Quiz Show

Quiz Show Information

Quiz Show is a 1994 American historical drama film produced and directed by Robert Redford, and written by Paul Attanasio, based on Richard N. Goodwin's memoir Remembering America. It stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes, with Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Christopher McDonald appearing in supporting roles.

The film chronicles the Twenty One quiz show scandals of the 1950s, the rise and fall of popular contestant Charles Van Doren after the rigged loss of Herb Stempel, and Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin's subsequent probe. Goodwin co-produced the film.


From a secure bank vault, the answers to Twenty One, a popular television quiz show, are sent into a television studio as studio producers Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria) watch from the control booth. The evening's main attraction is Queens resident Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), the reigning champion, who answers question after question. However, both the network, NBC, and the corporate sponsor of the program, a supplementary tonic called Geritol, find that Stempel's approval ratings are beginning to level out, meaning the show would benefit from new talent.

Enright and Freedman find a new contestant in Columbia University instructor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of the renowned poet and intellectual Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and the novelist Dorothy Van Doren (Elizabeth Wilson). The producers subtly offer to rig the show for him but Van Doren uprightly refuses. Enright soon treats Stempel to dinner at an upscale restaurant, where he breaks the news that Stempel must lose in order to boost flagging ratings. Stempel begrudgingly agrees, only on the condition that he remains on television, threatening to reveal the true reason of his success: the answers had been provided for him.

Stempel and Van Doren face each other in Twenty One, where the match comes down to a predetermined question regarding Marty, the 1955 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite knowing the correct film, Stempel gives the wrong answer of On the Waterfront, allowing Van Doren to get a question he previously answered while in Enright's offices; he provides the winning response.

In the weeks that follow, Van Doren's winning streak makes him a national celebrity. Buckling under the new pressure, he begins to let the producers directly give him the answers instead of researching for them himself. Meanwhile, Stempel, having lost his financial prize winnings to a fleeting bookie, begins threatening legal action against the NBC network after weeks go by without his return to television. He is shown going into the office of New York County District Attorney Frank Hogan.

Richard N. "Dick" Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young Congressional lawyer from Harvard Law, becomes intrigued when he reads that the grand jury's findings from Hogan's proceedings are sealed. He travels to New York to investigate rumors of rigged quiz shows. Visiting a number of contestants, including Stempel and Van Doren, he begins to suspect Twenty One is indeed a fixed operation. However, Stempel is a volatile personality and nobody else seems to corroborate that the show is rigged. Goodwin enjoys the company of Van Doren, who invites him to social gatherings, and doubts a man of Van Doren's background and intellect would be involved in the hoax.

Stempel desperately confesses to being in on the fix himself, and further insists that if he got the answers in advance, Van Doren did as well. This wins Stempel an angry tell-off from his wife, who believed in him. With the evidence mounting, Van Doren deliberately loses, but is rewarded with a sizable contract from NBC to appear as a special correspondent on the Today show.

Meanwhile, Goodwin proceeds with the hearings before the House Committee for Legislative Oversight, with extended proof of the show's corruption. Goodwin strongly advises Van Doren to avoid making any public statements supporting the show. If he agrees to this, Goodwin promises not to call Van Doren to appear before the Congressional committee. However, at the prompting of the NBC network head, Van Doren issues a statement reaffirming his trust in the honesty of the quiz show.

Stempel testifies before Congress and, while doing so, implicates Van Doren, forcing Goodwin to call him in as a witness. Van Doren goes before Congress and publicly admits his role in the conspiracy. At first, Congress is very impressed with him, but one Congressman from New York is unimpressed and puts Van Doren in his place, turning the tide against him. Afterward, he is informed by reporters of his firing from Today as well as the university's decision to ask for his resignation.

Goodwin believes he is on the verge of a victory against Geritol and the network, but instead realizes that Enright and Freedman will not turn in their bosses and jeopardize their own futures in television; he silently watches the producers' testimony, vindicating the sponsors and the network from any wrongdoing.


Historical comparison

The movie shows Van Doren winning shortly after Stempel misses a question asking for the 1955 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. While this was the question that Stempel was told to answer incorrectly (even though he knew the correct answer), the game did not end after Van Doren's turn, instead going on for another tie game and ending later in the show. The episode in which Stempel was defeated (which sent the ratings to a great high after Van Doren's win) aired December 5, 1956, as the thirteenth episode of the series.

Although the plot of the film is focused on Van Doren and Twenty One, other quiz shows of the area were also part of the scandal, including The $64,000 Question, Dotto, and Barry-Enright's own Tic-Tac-Dough. The absence of Dotto is particularly notable, as the discovery of its rigging had led to the investigations.

Journalist Ken Auletta, in a 1994 article in The New Yorker, noted that Redford conceded at a screening of the film that summer that "dramatic license" was taken in making Quiz Show. Redford made no apologies for the liberties, which included telescoping three years of scandal into one. Redford stated that he had tried "to elevate something so that people can see it ... otherwise, you might as well have a documentary." Redford noted there had already been a documentary on the scandal, referring to the Julian Krainin-produced work for a 1992 installment of the PBS series The American Experience.

In a July 2008 edition of The New Yorker, Van Doren writes about the events depicted in the film, agreeing with many of the details but also saying that he had a regular girlfriend at the time he was on Twenty-One, who is not present in the film depiction. Van Doren also notes that he continued teaching, contrary to the film's epilogue which states he never returned to doing so.


Box office

Quiz Show was a box office failure. The film opened in limited release on September 14, 1994. After its initial run, the film grossed a domestic total of $24,822,619.

Critical reception

The film was very well received. , it had a 96% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3-and-a-half stars out of four, calling the screenplay "smart, subtle and ruthless". Web critic James Berardinelli praised the "superb performances by Fiennes", and said "John Turturro is exceptional as the uncharismatic Herbie Stempel."


Quiz Show was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Paul Scofield) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Paul Attanasio).

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Quiz_Show_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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