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The Aftermath of the Quiz Show Scandal


The Aftermath of the Quiz Show Scandal As the extent of the quiz show deception was revealed, the networks pulled all their high stakes game shows from the air, replacing them with westerns and detective shows. But the scandal affected far more than the prime-time line-up of television programs. People’s careers were ruined, reputations were scarred, and the way television would do business with its sponsors would change forever.

In the aftermath of the scandals, numerous former contestants sued producers, the networks, and program sponsors, arguing that the scandals had defamed them and cost them money. Doll Goostree, one of several "The $64,000 Question" program contestants, sued the show’s producers and CBS. She wanted to recoup the $4,000 she might have won if her match was not rigged – and for being deprived of the opportunity to win even larger cash prizes.

In his book about the scandal, "Prime Time and Misdemeanors," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone maintains that those who had brought lawsuits were unusual in that instead of losing money, they had been deprived of getting more of it. The law turned out to be less generous than the quiz show sponsors: no judges decided in favor of contestants.

The true victims were not the contestants, Stone writes, many of whom made money, but the television viewers hoodwinked into believing that the fiction they were watching was actually real-life drama. But even television viewers seemed not to mind. A straw poll conducted at the time by the "Miami Herald" showed that the public was not outraged by the quiz hoaxes. Most Miamians wanted the shows back, regardless of all that had taken place. "Everything on TV is somewhat of a lie," one such individual explained to the "Herald," "but it’s still entertainment."

No one involved in the scandal suffered serious legal consequences. None of the contestants or the behind-the-scenes coaches were punished for their participation in the duplicity that became one of the top ten news stories of the year. The district attorney estimated that at least 100 contestants who had testified had perjured themselves. A handful pleaded guilty to charges of second degree perjury in Special Sessions Court in New York, admitting they had lied to the grand jury investigating the hoax. All, however, drew suspended sentences.

Changes followed inside the television industry. Producers such as Jack Barry and Dan Enright of "Twenty-One" were blacklisted from the industry for some time, yet they too were spared any legal repercussions. Their behind-the-scenes manipulations had broken no laws. In time, even they would return to prime-time.

The scandal did trigger amendments passed to the Communications Act in 1960. One amendment made it illegal for the outcomes of any contests of skill or knowledge, including quiz shows, to be put forward in any way that was pre-arranged. Another amendment required stations to make it clear on the air when money or other consideration has been received for broadcast material.

This truth-in-advertising requirement hinted at a fundamental shift in the relationship between content producers and advertisers. In his book, the "Encyclopedia of Television," critic and historian Les Brown wrote that the influence of sponsors undermined the public’s and the government’s trust in the integrity of commercial broadcasting. This was especially true given that the quiz show scandals broke about the same time as the "payola" revelations in radio, in which disc jockeys received bribes to play certain records. In response to the scandal, network producers worked to establish industry standards that would create a clearer demarcation between advertisers and content producers.

Instead of searching out advertisers to sponsor the production of a show, as had been done with "The $64,000 Question," television producers took full control of content development and production. After they produced a show, stations sold commercial time, following the model that had been used in magazines and newspapers for some time. Instead of buying into an entire program, advertisers bought into discreet amounts of time: commercials. Removing advertisers from direct involvement with a show eliminated the urge to interfere with content in order to boost ratings.

Even with this demarcation, many television critics suggested an even more fundamental way for keeping money interests from exerting undo influence on television content. After the quiz show hearings, esteemed columnists such as Walter Lippmann called for the creation of a new kind of television modeled after the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). These calls for a less commercial type of television led to the creation of a more independent and publicly funded television network, which has evolved into the public broadcasting system.
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