The Big Surprise

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The Big Surprise
The Big Surprise 1956.JPG
Mike Wallace with Sue Oakland and Mary Gardiner, 1956.
Genre Game show
Presented by Jack Barry (1955-1956)
Mike Wallace (1956-1957)
Narrated by Jack Clark
Country of origin USA
No. of seasons 2
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel NBC
Original release October 8, 1955 – April 2, 1957

The Big Surprise is a television quiz show broadcast in the United States by NBC from October 8, 1955 to June 9, 1956 and from September 18, 1956 to April 2, 1957. It was hastily created by NBC in response to the overwhelming ratings success of The $64,000 Question, which had premiered on CBS in Summer 1955 and almost instantly became a smash hit. The Big Surprise offered a grand prize of $100,000.

The series was originally hosted by game-show entrepreneur Jack Barry through March 3, 1956, after which he was replaced by journalist Mike Wallace for the rest of the run.


Contestants who had performed an act of heroism or generosity were accompanied by "reporters" who explained why that contestant should be chosen. The contestant then answered questions about his or her family, friends, hometown, hobbies, and other special interests. Questions started in value at $1 and increased up to $100,000. An incorrect answer on any of the easy questions lost all winnings, while an incorrect answer on any of the hard questions lost half of the winnings.

If a contestant missed a question, another contestant could answer a question correctly and receive 10% of the original contestant's winnings, with the original contestant keeping the other 90%. While there were some alterations in the show's format over the next six months, it was basically a straight quiz with a few gimmicks such as two "insurance questions" which could be used, if answered correctly, to prevent the complete loss of winnings which otherwise occurred in the event of an incorrect answer to the regular questions. The questions were valued at $100, $200, $300, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, and $100,000.

Unlike The $64,000 Question, the contestant being queried did not stand in an isolation booth.

Grand Prize Winners[edit]

At least three people won the $100,000 grand prize:

  • 14-year-old George L. Wright III after correctly identifying a song of the 1920s
  • Rear Admiral Redfield Mason with his knowledge of Greek and Roman fables
  • 11-year-old Leonard Ross II with his knowledge of the stock market


Broadcast history[edit]

The Big Surprise never approached the popularity of The $64,000 Question and had ended prior to the disclosure of the quiz show scandal, which forced all big-money game shows off the air in the United States for several years.

Episode status[edit]

The series is believed to have been destroyed as per network practices of the era. Only the April 7, 1956 show is known to exist, which begins with guest contestant Errol Flynn going for $30,000. [2]