to the quiz show scandals in 1958 no differentiation existed between
quiz shows and "game shows." Programs such as Truth or Consequences
or People Are Funny that relied mainly on physical activity
and had no significant quiz element to them were called quiz shows,
as was as an offering like The $64,000 Question that emphasized
factual knowledge. The scandals mark an important turning point
because in the years following, programs formerly known as "quiz
shows" were renamed "game shows." This change coincides with a shift
in content, away from high culture and factual knowledge common
to the big money shows of the 1950s. But the renaming of the genre
also represents an attempt to distance the programs from the extremely
negative connotations of the scandals, which had undermined the
legitimacy of the high cultural values that quiz shows--the term
and the genre--embodied. Thus, the new name, game shows, removed
the genre from certain cultural assumptions and instead creates
associations with the less sensitive concepts of play and leisure.
Nevertheless, the historical and material causes for this re-naming
still fail to provide a sufficient basis for a definition of this
genre as a whole. John Fiske, in Television Culture, suggests
more satisfactory definitions and categories with which to distinguish
among different types of shows.
of the main appeals of quiz shows is that they deal with issues
such as competition, success, and knowledge--central concerns for
American culture. It makes sense, then, to follow Fiske in defining
this genre according to its relation to knowledge. He begins by
suggesting a basic split between "factual" knowledge and "human"
knowledge. Factual knowledge can be further divided into "academic"
and "everyday" knowledge. Human knowledge consists of knowledge
of "people in general" and of specific "individuals." While Fiske
does not clearly distinguish between the terms "game" and "quiz"
show, his categories reflect a significant difference in program
type. All shows that deal with competitions between individuals
or groups, and based primarily on the display of factual knowledge
will be considered quiz shows. Shows dealing with human knowledge
(knowledge of people or of individuals) or that are based primarily
on gambling or on physical performances fall in the category of
game shows. Thus, The Gong Show or Double Dare are
not considered quiz shows since they rely primarily or completely
on physical talents; Family Feud and The Newlywed Game
rely entirely on knowledge of people or of individuals and would
therefore also be considered game shows. Jeopardy!, however,
with its focus on academic, factual knowledge, is clearly a quiz
early television quiz shows of the 1940s were transferred or adapted
from radio, the most prominent among them, Information Please,
Winner Take All, and Quiz Kids. These shows also provided
a professional entry point for influential quiz show producers such
as Louis Cowan, Mark Goodson, and Jack Barry. While a number of
early radio and television quiz shows were produced locally and
later picked up by networks, this trend ended in the early 1950s
when increasing production values and budgets centralized the production
of quiz shows under the control of networks and sponsors. Nevertheless,
the relatively low production costs, simple sets, small casts, and
highly formalized production techniques have continually made quiz
shows an extremely attractive television genre. Quiz shows are more
profitable and faster to produce than virtually any other form of
the late 1940s and early 1950s most quiz shows were extremely simple
in visual design and the structure of the games. Sets often consisted
of painted flats and a desk for an expert panel and a host. The
games themselves usually involved a simple question and answer format
that displayed the expertise of the panel members. An important
characteristic of early quiz shows was their foregrounding of the
expert knowledge of official authorities. A standard format (e.g.
Americana, Information Please) relied on home viewers to
submit questions to the expert panel. Viewers were rewarded with
small prizes (money or consumer goods) for each question used and
with larger prizes if the panel failed to answer their question.
While this authority-centered format dominated the 1940s, it was
slowly replaced by audience-centered quizzes in the early 1950s.
In this period "everyday people" from the studio audience became
the subjects of the show. The host of the show, however, remained
the center of attention and served as a main attraction for the
program (e.g. Bert Parks and Bud Collyer in Break the Bank and
James McClain in Doctor I.Q.). At this point the visual style
of the shows was still fairly simple, often recreating a simple
theatrical proscenium or using an actual theater stage. The Mark
Goodson-Bill Todman production Winner Take All was an interesting
exception. While it also used dominant hosts, it introduced the
concept of a returning contestant who faced a new challenger for
every round. Thus, the attention was moved away from panels and
hosts and toward the contestants in the quiz.
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute
1954 Supreme Court ruling created the impetus for the development
of a new type of program when it removed "Jackpot" quizzes from
the category of gambling and made it possible to use this form of
entertainment on television. At CBS producer Louis Cowan, in cooperation
with Revlon Cosmetics as sponsor, developed the idea for a new Jackpot
quiz show based on the radio program Take It Or Leave It.
The result--The $64,000 Question--raised prize money to a spectacular
new level and also changed the visual style and format of quiz shows
significantly. The $64,000 Question, its spinoff The $64,000
Challenge and other imitations following between 1955 and 1958
(e.g. Twenty-One, The Big Surprise) all focused on high culture
and factual, often academic knowledge. They are part of television's
attempts in the 1950s to gain respectability and, simultaneously,
a wider audience. They introduced a much more elaborate set design
and visual style and generally created a serious and ceremonious
atmosphere. The $64,000 Question introduced an IBM sorting
machine, bank guards, an isolation booth and neon signs, while other
shows built on the same ingredients to create similar effects. In
an effort to keep big money quiz shows attractive, the prize money
was constantly increased and, indeed, on a number of shows, became
unlimited. Twenty-One and The $64,000 Challenge also
created tense competitions between contestants, so that audience
identification with one contestant could be even greater. Consequently,
the most successful contestants became celebrities in their own
right, perhaps the most prominent among them being Dr. Joyce Brothers
and Charles Van Doren.
reliance on popular returning contestants, on celebrities in contest,
also created, however, a motivation to manipulate the outcome of
the quizzes. Quiz show sponsors in particular recognized that some
contestants were more popular than others, a fact that could be
used to increase audience size. They required and advocated the
rigging of the programs to create a desired audience identification
with these popular contestants.
these practices were discovered and made public, the ensuing scandals
undermined the popular appeal of big money shows and, together with
lower ratings, led to the cancellation of all of these programs
in 1958-59. Entertainment Productions Inc. (EPI), a production company
founded by Louis Cowan, was particularly involved in and affected
by the scandals. EPI had produced a majority of the big money shows
and was also most actively involved in the riggings. Following the
scandals, the networks used the involvement of sponsors in the rigging
practices as an argument for the complete elimination of sponsor-controlled
programming in prime-time television.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Stevenson
not all quiz shows of the late 1950s were cancelled due to the scandals.
A number of programs which did not rely on the huge prizes (e.g.
The Price is Right, Name that Tune) remained on the air and
provided an example for later shows. Even these programs, however,
were usually removed from prime time, their stakes significantly
reduced, and the required knowledge made less demanding. In the
early 1960s very few new quiz shows were introduced, and most were
game shows focusing less on high culture and more on gambling and
physical games. Overall, the post-scandal era is marked by a move
away from expert knowledge to contestants with everyday knowledge.
College Bowl and Alumni Fun still focused on "academic"
knowledge without reviving the spectacular qualities of 1950s quiz
shows, but Jeopardy, introduced by Merv Griffin in 1964, is the
only other significant new program developed in the decade following
the scandals. It re-introduces "academic" knowledge, a serious atmosphere,
elaborate sets, and returning contestants, but offers only moderate
prizes. The late 1960s were marked by even more cancellations (CBS
cancelled all of its shows in 1967) and by increasing attempts of
producers to find alternative distribution outlets for their products
outside the network system. Their hopes were realized through the
growth in first run syndication.
In 1970, the FCC introduced two new regulations, the Financial Interest
and Syndication Rules (Fin-Syn) and the Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR),
that had a considerable effect on quiz/game show producers and on
the television industry in general. Fin-Syn limited network ownership
of television programs beyond their network run and increased the
control of independent producers over their shows. The producers'
financial situation and their creative control was significantly
improved. Additionally, PTAR gave control of the 7:00-7:30 P.M.
time slot to local stations. The intention of this change was to
create locally based programming, but the time period was usually
filled with syndicated programs, primarily inexpensive quiz and
tabloid news offerings. The overall situation of quiz/game show
producers was substantially improved by the FCC rulings.
a result, a number of new quiz shows began to appear in the mid-1970s.
They were, of course, all in color, and relied on extremely bright
and flashy sets, strong, primary colors, and a multitude of aural
and visual elements. In addition to this transformation traditionally
solemn atmosphere of quiz shows the programs were thorougly altered
in terms of content. Many of the 1970s quiz shows introduced an
element of gambling to their contests (e.g. The Joker's Wild,
The Big Showdown) and moved them further from a clear "academic"
and serious knowledge toward an everyday, ordinary knowledge.
consumerism, in particular, began to play an important role in quiz
shows such as The Price is Right and Sale of the Century
as the distinctions between quiz and game shows became increasingly
blurred in this period. As Graham points out in Come on Down!!!,
quiz shows had to change in the 1970s, adapting to a new cultural
environment that included flourishing pop culture and countercultures.
Mark Goodson's answer to this challenge on The Price is Right
was to create a noisy, carnival atmosphere that challenged cultural
norms and assumptions represented in previous generations of quiz
same type of show remained prevalent in the 1980s, though most of
them now apprear primarily in syndication and, to a lesser extent,
on cable channels. Both Wheel of Fortune and a new version
of Jeopardy are extremely successful as syndicated shows
in the prime time access slot (7:00-8:00 P.M.). In what may become
a trend Lifetime Television has introduced two quiz shows combining
everyday knowledge (of consumer products) with physical contests
(shopping as swiftly--and as expensively--as possible). These shows,
Supermarket Sweep and Shop 'Til You Drop, also challenge
assumptions about cultural norms and the value of everyday knowledge.
In particular they focus on "women's knowledge," and thus effectively
address the predominantly female audience of this cable channel.
future area of growth for quiz shows in the era of cable television,
then, seems to be the creation of this type of "signature show"
that appeals to the relatively narrowly defined target audience
of specific cable channels. Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune,
then, notable examples to be sure, remain as the primary representatives
of the quiz show genre, small legacy for one of the more powerful
and popular forms of television.
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III--The Image Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.
W. Fifties Television: The Industry and its Critics. Urbana,
Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
M. TV Game Shows. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1979.
J. Television Culture. London: Routledge, 1987.
J. Come on Down!!!: The TV Game Show Book. New York: Abbeville
D., S. Ryan, and F. Wostbrock. The Encyclopedia of Television
Game Shows. New York: Zoetrope, 1987.
P. "Generic Refinement On The Fringe: The Game Show." Southern
Speech Communication Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina),
Stone, J., and T. Yohn. Prime Time And Misdemeanors: Investigating
The 1950s TV Quiz Scandal--A D.A.'s Account. New Brunswick,
New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
Mark and Bill Todman; Griffin,
Got A Secret; Moore,
Garry; Quiz Show
of the Century; $64,000
Dollar Challenge, The/$64,000 Question