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What were the 'quiz show scandals' of the 1950s?

Game Show Scandals

Bob Boden (Vice President of Production, Fox Reality Channel) gives expert video advice on: What were the 'quiz show scandals' of the 1950s?; What were the most memorable offenses in the quiz show scandals?; How did the quiz show scandals come to light? and more...

What were the 'quiz show scandals' of the 1950s?

Game shows were tarnished severely in the late '50s by the scandals. The scandals impacted many game shows and basically, they took form in two different ways. One was shows where the contestants actually were given the answers to the questions and told not only when to give the correct answer and when not to, but how to act. And then there were other shows that created material that related to the areas of questioning that they knew the contestants were strong and weak in. So that practice, the latter practice, is a hard one to control because by virtue of interviewing and testing contestants before question and answer games, you really do, as a producer have a sense as to where their strengths and weaknesses are. And it does take every fiber of honesty to not ask questions that you know they'll know when you want them to win and ask questions you know they won't know when you don't want them to win. That's a matter of honesty and integrity that most producers, I would say almost all, engage in. The other practice, which is outright giving answers away, caused quite a stir and a national controversy which led to a congressional hearing and many producers getting called on the carpet. Nobody, to my knowledge, actually went to jail because of it, but many producers were blackballed and the game show industry changed tremendously after that.

What were the most memorable offenses in the quiz show scandals?

The most notable show that was involved in the scandals was Twenty-One, which was an NBC primetime game show done live and it was later the subject of a feature film directed by Robert Redford. In that show, the contestants were made to be heroes and villains. The most famous of the heroes was Charles Van Doren, who was made into a national superstar because of his intellect and his charm in answering the questions on Twenty-One. The goat was Herb Stemple, who was Van Doren's opponent and was defeated by Van Doren after a run on the show because the producers felt that Van Doren made better television and created a situation whereby Herb Stemple was told he had to lose and that's where the scandal began.

How did the quiz show scandals come to light?

A couple of years after the shows took place, some of the contestants who were involved, particularly those who were disadvantaged, blew the whistle and they approached members of the government and started to spread the word in the press about the unfairness and the lying that had taken place on these shows. As a result, a congressional investigation took hold and the true heroes and villains in the story came out.

What happened to the main figures in the quiz show scandal?

Charles Van Doren at his height of popularity on the quiz show 21 made the cover of Time Magazine. He was a regular correspondent on the Today Show. He was an esteemed professor. He was a celebrity, a superstar in this country. When the scandals were revealed a couple of years later, Charles Van Doren's star fell very, very quickly, and because he had taken part in this rather embarrassing tale, he became a recluse and went into hiding for many years hardly ever showing his face.

What was the impact of the quiz show scandals on pop culture?

I think the quiz show scandals had a greater impact than just in the quiz show business. I think they had a tremendous negative impact on television itself. I think that it caused many viewers and fans to think twice about the integrity and honesty of the programs they were watching. As a result, many of the quiz shows that were involved in the scandal went off immediately and many never surfaced again. The shows that came out after that were very honest not only in their production style but in their public exposure.

How does the aftermath of the quiz show scandals affect television today?

As the result of the quiz show scandals, each of the broadcast network started up a division called ' Broadcast Standards and Practices'. And to this day there are watchdogs, internally, at each of the broadcast networks. And, in cable, to some extent, typically either has their own department or they farm out to an independent consulting firm. But, pretty much every game show that is 'on' today or that is in production has a watchdog that is looking carefully at the show for fairness, truth and integrity.

What game show scandals have emerged in recent decades?

There really hasn't been a prominent game show scandal in America since the 50s. There have been allegations, there have been some smaller shows where the producers may not have upheld the most honest practices, and those shows were called into question. But nothing has been on the scale of the Twenty-One scandal and the other quiz shows involved in the scandal of the late 50s.