Quiz show scandals
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The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show's producers to arrange the outcome of a supposedly fair competition.
In 1956, the game show Twenty-One, hosted by Jack Barry, featured a contestant coached by producer Dan Enright to make the other contestant win the game. This was brought into focus in 1958 when Enright was revealed to have rigged the show; this revelation caused networks to cancel the quiz shows. This element of the scandal was portrayed in the 1994 movie Quiz Show.
As a result, many contestants' reputations have been tarnished. The United States Congress passed the 1960 amendments of the Communications Act of 1934, preventing anyone from fixing quiz shows. Due to that action, many networks imposed a winnings limit on game shows, such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, and The Price Is Right (the limits were removed by 2008). The scandal even resulted in the declining ratings of quizzes that were not rigged, such as You Bet Your Life.
The 1950s proved a boom for television as it burst into the mainstream. While at the beginning of the decade only 9% of US 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.
It was against this backdrop that quiz shows became popular. Questions asked on these shows required substantial knowledge across a broad spectrum of 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 Court 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 its predecessor. ($64,000 in 1955 was equivalent to about $465,000 in 2012.)
Herb Stempel was a contestant on Twenty-One who was coached by the show's producer Dan Enright. After achieving a score of $69,500, Stempel's scripted loss to the more popular Charles Van Doren occurred on December 5, 1956. One of the questions Stempel got wrong involved the winner of the 1955 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. (The correct answer was Marty, one of Stempel's favorite movies; as instructed by Enright, Stempel gave the incorrect answer On the Waterfront.) After his preordained loss, Stempel spoke out against the operation, claiming that he deliberately lost the match against Van Doren on orders from Enright.
Initially, Stempel 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. It eventually emerged that the Twenty-One debut on September 12, 1956 had gone so badly that sponsor Geritol called producers Enright and Jack Barry the following day and demanded changes. Under pressure, Enright and his partner Albert Freedman decided to rig the show. Jack Barry, the show's host and co-owner of Barry-Enright Productions, was not involved in the actual rigging, but later helped in the cover-up.
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. The people's reactions were quick and powerful when the quiz show fraud became public. Between 87 and 95% of the American public was informed about the scandals as measured by industry-sponsored polls. 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. Patty Duke, then a child actress who had competed on The $64,000 Challenge (a companion show to The $64,000 Question), testified to having been coached, as did Stempel, Snodgrass, and Hilgemeyer.
It was confirmed on November 2 when Van Doren said to the Committee that "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."
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.
Many quiz show contestants' 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 paid 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 of his son John, were against his participation.
- In 2008, Van Doren broke his silence, describing his quiz show experience in an essay-length memoir published in The New Yorker.
- Herb Stempel, the man Van Doren defeated on Twenty One, continued working for New York City, and considered the profession of the man who beat him which was a social studies teacher in the New York school system. Stempel has also lectured occasionally at various colleges about the quiz scandals.
- Marie Winn, whose notebook triggered Dotto's exposure and demise, eventually became a journalist whose books include The Plug-In Drug, a scathing critique on television's influence over children. The book became somewhat controversial for its author having been circumspect about her role in one of the medium's greatest scandals.
Hosts and producers 
In September 1958, a New York grand jury called producers who had coached contestants to appear in testimony. It was later estimated by a prosecutor on the case that of the 150 sworn witnesses before the panel, only 50 told the truth. Some producers included Jack Barry, Dan Enright, and Frank Cooper.
Barry and Enright's reputations suffered the most from the scandals as the result of the rigging of Twenty-One. Barry was effectively blackballed from national television until 1969. Enright went to Canada to continue working in television, and was unable to get a job in American television until 1975.
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 Angeles, eventually finding work on local television. He would later admit in an article in TV Guide that, in order to determine if he still had a bad reputation (because of the requirement to have a license with the FCC), he raised money to buy a Redondo Beach radio station. Barry returned to hosting with The Generation Gap in 1969 and had success with The Joker's Wild, which premiered in 1972. Barry and Enright resumed their partnership full-time in 1976. Their production of game shows, notably the syndicated Tic-Tac-Dough (which Barry did not host) and Joker (which he did) in the 1970s and 1980s 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 Greenberg'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, who passed a lie-detector test at the time of the Dotto affair, had an extensive career as a game show host after the incident (as did his brother Tom Kennedy), retiring in 1982; he died in October 2008 after suffering two massive strokes. Sonny Fox, the original host of The $64,000 Challenge, left that show long before it could become tainted and became a popular children's host in the northeast, remembered best as the suave, genial host of the Sunday morning learn-and-laugh marathon Wonderama. Fox's replacement, Ralph Story, went on to become a newscaster for KNXT-TV/KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.
The quiz show scandals exhibited the necessity for an even stronger network control over programming and production. Quiz show scandals also justified and accelerated the growth of the networks' power over television advertisers concerning licensing, scheduling, and sponsorship of programs. The networks claimed to be ignorant and victims of the quiz show scandals. The NBC president at the time stated, "NBC was just as much a victim of the quiz show frauds as was the public."
Quiz shows just about 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, more large jackpots 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 (1986). Networks would not follow with a million-dollar prize until 1999, when ABC premiered the prime-time game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Networks were forced to adapt winnings limits to meet Standards & Practices guidelines. During the 1970s, ABC imposed a winnings limit of $30,000 (although champions were retired after winning $20,000 except on Family Feud where champions were retired after winning $25,000), which had been lifted by 1990. CBS also imposed a limit, which increased as follows:
|Year||Contestants retired after winning:||Contestants were allowed to keep up to:|
By 2006, with just one network game show remaining on air, and syndicated (including CBS-distributed) game shows having abolished earnings caps, the daytime winnings limit was eliminated in 2006. During Bob Barker's 35th and final season on The Price is Right, a recreational vehicle prize in the Golden Road pricing game was valued at over $100,000. Season 35 featured two contestants winning over $140,000 – $147,517 on the season premiere in 2006, and $140,235 on the season finale (Bob Barker's last show). By 2008, Drew Carey's second season on Price, CBS had increased prize values for Punch a Bunch and the Showcase Showdown to $25,000 each. CBS also had a pilot considered, a revival of Pyramid that featured a million-dollar tournament, although the proposal did not mention if the tournament would be a daytime or prime-time tournament like Price. By 2009, CBS added a second network game show. In 2010, a Tesla Roadster became the first prize on Price worth over $110,000, again on Golden Road, and for Season 39 (2010–11), a new pricing game, Pay the Rent, features a $100,000 grand prize. The 11 highest-winning contestants on the show all won their winnings in the 21st century, and of the 25 contestants who have won $80,000 or more, only two contestants won over $80,000 with the limits in the early 1990s.
NBC's game show limits involved the maximum number of matches 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 Sale of the Century.
In 1981, The Joker's Wild aired mostly on TV stations owned and operated by CBS, resulting in a winnings limit of $35,000 with anything over that amount being donated to charity. The limit increased to $50,000 in 1983 and was abolished a year later.
Jeopardy! had its own winnings cap of $75,000 for many years, which did not extend to special tournaments. In a period of two months in the series' sixth season, circumstances surrounding record-setting performances by Bob Blake and Frank Spangenberg caused a change. In Blake's case, he had to give up $7,501 of his then record-setting total in November 1989 to charity (Oxfam received the excess $7,501). Spangenberg broke Blake's record and became the first-ever contestant on Jeopardy! to top $100,000 in regular game earnings. However, due to the cap Spangenberg was docked $27,597 of his $102,597 in winnings, which also went to charity (Gift of Love Hospice in New York City received the excess $27,597). For the next season Jeopardy! adopted a $100,000 cap, which then doubled $200,000 after automobiles were awarded for five-time champions (this was before the 2001 doubling of values) and was finally removed after the show removed the five-day limit for champions in 2003. The following year, contestant Ken Jennings began a 74-game winning streak, ending with a payout of $2,522,700.
Wheel of Fortune had imposed a winnings limit of $200,000 (originally $100,000, later $125,000), which was never reached partly due to the show's lack of returning players since 1998. The limit was abolished in 2008 when the show adopted the 2008 Australian version rule where a player could win $1,000,000 under special conditions. This was achieved by contestant Michelle Lowenstein 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, although in Millionaire (when Phone-A-Friend was used by AT&T; Ask The Expert uses Skype, and Ask The Audience briefly had AOL) and Price (Hole In One by adidas golf) have carried sponsors. Also on Price, if a prize package comes from, or a contestant wears any merchandise from, or a guest model comes from the Seattle Sounders FC, a disclaimer must be run stating host Drew Carey's ownership stake in the organisation.
Merv Griffin was irritated by the impossibility of trying to make a quiz show due to the scandals. His wife Julann suggested that he offer a quiz show where competitors were given the answers, but had to supply the correct question (a format which had already been used by Gil Fates on the CBS Television Quiz, which aired from 1941–1942). This led to the 1964 introduction of Jeopardy! and its unusual answer-and-question format.
While controversial at the time, The Hollywood Squares ran a disclaimer stating that celebrities may have been coached on their answers. However, as the goal of the game is for the contestant to determine whether the celebrity gave a correct answer (by agreeing or disagreeing with the stated answer), this was not rigging. (The exceptions were Secret Square questions, where the celebrity had to rely on his/her own intellect.)
In addition, the major television networks took a greater hand in creative production to avoid similar problems in the future. This extended so far as to change television series that were not even game shows, most notably 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.
The syndicated series Soul Train, while predominantly a music program, featured a mini-game known as the "scramble board" in which contestants would rearrange the letters on a board to form the name of a prominent black American historical figure to win a small prize. Host Don Cornelius would later admit that the game was rigged so that every contestant would win, as he wanted to portray African-American culture in a positive light and did not want to risk the contestants making fools of themselves on national television.
Rigging in other countries 
United Kingdom 
- In 1958, ITV pulled its version of Twenty-One almost immediately after contestant Stanley Armstrong claimed that he had been given "definite leads" to the answers.
- In late 2005, Martin Flood was investigated after coughs were heard coming from the studio audience on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The producers later exonerated him, and he ultimately went on to win $1,000,000.
Our Little Genius 
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Our Little Genius, which was scheduled to debut on FOX's prime-time schedule on January 13, 2010, was pulled six days before its debut by producer Mark Burnett due to concerns about the show's integrity. On February 20, it was reported that a contestant's parent sent a letter to the FCC on December 17, 2009 claiming that a member of the production staff supplied the contestant and parent with questions and answers that the child "needed to know".
The FCC is currently looking into the matter, to determine if criminal charges will be filed. If the show were found to have been deliberately rigged, it will mark the first known instance of such a deception in America since the 1950s.
See also 
- American game show winnings records
- 2007 British television phone-in scandal
- College Bowl
- Charles Ingram
- Michael Larson
- Slumdog Millionaire
- "FCC V. AMERICAN BROADCASTING CO., INC., 347 U. S. 284 (1954) - US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez". Justia.us. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
- Boddy,W.(1990).Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics.Urbana,IL: University of Illinois Press.
- Isserman, Maurice (2004). America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. Oxford University Press. p. 371.
- Enacted in the 1960 amendments to the Communications act. See 47 U.S.C. §509 and associated legislative history.
- Van Doren, Charles, "All the Answers : The quiz-show scandals—and the aftermath", The New Yorker, July 28, 2008
- Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics, William Boddy, University of Illinois Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-252-06299-5
- On Price, since Season 37, Hole in One has a sponsorship deal with Adidas' TaylorMade brand, first with the golf bag prop carrying a TaylorMade logo in addition to the show's logo stitched on the bag, and players putt using the manufacturer's putters. In Season 38, players also keep a complimentary TaylorMade golf ball (later a sleeve of three balls) with the show's logo imprinted on it. Host Drew Carey has a business relationship with Adidas as kit supplier for the Major League Soccer team of which he is a minority owner, the Seattle Sounders FC.
- "Jeopardy! An Inside Look at America's Favorite Quiz Show". Videobusiness.com. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
Further reading 
- Sams, David R.; and Robert L. Shook (1987). Wheel of Fortune. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-90833-4.
- Stone, Joseph; and Tim Yohn (1992). Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950s TV Quiz Scandal. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-1753-2.
- Tedlow, Richard (1976). "Intellect on Television: The Quiz Show Scandals of the 1950s". American Quarterly (American Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4) 28 (4): 483–495. doi:10.2307/2712542. JSTOR 2712542.