Disgusted Sponsor Sparked Twenty One Quiz Show Scandal

Charles Van Doren at left, Chuck Barry host and Herbert Stempel as they appeared on the Twenty One quiz Show.
Herbert Stempel shown stopping the game, that ended his run on Twenty One quiz show. Pay particular attention to the phony baloney spoken by both Stempel and host Jack Barry, since they both were participants in the rigging of the show.
The first Twenty One show aired September 10, 1956 and it didn’t go well, because neither contestant knew many of the answers. Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the maker of Geritol sponsored the show and the sponsor was infuriated, threatening to drop their sponsorship of the show if there was a repeat of the first show. That first show would be the only honest show in its two-year run.
The producers were desperate to placate the sponsor, so proceeded to tell the contestants, which questions to answer correctly or when to give the wrong answers. This may be the first time a reality show, turned into a non-reality show as nothing was ever real about this show again.
Two months later, Twenty One introduced Charles Van Doren, a college professor who competed against a nondescript Herbert Stempel. The producers wrung all the drama possible out of the shows, between the two contestants, but Van Doren eventually emerged victorious over Stempel.
Stempel was told to give the wrong answer to the question of which movie had won the 1955 Oscar for Best Picture. It so happened that the answer Marty was one of Stempel’s favorite movies. He could have thrown the show into chaos, since he thought about giving the correct answer, but decided to go along with the producers and give the wrong answer.
The show would remain on the air, despite Stempel was saying that the show was rigged. The show was investigated, but there was not enough proof of wrongdoing to take the show off the air.
Another quiz show Dotto came under scrutiny when a notebook with all the answers to the questions, for the other contestant was found. This brought a new spotlight on Stempel’s charges and Twenty One ended when Charles Van Doren confessed before a Congressional committee that he had been given the answers.
It would be 11 years before Jack Barry hosted another quiz show Generation Gap in 1969, then Barry would be the successful producer-host of The Joker’s Wild. Barry who had created Tic Tac Dough in the 50’s, now produced the Wink Martindale hosted version of the show in the 70’s and 80’s before Barry’s death.
Charles Van Doren’s statement about his involvement in the rigging of Twenty One. It is lengthy but takes us inside the mind, of a brilliant college professor who made some bad choices but told the truth to end tormenting himself for not telling the truth.
Stempel a disgruntled contestant on Twenty One couldn’t prevent himself from disclosing the rigging of the show, despite knowing he would incriminate himself and Charles Van Doren.
This is just another reminder that what we see on television is not always real, even if they call it reality television. The sponsor of  Twenty One started the producers down the road of cheating and misleading television viewers. Once they went down that road, there was no turning back.
Drama is what sells on television. The sponsor thought nobody wants to see two contestants struggling to guess the right answers, so he scared the bejeebies out of the producers to force them to cheat and manipulate the show to protect their jobs.
Nobody would want to watch a reality show like Big Brother if all they did was sit around and talk about the weather. The same goes for quiz shows. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that one of our quiz shows today has been manipulated to wring out more drama.
Viewers, beware of what you are watching, because it may not be real, no matter how much the producers deny they are not manipulating a show.

Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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