In the 1950s quiz shows were the kings of prime-time television! That’s where comes the game show Twenty-One! – The center of the Cheating scandal chronicled in the movie “Quiz show”.
A recipe that drew in millions of viewers everynight from New York City.
In the fall of 1956 NBC’s 21 was struggling in the ratings the show’s sponsor Geritol demanded a change at the time the reigning champion was Herbert Stempel.
The decision was made to rig this show bring in someone more appealing and that someone was 30 year old Charles Van Doren. Van Doren carried prestige a professor at Columbia University the good-looking son of a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.He stood in stark contrast to herb Stempel.
In their first showdown Stemple and Van Doren tied three times!
The ties were pre-arranged a calculated attempt to build up suspense.
The strategy worked! The following week millions tuned in to watch Van Doren dethrone stemple.
21 had its new champ! Ratings would skyrocket as Van Doren’s winning streak continued. He’d answer his way to thousands of dollars becoming one of televisions biggest stars. Even finding his way to the cover of Time-magazine.
But it was a meteoric rise all built on a fraud!
Throughout his entire reign Van Doren was fed his answers. He was told how to behave, when to raise his eyebrows, when to rub his chin. It was a heavily manipulated drama.
But one that went unchecked until the fall of 1958. When several other popular quiz shows were implicated in rigging operations.
Van Doren repeatedly denied any wrongdoing but when subpoenaed to testify before Congress on November 2nd 1959 the golden boy of quiz shows caved.
In the Senate hearing room the dramatic climax of the probe of fixed and rigged quiz shows. Charles Van Doren’s wife and father Poet Mark Van Doren are in the audience as Committee Chairman senato Orrin Harris opens the hearing.
Charles Van Doren arrives to apologize and attempt to explain to the millions whose friendship and respect he had won.
Television, the fallout was severe. The country had been deceived on a wide scale. trust was tarnished and credibility undermined.
Within a few years later Congress made rigging a quiz show of federal crime.
And sponsors lost their grip on programming networks took greater control seeing was no longer believing.