1950s Quiz Shows

by admin - October 12th, 2017

By Katelynn Colpitts

In the 1950s, there was a huge television boom. One of the most watched genres were quiz shows. These shows “sustained viewer interest from week to week by requiring successful contestants to return several weeks in a row to maximize their winnings, thus creating stars with substantial public followings.” (Dunar 248). Due to their popularity, producers had to find ways to ensure more and more viewers would keep watching. “Methods varied from selecting easier questions for desirable contestants to asking them “practice” questions that were later used during the actual show” (Dunar 248). These cheating methods and sketchy ways led to television’s first scandal.

“The quiz show scandals were driven by several major factors, all of which allowed dishonest behavior to be acceptable behind the scenes to both the producers of the shows as well as to the participating and willing contestants” (Venanzi).

This is a TV Guide cover featuring The $64,000 Question

One of the more popular quiz shows in the 1950s was The $64,000 Question. It became the number one show to watch just five weeks after it first aired in 1955. Of course like many other quiz shows
during that time, The $64,000 Question was full of cheating and fraud. One contestant had had enough and took his story to the press. Herb Stempel was a returning contestant on the show and his popularity was running low. Producers demanded that he purposely answer questions wrong to get booted off of the show. Stempel was unsure about this because he had known the answers to the questions and wanted to keep playing. His opponent Charles Van Doren, who was also in on the quiz show scam, ended up losing his job as the scandal story came to the surface. This led to many other game show’s cheating ways being revealed. Many of the people involved lost their reputations and popularity as a result.

At the time game shows became popular, many Americans were returning from the war. “All Americans wanted to live a better life than had their parents, who had suffered through the depression. With the surge in the number of Americans returning from war, and as a result of their readiness to quickly get on with their lives, Americans were seeking opportunities which would enable them to pursue their dreams of holding a well-paying job, getting married, buying homes and other material goods, and having children” (Venanzi). Game shows were a fun and fascinating way for people to win money. Everyone at the time wanted to have the finest things money could buy, and quiz shows were a way to get that money fast. When the scandals reached the media everything changed. The public became aware of the fraud that was taking place and everyone knew the contestants weren’t winning the money in a fair way. The creation of quiz shows led to one of America’s biggest scandals in the 1950s.

Vananzi, Katie. “An Examination of Television Quiz Show Scandals of the 1950s.” The Beat Begins: America in the 1950s, 1997, www.plosin.com/beatbegins/projects/venanzi.html.

“America in the Fifties” Andrew J. Dunar

One Response to “1950s Quiz Shows”

  1. Sophia Kontoes says:

    I was unaware that the $64,000 Question and other quiz shows in the 1950s were full of fraud, but now that I think about it, a lot of quiz shows make it impossible to win the money they are offering. I watch the game show network sometimes and watch old game shows such as “Whammy,” and while watching is seems as if the creators purposely give whammys so the people lose the money they have won after answering the questions they have been asked correctly. Quiz shows are entertaining and fun to play along, and you can learn a lot while watching, but when you watch and never see anyone win it takes the fun away. Quiz shows are mostly fair now, like family feud or jeopardy, people almost always win money and the shows are entertaining as well.