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“Every Effort Was Made to Control the Shows”: A Television Producer Details and Defends Deceptive Quiz Show Practices

Television had become the nation’s largest medium for advertising by the mid-1950s, when the Revlon cosmetics corporation agreed to sponsor The $64,000 Question, the first prime-time network quiz show to offer contestants fabulous sums of money. As Revlon’s average net profit rose in the next four years from $1.2 million to $11 million, a plethora of quiz shows tried to replicate its success. At the height of their popularity, in 1958, 24 network quiz shows—relatively easy and inexpensive to produce—filled the prime-time schedule. When the public learned in 1959 that a substantial number of shows had been rigged, a great many were offended. One survey, however, showed that quite a few viewers didn’t care. Following the revelations, prime-time quiz shows went off the air, replaced in large part by series telefilms, many of which were Westerns. The industry successfully fended off calls for regulation, and by blaming sponsors and contracted producers, networks minimized damage and increased their control over programming decisions. In the following testimony to a Congressional subcommittee, a producer described one program’s system of control over the seemingly spontaneous on-air contests. Several congressmen then aired their views on the ethics and effects of such deceptive television practices.


Mr. LISHMAN. Was assistance ever given to contestants in these shows in advance of their reproduction on the air?

Mr. JURIST. We will have to go into the word “assistance.”

Mr. LISHMAN. Were the contestants given the questions and answers in advance of the program?

Mr. JURIST. Not to my knowledge.

Mr. LISHMAN. What type of assistance was given?

Mr. JURIST. May I start from a beginning point?

Mr. LISHMAN. Yes, sir.

Mr. JURIST. Every effort was made to control the shows.

Mr. LISHMAN. What do you mean by “control”?

Mr. JURIST. Everything that happened on the show happen according to the desires of the producer. That was the aim. It mostly succeeded. Sometimes it failed. Primary procedure was to find out what people knew and frame questions accordingly.

The second procedure, to inculcate is a word I like to use, the people with information you thought they ought to have in such a way that they ideally were not aware you were doing it. That would be, I would say, the extent on those other shows.

Mr. LISHMAN. On the “$64,000 Challenge,” which type of control was used there?

Mr. JURIST. There was probably less need for control there than on most other shows, except the “$64,000 Question.” I take those two shows together, for the obvious reason that the contestants were highly qualified experts in a very narrow field and anybody can study Napoleon and really digest almost everything about Napoleon in very short order. It is not the same as knowing everything about everything. So there it would be a question of qualifying them in the first place, which was a primary step on those shows. Then, finding out what areas they were strong in and what areas they were weak in.

That would sometimes be enough. Most times enough, I would say, if you had a really qualified expert and in most cases they did.

Mr. LISHMAN. In other words, you had an applicant that you would screen to find out whether he would be qualified and you would go into the category, American history, let us say, you would proceed to give him a very thorough examination in the American history, during the course of which you would ask numerous questions which might subsequently be telescoped together or rearranged in such a way that he had been furnished the information in advance of the actual question that was later asked on the show.

Mr. JURIST. Actually, you are distorting what I said.

Mr. LISHMAN. Will you explain it, then.

Mr. JURIST. If you ask a person a question and he gives you an answer, you have not given him an answer. Am I correct?

Mr. LISHMAN. That is correct.

Mr. JURIST. That is the procedure I am talking about. If you ask a lot of questions of an expert in a particular field you are learning a great deal about what he knows. Also, one thing will tell you another. If a person is an expert on music and he knows a not too popular 17th century Italian composer, obviously he must know Beethoven’s first name. Do you know what I mean? . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. In other words, you proceeded on the basis that you would find out what people knew and then ask them about what they knew.

Mr. JURIST. I would say—that is only surmise because I do not know anything about other shows on which I did not work—I would assume that would be the obvious principal method of control or the clever one. Let me put it that way.

Mr. LISHMAN. When you came to “Dotto” as its producer, what kind of controls were used on that show?

Mr. JURIST. Much more severe controls. The same ones to begin with. A questionnaire was given to everybody. Also, they were sounded out by the whole staff in concord as far as personality. Many people who qualified in other respects would be rejected because they obviously would not be good hams, you know. Further than that, we definitely held interviews with them—my associates did—in which they picked out as much information as they could from their background and their information.

Questions were framed to accommodate their information. Following that, because of the fact that we had a day-to-day operation, and to try to assure ourselves further that things would not so much come out the way we wanted them, but that they won’t look like asses, we would interview them in the studio before the show and ascertain in whatever way we could that they would be able to answer the questions.

This method was planned to be a subtle method. It was not always so subtle, obviously.

Mr. LISHMAN. Weren’t there instances in which you actually gave the answers to the contestants?

Mr. JURIST. There is one classic example.

Mr. LISHMAN. What is that?

Mr. JURIST. The example, I don’t remember her name.

Mr. LISHMAN. Marie Winn?

Mr. JURIST. Yes.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were there others who were given answers?

Mr. JURIST. After finding that out, I presume there were.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were there occasions when either the sponsor or someone connected with the advertising agency would desire that a certain contestant should stay on?

Mr. JURIST. There was only one example of that. Well, no. I guess anybody would express an opinion, gee, that is a swell contestant. I hope she stays with us or he stays with us.

Mr. LISHMAN. If the sponsor should make such a suggestion to the producer, would the producer then proceed to implement that suggestion by giving questions in advance to such contestants?


Mr. LISHMAN. How would they assist such contestant to stay on the show?

Mr. JURIST. I am quibbling but I will have to continue to quibble because no one was ever told or had my permission to give answers to anybody. They did everything short of that, which I guess you can say in substance was giving them the answers. To me, it was not. To me it was perpetuating the illusion or the entertainment which is what this all was to me, entertainment. You would only spoil it by being obvious about it.

Mr. LISHMAN. In order to enhance the audience appeal did you arrange in advance for ties for certain of these programs?

Mr. JURIST. Yes, we certainly did.

Mr. LISHMAN. Would you explain how that was accomplished?

Mr. JURIST. We had another method besides questions and answers. We had another part to our show. We had pictures. The way in which these pictures fell, sometimes a person who was behind in questions could guess the picture because of the way the picture fell.

We designed the picture very carefully—a prominent feature was more important than a strand of hair, let us say. So if we provided that at that point that person would be able to get that picture. It would be the prominent thing. The other person would be ahead on questions so they would have more of a picture. Do you see what I mean? . . .

Mr. JURIST. Well, yes, if we said “lived in log cabin” we expected the guy to know it was Abe Lincoln. Who else lived in a log cabin, you know.

In other words, what I am saying is that with various kinds of controls we did everything we could to make the thing come out the way we wanted it to come out, the way that was most exciting and most entertaining.

Mr. LISHMAN. What percentage of the performances thus arranged by you in advance that came out in accordance with your expectations?

Mr. JURIST. I am just guessing wildly. Seventy percent.

The CHAIRMAN. What was that? Seventy percent of the performances were controlled?

Mr. JURIST. No. Came out the way we hoped they would.

Mr. LISHMAN. Due to the arrangements you made?

Mr. JURIST. Due to the controls that we exercised.

Mr. LISHMAN. I wish, Mr. Jurist, you would just explain in your own words how you would handle a typical performance, how you sat down with your associates and planned how the show would be run on a given evening, so that then we will have a clear picture as to just how these rather subtle controls were exercised.

Mr. JURIST. The evening show or the daily show? You know there were two shows.

Mr. LISHMAN. Let us take the evening show.

Mr. JURIST. The evening show we did not really sit down in committee so much because there were not that many people involved. The daily show we did. We sat down in the theater in committee and said, gee, I don’t like her any more. Let us dump her. Gee, she is great. Tomorrow let us have a contest of 35 points and a 25 and try for a tie of 20 on the second one.

Then the artist would be there and I would say—I had established a pattern of recognition with him or them so that when I said 35 he knew that only the last five—in other words, it didn’t matter whether the picture was 25, or 35 or 45. It was where that crucial or most prominent feature came in that would give the person the face, you see. That is about it. Let us have a tie there and there and so on. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. Was control of the budget one of the principal factors in determining how many of such dots would be left?

Mr. JURIST. No. Really the budget never concerned us particularly because we were always within the budget the way we were playing it.

Mr. LISHMAN. You were able to control the budget in another manner?

Mr. JURIST. It didn’t matter. Like my bank account, I take money out when I need it and there always seems to be enough there.

Mr. GOODWIN. You were selecting the number of dots; you completely controlled the amount of money that would be won, didn’t you?

Mr. JURIST. Perhaps. It so happened that there was enough money in the budget so that by playing the game the way we were playing it we never seemed to be in trouble with money. So that was not our purpose.

Our purpose was entertainment. The entertainment of a longer game and a shorter game and a tie and a continued tie and the mounting excitement. That is what we were really scheduling. We were scheduling the entertainment. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. Mr. Huschle testified this morning that he was taken into a room where he was rehearsed by Mr. Gil Cates and given the questions and answers in advance and also told how many points he should select. He was also told when to lose, and so forth. Are you familiar with that?

Mr. JURIST. He was given the questions and answers directly?

Mr. LISHMAN. Directly.

Mr. JURIST. Without any—

Mr. LISHMAN. Yes; without any—

As well as the name of the picture. He was told everything.

Mr. JURIST. All I can say about that is that it is about as clumsy as it could be.

Mr. LISHMAN. Would you say that his testimony to that effect was correct or not?

Mr. JURIST. I would not have firsthand knowledge of that. . . .

Mr. JURIST. Yes. May I add to that, everything was always in the contestant’s favor. We never won anything.

Mr. ROGERS. I understand, but you were being paid. You were not paying for the show on the side?

Mr. JURIST. No. To me it is an important point, actually. That is, aside from the moral question that in essence we were not out to penalize anybody nor to take anything away from them. We were out to give them something. Everybody got something.

Mr. ROGERS. You mean by that, too, that you did not get any excess prize money if there was excess prize money?

Mr. JURIST. Yes. Even beyond that.

Mr. ROGERS. Did you do that? If you didn’t use up the prize money would you have been entitled to it?

Mr. JURIST. I personally?

Mr. ROGERS. I mean your organization.

Mr. JURIST. Oh, no. That money belonged to the client.

Mr. ROGERS. To the sponsor of the program?

Mr. JURIST. Yes.

Mr. ROGERS. One other question: Did you consider these activities of yours in this regard unmoral or dishonest or fraudulent?

Mr. JURIST. No, I don’t, really. If you like I will explain why.

Mr. ROGERS. I wish you would. It has me disturbed quite a bit.

Mr. JURIST. Because here is what I think we did. I was just touching on this before, but I will enlarge on it now. We took some people who were bright and amusing people and we put them on a television show that millions of people watched. We gave them the biggest experience of their lives. If they were lucky they won a lot of money; if they were not so lucky they won a little money. They were not injured or maimed. All they had was a lot of fun and additional reward. I don’t consider that immoral, particularly if you have grown up in the entertainment business as I have.

Mr. ROGERS. What about the viewing public? That is who I am talking about.

Mr. JURIST. Well, you know I said I didn’t consider it immoral then. I don’t say I don’t consider it immoral now. I really don’t know now. Naturally with this much questioning of the thing I am of course beginning to wonder. As far as the viewing public is concerned, I wish I had a dollar for every time, long before any of this ever was uncovered, that some viewer didn’t say over and over again, and perhaps one of them is in this room right now, the whole thing is rigged. But they kept watching it.

Mr. ROGERS. Yes, that is true. Your testimony that you supplied, wouldn’t that same test apply to a baseball or football game?

Mr. JURIST. Well, of course, you have one area that is not present in a television show, and that is betting.

Mr. ROGERS. What?

Mr. JURIST. Betting on a widespread scale.

Mr. ROGERS. Betting is out of it. I am talking about the contests. You have here a contest of witnesses that is advertised to the public as such and they are viewing it. There is a controversy as to whether this television belongs to the people or not. But that is beside the point. They are viewing it and they go and pay 25 cents or $5 to see a baseball or football game and they are viewing that as a physical contest.

Mr. JURIST. You may have something there. I have always used the analogy on the other side of the fence. Dunninger—you know, the mind reader—creates and sells the illusion that he reads minds. He doesn’t read minds. He performs a charade of a kind.

Mr. ROGERS. That is true. Actually people are aware of that fact, don’t you think?

Mr. JURIST. No, they believe it. They may say how can he do it, but they believe it and they watch it.

Mr. ROGERS. Your position is that if a football game was fixed and people kept on seeing it you ought to let them go on seeing it?

Mr. JURIST. Let us go to the fight game.

Mr. ROGERS. That is the same thing. Basketball, baseball, boxing, everything.

Mr. JURIST. You have a point there.

Mr. ROGERS. I believe that is where I will stop.

The CHAIRMAN. In other words, this ceases to be a battle of wits or the knowledge of the contestants. It turns out to be a battle of skills of producers, doesn’t it?

Mr. JURIST. Except you are leaving out one thing. When you find out what a person knows and then ask him questions based on what he knows you are exhibiting his knowledge, are you not?

The CHAIRMAN. Yes. Suppose he doesn’t know it, then you help out just a little bit.

Mr. JURIST. It begins to sound very unsavory.

The CHAIRMAN. It is true?

Mr. JURIST. Yes. I mean in the ways I have indicated.

The CHAIRMAN. That is what I mean.

Mr. JURIST. Surely.

The CHAIRMAN. If he doesn’t know the answers, then in the way you have explained here, as some one said a moment ago, you increase his knowledge a little bit.

Mr. MOSS. Do you not think that perhaps there is even a more important impact? I have two small daughters. They were very ardent fans of these programs. Those youngsters now know that those were just as phony as they could be. This is a demonstration on the part of a very large American industry. You say it is shoddy. I say it is rotten, right down to the ground. I am not the person who likes to moralize a great deal, but you have created problems for every youngster who watched them and who had confidence in them. I think it is symptomatic of some far more basic problems in this whole industry with you people in a mad rush to develop something which is salable, which will draw a greater dollar, without any regard to a public obligation. I think it is one of the most demoralizing influences, as it is operated and as it is exposed, that we have present in this country today. . . .

Mr. JURIST. The basic and primary step I learned when I was doing all of the quiz shows that I have mentioned here. That step is to find out what the contestant knew. Let me add something that I know I testified to before the grand jury which is very relevant here. I am a fairly well educated person. In addition to that, I have been dealing with information, facts and bits of information for a long time with the shows. If you make up a list of 10 questions right now, I will give you a thousand dollars to one that I can’t answer more than two of them, because the world of information is enormous. It is simply enormous. You cannot ask random questions of people and have a show. You simply have failure, failure, failure, and that does not make entertainment.

Mr. MOSS. Do you think that this general fact was known by the owners of a show?

Mr. JURIST. I have no firsthand knowledge of that, sir.

Mr. MOSS. But it was very generally known in the industry, the field of production of shows.

Mr. JURIST. Known in the industry among people who did these shows.

Mr. MOSS. Yes.

Mr. JURIST. I would certainly guess so. . . .

Mr. MOSS. I noticed that in many of the quiz shows, and I am trying to recall on “Dotto,” was it represented that the questions were authenticated by some organization such as the Encyclopedia Americana?

Mr. JURIST. Yes.

Mr. MOSS. Were they, in fact?

Mr. JURIST. For a while, yes.

Mr. MOSS. How was that arranged?

Mr. JURIST. What they did was to check us. In other words, in the beginning they said, all right, call us every day and tell us what your questions and answers are, and we will check them. So they would and we would call back and they would say they are fine. Maybe there was one instance of a question, or something like that. When they found that we were actually in fact as expert as they were in terms of accuracy, then they didn’t bother to go through the formality.

Mr. MOSS. The permitted you to continue to represent the questions to be authenticated when in fact they were not?

Mr. JURIST. Yes. . . .

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Investigation of Television Quiz Shows, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., October 6–10, 12, 1959 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960).

See Also:"A Make-Believe World": Contestants Testify to Deceptive Quiz Show Practices
"A Sop to the Public at Large": Contestant Herbert Stempel Exposes Contrivances in a 1950s Television Quiz Show
"The Truth Is the Only Thing with Which a Man Can Live": Quiz Show Contestant Charles Van Doren Publicly Confesses to Deceiving His Television Audience