$64,000 Question


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About

The premiere of The $64,000 Question as a summer replacement in 1955 marked the beginning of the big money quiz shows. Following a Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that exempted "Jackpot" quizzes from charges of illegal gambling, Louis G. Cowan, the creator and packager of the program, Revlon, its main sponsor, and CBS were able to bring this new type of quiz show on the air. Based on the popular 1940s radio quiz show Take It Or Leave It with its famous $64 Question, The $64,000 Question increased the prize money to an unprecedented, spectacular level. It also added public appeal with a security guard and a "trust officer" who monitored questions and prizes, and its fairly elaborate set design, which included an "isolation booth" for the contestants. Intellectual "legitimacy" was further claimed through the employment of Prof. Bergen Evans as "Question Supervisor." With its emphasis on high culture, academic knowledge, and its grave, ceremonious atmosphere, The $64,000 Question represented an attempt to gain more respectability for the relatively new and still despised television medium, while at the same time appealing to a large audience.

Each contestant began his or her quest for fortune and fame by answering a question in their area of expertise for $64. Each subsequent correct answer doubled their prize money up to the $4,000 level. After this stage contestants could only advance one level per week and were asked increasingly elaborate and difficult questions. They were allowed to quit the quiz at any level--and keep their winnings--but missing a question always eliminated the contestant. Nevertheless, contestants were guaranteed the $4,000 from the first round, and if missed a question after having reached the $8,000 level, received an additional consolation prize--a new Cadillac. At this level, candidates were also moved from the studio floor to the "Revlon Isolation Booth," a shift designed to intensify the dramatic effects at the higher levels of the quiz.

Besides its use of such spectacular features, the appeal of The $64,000 Question was also strongly grounded in the audience's identification with returning contestants. Thus, many of the early competitors were transformed from "common people" into instant superstars. Policeman Redmond O'Hanlon, a Shakespeare expert, and shoemaker Gino Prato, an opera fan, are among the noted examples. The popularity of these and other contestants proved the viability of "the serialized contest," a concept that The $64,000 Question and many imitators (e.g., Twenty-One; The Big Surprise) followed.

Due to the immense success of The $64,000 Question (at one point in the 1955 season it had an 84.8% audience share), CBS and Cowan created a spin-off, The $64,000 Challenge. This program allowed those contestants from The $64,000 Question who had won at least $8,000 to continue their quiz show career. The format was changed into a more overt contest; two candidates competed against each other in a common area of expertise. As a minimum prize, contestants were guaranteed the amount at which they beat their opponents. Additionally, the $64,000 limit on winnings was removed, making the contests even longer and more spectacular.

The combination of these two shows allowed the most successful candidates to become virtual television regulars, as in the case of Teddy Nadler, who had accumulated $252,000 by the time The $64,000 Challenge was canceled. These programs held top rating spots until Twenty-One found a format and a contestant, Charles Van Doren, which were even more appealing to the audience.

The need for regular contestants to appear over long periods of time, one of the central factors in the popularity of the big prize game shows, also proved to be an central factor in their downfall with the quiz show scandal of 1958. The sponsors of the programs implicitly expected and sometimes explicitly demanded that popular contestants be supplied with answers in advance, enabling them to defeat unpopular competitors and remain on the show for extended periods. Although no allegations against Entertainment Productions, Inc. and CBS were ever substantiated, Barnouw points out in The Image Empire that their production personnel claimed that Revlon had frequently tried to influence the outcome of the quizzes. Ultimately, both shows were canceled due to public indignation and waning ratings in the wake of the scandals.

One of the most significant results of the quiz show scandal and the involvement of sponsors in it was the shift in the power to program television. The scandal was used as an argument by the networks to completely eliminate sponsor-controlled programming in prime-time broadcasting and to take control of program production themselves.

-Olaf Hoerschelmann

$64,000 QUESTION

EMCEE

Hal March

ASSISTANT

Lynn Dollar

AUTHORITY

Dr. Bergen Evans

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBS

June 1955-June 1958    Tuesday 10:00-10:30

September 1958-November 1958    Sunday 10:00-10:30

$64,000 CHALLENGE

EMCEE

Sonny Fox (1956)

Ralph Story (1956-1958)

PRODUCERS

Steve Carlin, Joe Cates

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBS

April 1956-September 1958    Sunday 10:00-1:30

FURTHER READING

Barnouw, E. A History of Broadcasting in the United States: Volume III--The Image Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Boddy, W. Fifties Television: The Industry and its Critics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Schwartz, D., S. Ryan, and F. Wostbrock. The Encyclopedia of Television Game Shows. New York: Zoetrope, 1987.

Highlights
Charles Lisanby on designing sets for the $64,000 Question
01:46
Barbara Feldon on being a contestant on The $64,000 Question
05:24
Sonny Fox on his short-lived time as host of $64,000 Challenge
11:02
Dixon Dern on the Payola investigation encircling the $64,000 Question , which involved taking money for product endorsement
Steve Carlin on creating The $64,000 Question
05:56
Patty Duke on what it was like competing live on the $64,000 Challenge
00:53
Who talked about this show

Charlie Andrews

View Interview
Charlie Andrews on freelance writing for $64,000 Question and The Morning Show
12:57

Bob Barker

View Interview
Bob Barker on how Truth or Consequences was not affected by the quiz show scandals
01:24

Steve Carlin

View Interview
Steve Carlin on creating The $64,000 Question
05:56
Steve Carlin on The $64,000 Challenge
02:09
Steve Carlin on the start of the Quiz Show scandals 
04:00
Steve Carlin on getting involved with game shows
04:21
Steve Carlin on getting Revlon to sponsor The $64,000 Question and developing the show
05:36
Steve Carlin on the contestants for The $64,000 Question
01:03
Steve Carlin on Hal March as the host of The $64,000 Question
02:39
Steve Carlin on convincing Hal March to host The $64,000 Question and the first episodes of the show
04:21
Steve Carlin on the crew of The $64,000 Question
01:48
Steve Carlin on Louis G. Cowan leaving The $64,000 Question and his role in creating the show
02:52
Steve Carlin on Mike Wallace hosting The Big Surprise
02:25
Steve Carlin on testifying to the Grand Jury investigating quiz shows
03:24
Steve Carlin on Dr. Joyce Brothers' appearance as a contestant on The $64,000 Question 
04:35
Steve Carlin on the end of The $64,000 Question
01:43

Dixon Dern

View Interview
Dixon Dern on the Payola investigation encircling the $64,000 Question , which involved taking money for product endorsement

Patty Duke

View Interview
Patty Duke on how her managers gave her the answers for the $64,000 Challenge; on testifying during the Quiz Show Scandals
04:10
Patty Duke on what it was like competing live on the $64,000 Challenge
00:53

Irving Fein

View Interview
Irving Fein on Jack Benny's guest appearance on The $64,000 Question (that led to a subsequent appearance of $64,000 Question host Hal March on The Jack Benny Program)
02:04

Barbara Feldon

View Interview
Barbara Feldon on being a contestant on The $64,000 Question
05:24
Barbara Feldon on her appearance on the $64,000 Question -- around the time of the Quiz show scandals
02:44

Sonny Fox

View Interview
Sonny Fox on his short-lived time as host of $64,000 Challenge
11:02

Albert Freedman

View Interview
Albert Freedman on Randolph Churchill blanking on The $64,000 Question and the reasons for "fixing" panel and quiz shows
07:43

Charles Lisanby

View Interview
Charles Lisanby on designing sets for the $64,000 Question
01:46

Herbert F. Solow

View Interview
Herbert F. Solow on his recollections of the shows involved with the quiz show scandals
00:35

Leonard Stern

View Interview
On writing adlibs for the $64,000 Question ; moving to California in 1948
00:17

William Tankersley

View Interview
William Tankersley on not being aware of the scandal on the $64,000 Question
00:46

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