Electronic Media Reviews -- Quiz Show Directed by Robert Redford

By Russomanno, Joseph A. | Journalism History, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Electronic Media Reviews -- Quiz Show Directed by Robert Redford


Russomanno, Joseph A., Journalism History


Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" represents the ultimate morality play. By portraying an episode of American media history in which deception and deceit were the norm, we are provided with ample material for classroom discussion. But it is when "Quiz Show" falls victim to its own accusations that it becomes particularly appropriate for the classroom.

"Quiz Show" is the story of how the drive for ratings, money, and fame led program producers, network executives, sponsors, and contestants to take part in the rigging of one television game show, "Twenty-One," in the late 1950s. It is a story told largely through the eyes of three key players: Herbert Stempel, champion by virtue of being provided answers, but who is ultimately asked to take a fall when the program sponsor grows tired of him and company sales sag; Charles Van Doren, a personality more suited to the sponsor's ideal profile, who becomes the new champion, also thanks to being given answers; and Richard Goodwin, a congressional investigator who ultimately uncovers the high-stakes shenanigans.

The film illustrates the ease with which otherwise honorable people can become participants in unethical conduct--particularly when the rewards for doing so are so alluring. Incrementally, these people and others take small steps of transgression, each one on a slippery slope of wrongdoing, until they are unable to turn back.

On its surface, then, the film is rife with elements for classroom discussion. How could this have happened? What conditions allowed it to occur? But it may be its contemporary application which provides for the best discussion. For if we are to teach students anything about transgressions of the past, it is how to recognize them and avoid their repetition. Could something similar happen today? Are there places within the media where deception is the norm? Just as television of the late 1950s tempted those involved to fine tune reality to accomplish their own ends, we must ask if that medium--or any others--does not do the same today. …

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Electronic Media Reviews -- Quiz Show Directed by Robert Redford
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