The Van Doren Legacy

(Above: Christopher McDonald as ‘Twenty-One’ host Jack Barry in ‘Quiz Show,’ from

We mark Charles Van Doren’s passing with a look back at the quiz show scandals.

Charles Van Doren died Tuesday at 93 — 60 years after becoming the young face of the infamous 1950s quiz show scandals.

On November 2, 1959, the highly popular NBC personality and Columbia University professor admitted to a Congressional Committee that he had been given questions and answers in advance while winning a record $129,000 on Twenty-One three years earlier. Although Twenty-One aired on NBC, it was really sponsor Geritol’s show — in an era when advertisers, not networks, controlled prime-time content.

Here’s a five-minute summary of the quiz show scandals from Decades:

Ralph Fiennes played Van Doren in the 1994 Oscar-nominated film, Quiz Show, available with a Netflix subscription. Non-Netflixers can stream the movie for $3.99 from other sources. Here’s a trailer:

And here’s the pivotal Twenty-One episode itself. On December 5, 1956, Charles Van Doren becomes champion by defeating Herb Stempel:

Stempel, played in the 1994 movie by John Turturro and now 92 years old, talked about his own role in the quiz show scandals for a 1992 installment of PBS’ The American Experience:

The episode, aptly titled “The Quiz Show Scandal,” is currently unavailable for viewing, either via streaming or home video.

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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