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The Rigged Quiz Shows That Gave Birth to 'Jeopardy!'

The Rigged Quiz Shows That Gave Birth to 'Jeopardy!'


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A 55-year-old show that commands 23 million viewers and is the top-rated game show in history. The answer is: “What is Jeopardy!?”

In 1964, the answers-first show made its debut. But if not for a group of popular—and fraudulent—quiz shows, it may never have existed in the first place.

Throughout the late 1950s, viewers were riveted by a series of scandals related to TV quiz shows. The high-stakes games were extremely popular…and extremely rigged. Once the nation realized they were rooting for contestants in televised frauds, a grand jury, a congressional investigation, and even a change in communications law followed. But though the shows were short-lived, their format lives on in Jeopardy!.

Game shows were born right around the dawn of television, but first became popular on the radio. In 1938, Information Please, a radio show that rewarded listeners for submitting questions that stumped an expert panel, debuted. Later that year TV’s first game show, Spelling Bee, appeared. The format really took off after World War II, as more households got TVs. Low-stakes shows like This Is the Missus, which had contestants participate in silly contests, and Queen For a Day, which rewarded women for sharing their sob stories, reeled in daytime viewers.

But it took a Supreme Court suit to usher in big prizes for the shows. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in FCC v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc. that giveaways weren’t gambling. This decision paved the way for higher stakes in game shows. Suddenly, prime-time viewers could choose between a new rash of game shows with massive prizes.

The first popular high-stakes show, The $64,000 Question, created by CBS producer Louis Cowan and based on an older radio show, Take It or Leave It, paid the winners of a riveting general-knowledge quiz the equivalent of over $600,000 in modern dollars if they could beat out experts in their own fields. It was an immediate hit, and so were its most frequent winners. Soon another show, Twenty-One, reeled in NBC viewers by pitting two players against one another in a trivia game that involved isolation booths and headphones.

The shows were popular because of their tense gameplay and gimmicks like audience close-ups, lighting that emphasized a lone contestant thinking, and isolation booths, writes media historian Olaf Hoerschelmann. They “transformed people who were not celebrities or recognized experts in their field into superstars,” he notes.

The nation fell in love with contestants like Joyce Brothers. In 1955 and 1957, the psychologist won the top prize in The $64,000 Question and its successor, beating a panel of actual boxers on obscure questions about the sport. Brothers knew that her chances of getting selected for the show were higher if she could compete as a novelty contestant, so she gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport—literally—by reading 20 volumes of encyclopedias on boxing. Her wins turned her into a household name, and soon she had her own TV show and was on her way to becoming one of the most influential pop psychologists of all time.

Another quiz show darling was Charles Van Doren, a college professor and member of a famously intellectual family. In 1956, he challenged the reigning champion of Twenty-One, a nerdy-looking ex-GI named Herb Stempel, in a weeks-long run of shows that ended in multiple ties and a nail-biting conclusion. Van Doren was clean-cut and handsome, and he offset Stempel perfectly.

When debonair Van Doren finally beat awkward Stempel, it was the talk of the nation. Van Doren, now a star, was featured on other TV shows and upheld as an icon for Cold War Americans. “He is just too likable, too special, too important an icon to the American dream of success to fade from view,” gushed author Maxene Fabe in a characteristic commentary.

What viewers didn’t realize was that both shows were rigged. “[The quiz shows’] reliance on returning popular contestants also motivated producers and sponsors to manipulate the outcome of the quizzes,” writes Hoerschelmann.

Fixing the shows wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t ethical. In Brothers’ case, the producers of The $64,000 Question had tired of her winning streak and felt that it was unfair that she had gained what they considered to be a “superficial knowledge” of boxing. So they tried to find questions that would stretch her to the outer limits of her knowledge in an attempt to oust her from the show. (She won anyway.)

In Van Doren’s case, the game show’s gaming was even more overt. Twenty-One producer Dan Enright, had been rigging the show since after its first inception, when a sponsor slammed him for producing a dull show. He coached Stempel, styling him as an antagonist to be pitted against more lovable contestants. Everything from Stempel’s clothing to his language was pre-set.

“I used to go down to Enright's office every Wednesday afternoon before the show,” Stempel said on a 1992 PBS documentary. “Dan Enright would pull out cards with the questions and answers that would be used that evening. I ran through them, he would instruct me when to pause, when to mop my brow. Everything was very carefully choreographed.” When Stempel lost ground against Van Doren during a pivotal question in the series, it was no mistake. Though the topic of the question was his favorite movie, Marty, he pretended he didn’t know it had won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.

A year after his loss, Stempel was angry that Enright didn't follow through on behind-the-scenes promises to give him a permanent, high-salary job at the network if he threw the show. He approached a reporter with the revelation that Twenty-One was rigged. But without corroboration—and in the face of potential legal threats from NBC—the story was never printed.

Then, in 1958, a contestant from CBS’ Dotto told the Manhattan District Attorney that he had discovered materials that indicated a champion had been given answers to the show’s questions. With the legitimacy of quiz shows now in question, Stempel’s story finally made its way into print.

It was the beginning of the end of quiz shows. Manhattan convened a grand jury that heard over 150 witnesses, but its conclusions were sealed and never made public. Congress investigated instead. When Twenty-One contestant James Snodgrass, who had also been given answers on the show, turned up with registered letters he had mailed to himself at the time of the show—each featuring the questions and answers he’d been given—the jig was up.

Van Doren admitted to lying and resigned his post at Columbia. He and 17 other contestants pleaded guilty to lying under oath to the grand jury in 1959. (They all received suspended sentences and sidestepped jail.) Though the grand jury estimated that two thirds of all witnesses committed perjury, many, like Brothers, continued to deny they had been involved in any rigging. In 1960, Congress put the final nail in the shows’ coffin by amending the Communications Act of 1934. Fixing quiz shows was now illegal.

Today, the shows are primarily remembered as the subject of the 1994 film Quiz Show. But they also made Jeopardy! possible. In 1963, as he mourned the fact that quiz shows had been abandoned by networks, producer Merv Griffin told his wife that the public suspected that networks that did run the shows simply gave contestants the answers.

“Why don’t you give them the answers?” his wife, Julann, responded. Merv countered that the show wouldn’t have enough tension, so Julann countered that contestants could lose money if they asked the wrong questions. “That’ll put them in jeopardy,” she said—and a television legend was born.

READ MORE: This Midcentury Show Turned Unhappy Housewives into TV Royalty


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‘Jeopardy!’ Fans React to Stunning Development, and an Unexpected ‘D— Tree’ Moment

“Jeopardy!” said goodbye to a sensation on Thursday — but it said hello to an intriguing new phrase.

New York bartender Austin Rogers ended a thrill-packed 13-day run on the game show on Thursday’s episode, finally falling to defeat thanks to a stay-at-home mom from Tennessee.

Rogers, who went into the episode with an 12-day total of $411,000, came up with the correct answer in Final Jeopardy, nearly doubling his haul for the day for a total of $33,150.

However, it wasn’t enough to surpass stay-at-home mom Scarlett, who also came up with the correct question in the Movie History category (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) for a total of $33,201.

Before he bid adieu to the game show, however, Rogers helped give birth to the unlikely “Jeopardy!” phrase “d— tree.”

The magic moment came as Rogers attempted to cough up a response to a question in the Tree category, with the clue referring to “slang for a detective.”

Rogers flailed, offering, “What is a, oh god, a d—?”

To which host Alex Trebek replied, “I know nothing about a d— tree, but there is a gum tree, or gumshoe.”

Fans were quick to react to both Rogers’ loss and the “d— tree” moment on social media.

“Alex Trebek saying ‘d— tree’ is the best thing that’s happened today,” enthused one viewer.

“Alex said ‘I’ve never heard of a D— tree’ HILARIOUS,” opined another.

As for Rogers’ defeat, reaction was mixed.

“I’m so mad Austin is no longer on @Jeopardy! He actually made it exciting to watch. Scarlett will not so much#thanksforthedicktree,” one disappointed viewer lamented.

“Welp…#Jeopardy viewership will be down tomorrow. Thanks for the laughs #AustinRogers – the game will never be the same!” said another member of Team Austin.

“It was a good run, and he was a classy guy even when he was defeated,” noted another Rogers fan.

On the flip side of the coin, there was , “Yay, I can start watching #jeopardy again! Thanks Scarlett!”

“Oh thank God Austin is done #Jeopardy,” another viewer rejoiced.

I’m so mad Austin is no longer on @Jeopardy! He actually made it exciting to watch. Scarlett will not so much#thanksforthedicktree #jeopardy

Welp…#Jeopardy viewership will be down tomorrow. Thanks for the laughs #AustinRogers – the game will never be the same! #austinonjeopardy pic.twitter.com/w6G5AlOS5y

— alexis maycock (@alexismaycock) October 13, 2017

It was a good run, and he was a classy guy even when he was defeated. #austinonjeopardy #jeopardy

— MichelleDainusPeters (@mdainus) October 13, 2017

Yay, I can start watching #jeopardy again! Thanks Scarlett! .

— Lindsay Fallis (@RedJeepGal) October 13, 2017


He was not an awesome student

So any human with an encyclopedic knowledge of everything and also mad math skills must have been a great student, right? Well, that was true early on — according to the New York Times, Holzhauer got moved into fifth grade math at age 7, and he skipped the second grade altogether. But other than that he doesn't seem to have gone very far in the academically competitive world of K-12. He usually did well on tests, but he was still mostly a C student. Why? Because he couldn't be bothered to do his homework. In high school he was also known to skip class on occasion, so he could devote his time to more productive activities, you know, like playing internet poker.

"There were times in school where I would say, 'I should go to class,'" he said in an interview. "But I could make $100 playing online poker if I didn't go." So yeah, he was that kind of kid.


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The True Story Of Charles Van Doren And The Quiz Show Scandals

  • In 2005, Van Doren became an adjunct professor of English at the University of Connecticut
  • In 1994, Quiz Show, a film on the scandal was released and went on to be nominated for several Academy-Awards including Best Picture
  • For many years, Van Doren declined interviews related to his part in the quiz show scandal.

The Quiz-Show Scandal AMERICAN HERITAGE

  • Van Doren and the quiz scandals were becoming as one
  • That Monday evening, October 12, Van Doren telephoned his lawyer (who privately feared for his client’s sanity) and learned that the Harris subcommittee had issued a subpoena ordering him to testify …

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Charles Van Doren, the dashing young academic whose meteoric rise and fall as a corrupt game show contestant in the 1950 s inspired the movie "Quiz Show" and served as a cautionary tale about the

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  • In Van Doren's life, history did repeat itself
  • When Krainin co-produced "Quiz Show," the 1994 Robert Redford movie about the scandal, he sent Van Doren a $100,000 contract to sign on as a consultant.

The Rigged Quiz Shows That Gave Birth to 'Jeopardy!'

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Emcee Jack Barry (right) bear hugs Charles Van Doren, Columbia instructor, after the latter won 104,500 on the TV quiz show 'Twenty-One' (Getty Images) Fixing the shows wasn’t illegal, but it

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"Practically the only thing that is true in the movie is that Stempel received help, Snodgrass received help, and Van Doren received help," Stone said, naming the game-show contestants.

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  • For Charles Van Doren, involvement with quiz shows would lead to scandal and personal tragedy that he would hide from for the rest of his life
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Charles Van Doren, central figure in 1950s quiz show scandal, dies at 93 A scene from the 1950s TV game show “Twenty One,” with contestant Charles Van Doren, left.

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  • Freedman asked Van Doren if he ever thought to try his luck on a quiz show
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  • Robert Redford's film, Quiz Show, was critically well received and was nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the "Best Picture" of 1994
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  • For Charles Van Doren, involvement with quiz shows would lead to scandal and personal tragedy that he would hide from for the rest of his life
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  • Van Doren went so far as to offer to appear in front of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, which was investigating the quiz-show scandal, to assert his innocence

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Charles Van Doren, right, in a contestant’s booth during his series of appearances in 1956 and 1957 on the quiz show “Twenty-One.” The host, center, was Jack Barry.

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  • Charles Van Doren was at the center of the infamous 1950s TV quiz show scandal
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  • Charles Van Doren, the central figure in the TV game show scandals of the late 1950s has died
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  • The Twenty-One scandal was dramatized in Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show, in which Ralph Fiennes played Van Doren
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  • Born: 12 February 1926 in Manhattan, New York.

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  • Charles Van Doren, who has died aged 93, was at the centre of a huge quiz-show fixing scandal that shocked America at the end of the 1950s
  • His victory over Herbert Stempel on the Twenty-One game

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This documentary focuses on two of the most famous quiz shows found to be involved in the rigging: "The $64,000 Question," the first "big money" quiz show, and "Twenty One," which produced perhaps the most popular quiz contestant of all time, Charles Van Doren.

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  • By pre-game arrangement, the first Van Doren-Stempel face off ended with three ties hence, the next week's game would be played for $2000 a point, and publicized accordingly
  • On Wednesday, 5 December 1956, at 10:30 P.M., an estimated 50 million Americans tune in to Twenty One for what host and co-producer Jack Berry calls "the biggest game

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  • Charles Van Doren was at the center of the infamous 1950s TV quiz show scandal
  • The tall sophisticated Columbia University professor, the son of noted poet Mark Van Doren, won $129,000 (more than one million dollars today) on the game show “Twenty-One” in 1956-1957.

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Charles Van Doren, the dashing young academic whose meteoric rise and fall as a corrupt game show contestant in the 1950s inspired the movie "Quiz Show" and served as a cautionary tale about the

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Charles Van Doren, the dashing young academic whose meteoric rise and fall as a corrupt game show contestant in the 1950s inspired the movie "Quiz Show" and served as a cautionary tale about the

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Worth Watching: Alex’s Last ‘Jeopardy!’ Episodes, Discovery+ Launches, ‘Suitable Boy’ Finale, a New ‘Bachelor’

Jeopardy! (Syndicated, check local listings): It will be both a poignant farewell and business as usual when the revered quiz show airs its final week of episodes with the beloved Alex Trebek as host. (These were originally scheduled for Christmas week, but wisely delayed until now out of concerns of holiday pre-emptions.) Trebek taped his last show 10 days before his November death, doing the job he loved while fighting the cancer he had faced publicly for a year and a half. Starting next Monday, renowned Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings will be the first in a series of interim guest hosts. The show goes on, but Trebek will never be forgotten.

10 of Alex Trebek's Best 'Jeopardy!' Moments

Discovery+ (launching Monday): It’s official: Everybody wants to be in the streaming game. The newest entry brings together popular shows, offshoots and talents from Discovery, HGTV, Food Network, ID, TLC and more with 55,000 hours of exclusive and library content. Among the many premieres at launch: a topiary competition, Clipped, hosted by Michael Urie and Martha Stewart, plus 90 Days Bares All, Bobby and Giada in Italy, nature series Mysterious Planet and A Perfect Planet, Home Town: Ben’s Workshop, House Hunters: Comedians on Couches Unfiltered and the “Shock Doc” Amityville Horror House.

Ken Jennings to Serve as 'Jeopardy!'s Guest Host

A Suitable Boy (streaming on Acorn TV): The gorgeous limited-series adaptation of Vikram Seth’s giant novel concludes with Lata (Tanya Maniktala) finally making her choice of a suitable soulmate. Also accepting his fate: her best friend Maan (Ishaan Khatter), who turns himself in to authorities after a tragic accident that leads to more heartache before redemption.

Roush Review: Glorious Escapism in the Search for 'A Suitable Boy'

The Bachelor (8/7c, ABC): Weren’t we just here? Not even two weeks have passed since Tayshia wrapped her run as The Bachelorette, and here we go again for the apparently insatiable fans of this dating exhibition. Matt James returns to the franchise as the first Black male lead in the show’s 18-year history. The 28-year-old real-estate broker and entrepreneur will have a field of 32 willing and able women to choose from, including one who makes her entrance wearing only black lingerie and asking Matt to help pick her outfit. (I’m sure most men would just love doing that!) By the end of opening night, Matt will cull the herd to 24 with his first batch of roses. You can’t accuse this show of lacking dignity. OK, you can.


The Last WASP in Primetime: What the quiz show scandals taught us about meritocracy and the elite.

This spring, Jeopardy champion James Holzhauer showed America just how much the perfect combination of intelligence and skill can look like cheating. The analytically minded professional gambler "broke" the game by finding the mathematically optimal way to play--prioritizing hard questions and betting big--perhaps forever changing Jeopardy. This isn't the first time a quiz show blurred the line between merit and unfair advantage. Before Holzhauer, there was Charles Van Doren, who died in April of this year, and whose rise and fall as a quiz show champion in the mid-1950s is depicted in the Robert Redford-directed Quiz Show, released 25 years ago this fall.

The 1950s and '60s brought an expansion of opportunity and inclusivity in American institutions, the broadened availability of education and employment for people who weren't upper-class white men. One such person was Herbert Stempel.

America met Stempel on the NBC quiz show Twenty-One at 10:30 pm on Wednesday, October 17, 1956. The show's host ("quizmaster") Jack Barry introduced him as a lower-class boy from Brooklyn who, despite his poverty and Jewish heritage, got his break thanks to the GI Bill, which made it possible for him to attend City College after eight years of military service. Stepping into the show's trademark soundproof booth to answer questions, Stempel looked awkward, moving stiffly and sweating through a too-tight shirt, and he spoke haltingly (in Quiz Show John Turturro captures Stempel's neurotic charm). It was abundantly clear to the audience that Herbie Stempel was not born and bred among America's elite, but his appearance on television offered a chance to win fame and fortune by his brainpower alone.

Stempel's big opportunity came at a time when TV quiz shows were the ultimate symbol of midcentury optimism, of expanding opportunity to join the middle and upper classes. CBS revolutionized the genre in 1955 with The $64,000 Question by offering prizes several orders of magnitude larger than previous quiz shows. The radio quiz show Information, Please! (1938-1951) never offered winnings larger than $25 and a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Question's large winnings represented real opportunity for upward mobility, and the possibility of multi-week winning streaks meant audiences could get to know successful contestants. The new format caught the zeitgeist. Columnist Max Lerner referred to CBS's quiz show as "Huey Long's 'Every Man a King' put into TV language." The Nation's Dan Wakefield joined in, calling quiz shows the "newest translation of the American Dream." The Question was an immediate ratings success, consistently occupying the top of the rankings and inspiring copycats, including NBC's Twenty-One. There were knock-offs, but Twenty-One found an original angle, structuring the quiz as competition between two players with rules borrowed from blackjack.

When Stempel came on air, Twenty-One was a five-week-old newcomer struggling to break into the upper tier of a booming field of TV quiz shows. It was far from the only show offering outsiders a chance at fame and fortune--the Question made immigrant cobbler Gino Prato a household name in its first season. But that didn't lessen the fact that Stempel could make it big, could win the American Dream by proving his wits and skill.

And prove them he did. In his first appearance, he won $9,000 in four minutes. Returning as the show's champion for six weeks in a row, Stempel racked up just under $70,000 by December. Barry made sure to play up Stempels rags-to-riches story, introducing him as "our 29-year-old GI college student." He was the outsider earning his way to the American dream by his merits alone, Twenty-One's very own Gino Prato.

But after those six weeks, Stempel met his match. Opening the final show of November 1956, Barry introduced Charles Van Doren on air as Stempels next challenger. Van Doren didn't require quite so much introduction to Twenty-One's audience as Stempel had. Barry asked the challenger if he was "related to Mark Van Doren, up at Columbia University, the famous writer." Charles's own credentials were extensive enough--after earning his bachelor's in the great books program at St. John's College, he got a master's in astrophysics and PhD in English at Columbia, where he then joined the English faculty--but Barry wanted to hear about his still more impressive family members. Van Doren answered in the affirmative--Mark was his father. Barry prodded him to say more: "The

name Van Doren is a very well-known name. Are you related to any of the other well-known Van Dorens?" "Well," Charles offered, "Dorothy Van Doren, the novelist and author of the recent The Country Wife is my mother, and Carl Van Doren, the biographer of Benjamin Franklin, was my uncle." He could also have mentioned Carl's ex-wife, Irita, longtime editor of The New York Herald-Tribune's famed book review section.

The Van Dorens were the closest thing midcentury America still had to a WASP intellectual aristocracy. Many members of the family devoted their professional lives to spreading knowledge of great books, whether through their teaching (Mark, Carl, and Charles taught English at Columbia), writings in The Herald-Tribune or The Nation (where Mark, Dorothy, Carl, and Irita had been editors), or appearances on educational radio shows (Mark was a regular on "Invitation to Learning"). Mark in particular was known as a poet, literary critic, and advocate of great books education. They weren't exactly the old WASP aristocracy--the family originated in rural Illinois--nor exactly the intellectual elite: New York's intelligentsia had already diversified, in no small part thanks to Jewish thinkers and graduates of Stempels alma mater. The Van Dorens were holdouts of a genteel tradition that had been under siege for a half century, but still held cultural sway. They represented an ideal, built on the best of the West, even if they had to borrow their prestige from the aristocratic sources they emulated. The Van Dorens were America's teachers.

However, Charles Van Doren was not going on Twenty-One to teach, but to prove his aptitude as a student. His father and uncle had both used radio to bring classic literature to mass audiences, reinforcing their position as intellectual aristocrats, as teachers. Charles expected that his appearance would similarly promote education, even though he came on the show in a different position. "Nothing is of more vital importance to our civilization than education," he later said he expected his Twenty-One appearance to have "a good effect on the national attitude to teachers, education, and the intellectual life."

Van Doren and Stempel tied their first game. They played a second game that episode, and tied again. Returning the following week, they tied twice more. For three weeks, Twenty-One dramatized a struggle between two visions of the American elite, one emerging and one receding. Stempel, the newly mobile beneficiary of American promise, battled a prince of the WASP intelligentsia. Van Doren's high-bred charm was as apparent to audiences as Stempels awkwardness he spoke gently and clearly, even when straining for an answer, dressed sharply, and carried himself like a gentleman. On December 5th, in the second game of their third week competing together, Van Doren beat Stempel on a question about newspapers. That victory was the first of a four-month streak during which Van Doren won $128,000--the highest total any quiz show had yet seen.

Van Doren was an immediate sensation. His fiancee Gerry had to help him respond to thousands of fan letters, including several hundred marriage proposals. Three months into his run, Charles made the cover of TIME magazine. The cover article compared the celebrity of "TV's brightest new face" to Elvis's, and described him as perfectly suited for TV fame: "Along with [Van Doren's] charm, he combines the universal erudition of a Renaissance man with the nerve and cunning of a riverboat gambler and the showmanship of the born actor . It is difficult to imagine viewers tiring of the fascinating, suspense-taut spectacle of his highly trained mind at work." Van Doren inspired the ultimate vote of confidence from NBC: moving Twenty-One from its Wednesday night time slot to Monday nights, opposite the final season of CBS's ratings juggernaut I Love Lucy. Even up against the most popular show of the decade, Twenty-One climbed the charts, attaining a rating of 34.7, comfortably among the highest-rated programs on television.

Van Doren's instant popularity reveals that, for all the optimism about the expanding American Dream that Stempel represented, and contrary to the muchpublicized "anti-intellectualism" of McCarthy-era Americans, the public still looked up to well-cultivated, conventionally educated, erudite WASPs. TV critic Janet Kern found Van Doren "so likable that he has come to be a 'friend' whose weekly visits the whole family eagerly anticipates." When a lawyer named Vivienne Nearing unseated him as the show's champion on March 11, 1957, NBC offered Van Doren a three-year, $150,000 contract to stay on television. He became the Today Show's cultural correspondent, reading poetry and reporting on events in the literary world.

Stempel may have left the air, but even after receiving his winnings and undergoing 10 months of therapy, he wasn't done with Twenty-One. At the end of August 1958, he visited the office of New York Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone and told him a story that no one had seen on television.

The whole thing had been fake, Stempel said. He had received the questions and answers beforehand from producer Dan Enright, told which levels of difficulty to select, and which to get right or wrong. But it wasn't just the score that was rigged. Stempel's mannerisms, clothes, banter before and after each game, and even his haircut were orchestrated by Enright and fellow producer Albert Freedman. Stempel wasn't even from Brooklyn, but Queens. Enright and Freedman pushed Stempel out of the show in favor of Van Doren because ratings had, they told him, "plateaued," and promised him a job in television if he agreed to lose. Stempel had come forward upon realizing that Enright and Freedman didn't intend to fulfill their promise.

Nor was Stempel the only one who'd been rigged, as Stone quickly learned when other quiz show contestants began making similar confessions. He learned that every quiz show found ways to control results so that audiences could connect to the narratives of contestants. Pre-determined tics, pauses, and stutters could heighten a show's dramatic tension and time it perfectly for commercial breaks. NBC had chosen to depict Stempel as a meritocratic underdog and made his rivalry with the ostensible aristocrat Van Doren the "plot" of their show.

But that rivalry, in Stempel's mind, had never been fake. He insisted that he bore no ill will toward Van Doren, but there had been one incident that bothered him more than any on-screen defeat: Van Doren refused to shake Stempel's hand after one game. It's disputed whether Van Doren, too well-mannered to refuse a handshake, simply didn't see the gesture, but the moment validated Stempel's impression of his opponent as an elitist snob. Stempel was just as authentically an intelligent beneficiary of the new American dream--he was sure to point out to Stone his 170 IQ. Stempel had indeed attended City College because of the GI Bill, having served during the last month of the Second World War, although contrary to his low-class TV persona, he had married into money.

But now Stempel was a different kind of underdog. He was now a slighted member of a minority group, appealing to government and public opinion against corporate and WASP powers that had offered him a bad deal. Stempel brought the struggle between two visions of the elite from the staged quizshow drama into the broader world.

Stone conducted a nine month investigation into quiz show cheating, talking to contestants and producers from a variety of game shows, but Stempel made sure his was the central story. The day after he met with Stone, Stempel told his story to The New York Journal-American, which the next morning ran an article about an unnamed star of Twenty-One meeting with someone in the New York District Attorney's office. A few days later, the paper ran another story on allegations of cheating on The $64,000 Challenge--a CBS spin-off of the Question. The DAs office convened a grand jury, and although its proceedings were kept secret and no one was convicted or arrested, the Question, the Challenge, Twenty-One, and a number of other quiz shows were canceled during the fall of 1958. But even though the show and their roles on it were gone, Stempel's rivalry with Van Doren would not disappear.

After the grand jury investigation and Twenty-One had both ended, Stempel received a visit from a federal investigator named Richard Goodwin. Goodwin was himself something of a meritocrat, having worked his way from lower-class Jewish suburbs of Boston to Harvard Law, landing a job with the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight. He'd never worked a case before, but after noticing an article in The New York Times about the quiz-show grand jury, he asked his superiors for permission to travel to New York to unseal the proceedings and investigate.

It's easy to speculate as to why they let him go. The Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight had been recently established by the Committee on Interstate Commerce to keep tabs on the FCC as it distributed broadcast licenses--a hot commodity in television's early days. In 1957, rumors of rampant bribery in the FCC led the subcommittee to ask NYU law professor Bernard Schwartz to conduct a probe of the agency. Schwartz's investigation was perhaps more successful than Congress had hoped the Commerce Committee cut it short after six months, during which time Schwartz revealed that the committee's own chair secretly held a 25 percent stake in a television station. Schwartz's discoveries led to the resignation of the FCC director and other officials. By the fall of 1958, the Subcommittee may have been looking for ways to scratch the public itch for exposing corruption in television without further implicating members of Congress.

Whatever the case, the young Goodwin certainly didn't see his investigation as mere misdirection from his bosses' corruption. In his mind, quiz show cheating amounted to an offense against the public, and as a civil servant, he was the public's champion, duty-bound to deliver truth and justice even if it meant stretching procedural bounds--an attitude that would later serve him well in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Requesting the grand jury's records from the presiding New York judge was something of a power trip: "With a single sentence, I had overturned the intentions of the New York judicial system. True, the power was borrowed, derived from my employers. But since its exercise was mine, it also belonged to me." Even Quiz Show finds Goodwin a bit too powerful--in the movie, he fails to retrieve the grand jury report and has to conduct some boots-on-the-ground sleuthing.

Goodwin's cavalier conduct rubbed Stone the wrong way. From Stone's perspective, the "aggressive" Goodwin "assumed what amounted to carte blanche authority," and "terrorized producers, advertising men, former contestants, and others by brandishing blank subpoenas." Nothing stood in the way of this crusading bureaucrat. The New York grand jury had already ruled, the quiz shows had shut down relatively quietly, and nobody had been arrested, but Goodwin was building a cause celebre to be adjudicated as much in the public and the press as in government.

The young lawyer's bravado worked, as his investigation led to a series of high-profile hearings in the fall of 1959. One week short of the three-year anniversary of Stempel's first appearance on Twenty-One, the ex-contestant stepped back into the public spotlight. Committee chairman Oren Harris opened the hearings with a remarkably broad justification: not to investigate wrongdoing, but "to assist the committee in considering legislation pertaining to Federal regulatory agencies within its jurisdiction." Stempel was the first witness. To prove that he'd received answers in advance, he revealed that the day before he was supposed to lose he'd given the answers to a salesman friend, Richard Janofsky, so Janofsky could prank his wife when they watched the show together.

Every witness pointed the finger at Enright and Freedman, though Goodman had hoped to implicate executives at NBC or Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Twenty-One's sponsor). The subcommittee learned that Pharmaceuticals, Inc. had approved Enright sending Stempel, Van Doren, and Nearing several-thousand-dollar checks as advances on their prize winnings when it was still possible (under the rules of the game) that they'd lose all their winnings--almost as if the advertiser who cut the checks knew ahead of time they wouldn't lose. When the subcommittee grilled him on the subject, Edward Kletter, the company's VP and advertising director, equivocated and sidestepped. Eventually, pressed into a corner, Kletter told the subcommittee that he had approved the advance not out of foreknowledge, but out of the kindness of his heart: "It is my firm belief that if Mr. Van Doren had lost it all, he would have returned the money. . You just don't turn somebody down if he has a good reason for asking for help." Van Doren had asked Enright for the advance because he had Christmas shopping to do. There wasn't enough evidence to prove a wider conspiracy.

The subcommittee was more interested in Twenty-One's contestants. New York Representative Steven Derounian wanted Van Doren's head. A Bulgarian-born Armenian-American, Derounian may have shared some of Stempel's resentment of advantages enjoyed by apparent WASPs like Van Doren. His questions for Stempel were pretense to pontificate on Van Doren: "Mr. Van Doren has built himself up as an intellectual giant in the eyes of the American people and is making a lot of money today on [Today] telling sweet stories of art, poetry, and compassion for humankind. Is it reasonable to assume, based on your information, that Mr. Van Doren also got the Enright preparation?" Stempel replied that he couldn't make any accusations--he simply wasn't a vindictive person. But Derounian insisted: "You told your friend, Mr. Janofsky: 'You, too, can be smart if you know the answers in advance.' Does that apply to Mr. Van Doren, in your opinion?" It's easy to read in these questions an insinuation that all Van Doren's virtues were the results of prejudice, advantages given "in advance," whether by producers or by birth.

Van Doren's confrontation with the newly upwardly mobile had moved from TV to the halls of Congress. His name now caught up in scandal, Van Doren issued a statement on the third day of the hearings (prepared for him by NBC) denying having received assistance on Twenty-One. The committee replied by subpoenaing him. When he arrived for the second round of hearings early in November, Van Doren took the oath, sat down, and addressed the chairman:

Van Doren confessed to everything. Enright and Freedman had fed him answers, although he begged them despite his popularity to take him off the show, which they did upon finding Nearing. When he finished speaking, most of the committee members responded politely, willing to give due deference to a humbled man admitting his wrongdoing. But Derounian pounced. "Mr. Van Doren, I am happy that you made the statement, but I cannot agree with most of my colleagues who have commended you for telling the truth because I don't think an adult of your intelligence ought to be commended for telling the truth." He told Van Doren, "what you did, you did for money."

Derounian's harshness anticipated the public reaction to Van Doren's confession. The movie expresses it well. As they leave the congressional chambers, the Van Dorens, fresh off Derounian's ridicule but hoping for a graceful exit from the public eye, step into a swarm of reporters who tell them both NBC and Columbia have fired Charles. This avalanche of bad news is only a slight dramatization--Charles did indeed learn from reporters that he was fired both from the Today Show and Columbia, but not until he arrived home. The project of tearing down the privileged would be total. The justice delivered by a grand jury behind closed doors wasn't enough holders of privilege were now subject to public destruction of reputations and removal from jobs. As Freedman told the subcommittee, "over the past year [since Twenty-One ended], as a result of all that has happened, people have been hurt--contestants, people working in our organization, have been very hurt. Reputations have been hurt." But reputations didn't matter much anymore. The noble lie that sustained the WASPs and made the Van Dorens celebrities--that their position as America's teachers came from good breeding, manners, and education, rather than mere privilege--shattered just in time for the '60s to begin, and it already looked as though the new regime was going to be merciless.

Herbert Stempel's struggle with Charles Van Doren is far more complicated than it seemed to Twenty-One's viewers in the fall of 1956. Stempel wasn't the poor Brooklyn boy surviving on his wits and merits alone, and his federal champions weren't pursuing truth and justice but self-vindication. But neither was Van Doren the stuffy WASP that Stempel disliked and audiences adored. And crucially, contrary to appearances, neither was Van Doren truly the person in power. As Goodwin recognized, the congressional hearings absolved (or ignored) corporate powers-that-be and focused on attacking the apparently privileged WASP.

Stempel's grievance was doubtless legitimate, regardless of whether Van Doren missed a handshake or whether Enright cheated him out of a job. But that grievance's effectiveness ultimately had more to do with congressional desire for good publicity and Van Doren's own mistakes than its own justice. Van Doren did his part to undermine public acceptance of WASP privilege, not only by cheating, but by going on Twenty-One in the first place. He hoped his participation would promote elite education and erudition as attainable for everyone--but if it's for everyone, then people like Mark and Carl Van Doren had no unique claim to it, or to the position of America's teachers. Twenty-One subjected Charles's aristocratic virtues to meritocratic standards, and he didn't live up.

Popular memory considers the '60s a moment of great disruption, including of the WASP elite, but that disruption began earlier, at the height of WASP popular cultural influence. Today's elite stands at a similar apex of influence, cooperating with mass media not to spread knowledge of literature, history, and philosophy, but of diversity, inclusivity, and intersectionality. But this cooperation can be risky. There may be no better way to create and spread discontent with reigning elite values than broadcasting them nationally. Mass media might end up making promises that elites can't keep. And no matter how entrenched and widely beloved a cultural elite may seem, it can only take a few years, a slighted outsider, or a broken public promise to change everything.

Philip Jeffery is assistant editor at the Washington Free Beacon. His Twitter handle is @philipljeffery.


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Susan majored in English with a double minor in Humanities and Business at Arizona State University and earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Liberty University. She taught grades four through twelve in both public and private schools. Subjects included English, U.S. and world history and geography, math, earth and physical science, Bible, information technologies, and creative writing.

Susan has been freelance writing for over ten years, during which time she has written and edited books, newspaper articles, biographies, book reviews, guidelines, neighborhood descriptions for realtors, Power Point presentations, resumes, and numerous other projects.


79 The Christmas Story Trivia Questions & Answers : Gospel Mixture

This category is for questions and answers related to The Christmas Story, as asked by users of FunTrivia.com. Accuracy: A team of editors takes feedback from our visitors to keep trivia as up to date and as accurate as possible.

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There are 79 questions in this immediate directory. Last updated Jun 26 2021.

Contemporary theologians generally agree that the four Gospels were written for four different audiences, leading to differences in emphasis and detail. Mark (whose Gospel was probably the first one written) wrote for a Roman audience, and used a terse style while emphasizing the power of Jesus. Matthew's Jewish audience had a tradition of expecting a Messiah Luke wrote for Greeks, and John for those interested in the spiritual, rather than the objective, aspects of Jesus' life.

Mark and John both start their accounts with John the Baptist baptizing the adult Jesus. The first chapter of Luke is devoted to the story of the pregnancies of Elizabeth and Mary, while Matthew establishes the credentials of Jesus as the Messiah predicted in a number of Old Testament sources, including the prophets Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah. (Matthew 1:1-17)

It was required by law that eight days after the birth of a son they would circumcise him and name him. They followed the law and circumcised him and named him Jesus, as the angel had told them to, eight days after his birth. This can be found in Luke 2:21.

Chapters one and two in Matthew and Luke both give detailed accounts of when Jesus was born. John 1:14, from the KJV, reads "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. " However, the shortest gospel, Mark, remains silent on this topic.

Answer: break off the engagement

Answer: The type of fruit is never mentioned in the Bible story of Adam and Eve.

Answer: To the Roman leader Theophilus, to tell him the truth about Christian teaching.

In the first four verses of his Gospel, Luke openly explains his purpose to Theophilus, who may have been a provincial governor. At the very least, Luke is trying hard to assure his "excellency" that Christians were no threat to the body politic. Later in the Gospel, Luke portrayed a Christ who recommended we "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Luke 20:22-25).

The Gospel according to Mark was the one written to comfort the Christians in Rome, who were being persecuted by Nero for burning the city. Mark is so cautious of formal authority that his Gospel would not have been good reading for Theophilus.


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