bigger than the quiz shows at their peak: The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime of 1986. Networks would not follow with a million-dollar prize until 1999, when ABC debuted the prime time game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

Networks were forced to adapt winnings limits to meet Standards & Practices guidelines. CBS imposed a winnings cap limit which increased as follows:
  • 1972: Any contestants whose total winnings reached $25,000 would retire from the show on which they played, and they could not keep any winnings over $25,000.
  • 1978: Contestants still retired after winning $25,000, but were allowed to keep up to $35,000 (increased to $50,000 by 1982) of their winnings.
  • 1984: Contestants could keep up to $75,000. Beginning in November, contestants retired after winning $50,000.
  • 1986: Contestants retired after winning $75,000, but kept a maximum of $100,000.
  • Early 1990s: The limit for daytime winnings increased to $125,000.
  • 2006: As there is just one daytime network game airing, and syndicated (including CBS-distributed) game shows had abolished earnings caps, the daytime winnings limit was eliminated. This allowed prizes of over $100,000 to be offered, most notably on a June 11, 2007 episode of The Price is Right, during Bob Barker's final week, when a recreational vehicle prize in the Golden Road pricing game was valued at over $100,000. The contestant never actually played for the RV, however. Also in 2006-07, a contestant won over $147,000 on the first episode of that season. By 2008, CBS had increased prize values for Punch a Bunch and the Showcase Showdown.


NBC game show limits involved the maximum number of games a champion could play, with no limit on winnings. One contestant, Barbara Phillips, became the first daytime game show contestant to win over $100,000 by retiring with over $150,000 on the 1980s version of Sale of the Century.

During the 1970s, ABC imposed a $30,000 cap limit which had been lifted by 1984.

The limit on winnings on The Price is Right was a daytime limit of $125,000, but that limit was also removed when Season 35 featured two contestants winning over $140,000 -- $147,517 on the season premiere, and $140,235 on the season finale (Bob Barker's last show).

The game show earnings cap of $75,000, which resulted from the scandal, forced Jeopardy! contestant Frank Spangenberg to give up $27,597 of his $102,597 winnings to charity. After a second contestant gave up over $7,000, Jeopardy! raised its earnings cap on regular season shows, first to $100,000 then to $200,000 after automobiles were awarded for five-time champions (this was before the 2001 doubling of values) and removed after the show went to unlimited champions, with Ken Jennings winning $75,000 on one game (the final show of Season 20), which led to part of his $2.52 million in winnings.

Wheel of Fortune had imposed a winnings limit of $200,000, which was never reached partly due to the show's lack of returning champions since 1996. The limit was abolished in 2008 when the show began offering the possibility of a $1,000,000 grand prize if a player landed on a new space added to the wheel, survived the rest of the game without hitting Bankrupt, landing on the space on the bonus wheel containing the million-dollar prize, and correctly solving the bonus puzzle. This was achieved by contestant Michelle Loewenstein on October 14, 2008, winning $1,026,080.

Networks required game shows to be heavily monitored by their standards and practices departments. Contestants were kept away from anybody who might know questions to be asked. The scandal also marked an end to widespread naming of television shows by their sponsors. Future game shows like The New Price is Right in 1972 and Let's Make a Deal were not sponsored by any one company.

Merv Griffin was irritated by the impossibility of offering a quiz show because of the scandals, and his wife Julanne suggested that he offer a quiz show where competitors were given the answers to questions—but the contestant had to give the correct question. This led to the 1964 introduction of Jeopardy! and its peculiar answer-and-question format.

In addition, the major television networks took a greater hand in creative production to avoid similar problems in the future. This extended to changes to unrelated television series, like demanding that the premise of the dramatic series Mr. Lucky be changed from a riverboat casino to a restaurant to avoid the idea of games on prime-time TV.

See also



References

  1. http://www.justia.us/us/347/284/case.html
  2. http://www.aier.org/research/col.php
  3. Enacted in the 1960 amendments to the Communications act. See 47 U.S.C. §509 and associated legislative history.
  4. Van Doren, Charles, "All the Answers : The quiz-show scandals—and the aftermath", The New Yorker, July 28, 2008
  5. Jeopardy! An Inside Look at America's Favorite Quiz Show


External sources




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