The Quiz Shows

1934 - Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour was one of the first national radio programs to feature contestants competing for prizes. Professor Quiz (CBS 1936) awarded $10 cash prizes for the answers to general information questions, and a large number of quiz shows appeared on radio in 1937 and 1938. Pot 'O Gold (NBC 1939) gave $1000 to anyone who answered a telephone call during the show.

1948 - Pantomine Quiz began on KTLA-TV, followed by The Eyes Have It on NBC and This Is the Missus on CBS.

1955 - June 7 premier on CBS of The $64,000 Question, the "biggest jackpot program in radio-TV history," produced by Louis Cowan for the advertising firm Norman, Craig & Kummel, sponsored by Charles Revson to promote Living Lipstick over rival Hazel Bishop that had proven the success of TV advertising by raising its sales from $50,000 in 1950 to $4,500,000 in 1952. With host Hal March, the program on Tuesday nights soon drew 84.8% share of the TV audience. Marine Captain Richard S. McCutchen became a national celebrity as an expert on cooking. Joyce Brothers would star as an expert on boxing. Ted Nadler memorized the Encyclopedia Britannica and won a record $252,000. Alcoa dropped the See It Now program of Ed Murrow and CBS substituted in the same time period the quiz show Beat the Clock sponsored by Liggett & Myers.

1956 - A flood of quiz shows went on the air: The Big Surprise, The $64,000 Challenge, High Finance, Treasure Hunt, Twenty-One, Giant Step, Can Do, Nothing But the Truth, Tic Tac Dough. The quiz show scandals began in 1956 when Shirley Bernstein, producer of The $64,000 Challenge, gave answers to Rev. Storey Jackson. Producer Dan Enright rigged Twenty-One by coaching Herb Stempel, then making Charles Van Doren the big winner.

1957 - In July 5 of the 10 top-rated programs on TV were quiz shows: The $64,000 Question (35.2 rating), I've Got a Secret (31.9), Twenty-One (31.5), What's My Line (31.2), The $64,000 Challenge (27.7)

1958 - Dotto was the number one quiz show, sponsored by Colgate, but a contestant complained that others were given answers, and CBS took the program off the air. This began a series of investigations by the New York District Attorney and resulted in 150 witnesses appearing before a grand jury over 9 months. In August, Stempel said that Twenty-One was fixed.

1959 - The House subcommittee on legislative oversight in Congress launched another investigation, and Richard Goodwin persuaded Van Doren to testify and admit he took part in the scandal, but no criminal charges were filed. All quiz shows were removed from network television and replaced with Hollywood-produced telefilms such as the westerns Gunsmoke, Rifleman, Have Gun-Will Travel. Congress also investigated the payola scandal of disc-jockeys taking money and gifts to play certain records on radio.

1960 - Due in part to the quiz show scandals, the TV networks turned to documentaries to restore credibility. ABC Closeup, CBS Reports, and NBC White Paper opened a new era in television history.

The "game show" that originated on radio with Major Bowes steadily grew in popularity on television, from Pantomine Quiz in the 1940s to The Price Is Right (NBC 1956) and Giant Step (CBS 1956) in the 1950s, to Let's Make a Deal (1963) and Jeopardy! (1964) and The Dating Game and Hollywood Squares (1966) in the 1960s, to Wheel of Fortune (1975, and the most popular game show in history after syndication in 1984) and The $10,000 Pyramid (1973) and Family Feud (ABC 1977-85) with British comedian Richard Dawson in the 1970s, to Press Your Luck (1983) and Doubledare on Nickleodeon and Love Connection (1983-1995) with Chuck Woolery in the 1980s, to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (1999) with Regis Philbin.


  • revised 11/26/02 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes