A Robert Redford Film
A Wildwood Enterprises/Baltimore Pictures Production
A Hollywood Pictures Release
"The quiz shows were the most extraordinary phenomenon in the history of television. Neither before or since has any contrivance of the tube so absorbed the fascinated contemplation of the public."
Richard Goodwin, Author
"Are we a nation of liars and cheats?" -- Christian Century Magazine
From Academy Award winning director Robert Redford comes "Quiz Show," a provocative drama about American ethics and the phenomenal power of television. It is the story of three people whose lives are irrevocably changed by the events surrounding the popular program "Twenty-One." Based on a chapter from the book Remembering America, the film explores the real-life scandal that erupted when a former contestant charged that one of the most successful shows on television was rigged.
In 1958 when television quiz shows ruled the airwaves, a frustrated quiz show contestant pointed an accusing finger at Charles Van Doren (RALPH FIENNES), the wildly popular champion of a successful TV show called "Twenty-One." A national celebrity who appeared on the covers of both Time and Life magazines, Van Doren was an American folk hero -- the intellectual's answer to Elvis Presley. A popular English instructor at Columbia University, Van Doren was also the product of one of America's most renowned literary families; his father Mark was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and his mother Dorothy was a magazine editor and novelist.
Week after week audiences tuned in to watch as he seemed to draw from his vast knowledge the correct answers to obscure questions. His charming presence seduced 50 million people into believing in him. But the truth is, viewers were fooled and saw only what the network and program's producers wanted them to see. Then someone pulled the plug.
When disgruntled contestant Herbie Stempel (JOHN TURTURRO) charged that the quiz game was a fraud, Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin (ROB MORROW) uncovered the facts that exposed the deception, and sent shock waves reverberating across America.
Hollywood Pictures presents a Wildwood Enterprises/Baltimore Pictures production. "Quiz Show" was developed by Baltimore Pictures and brought to director Robert Redford. The "Quiz Show" screenplay was written by Paul Attanasio and filmed on locations in New York City and Washington, D.C. Redford and Michael Nozik are the producers, with Gail Mutrux serving as co-producer. Additional producers are Michael Jacobs and Julian Krainin. Executive producers are Fred Zollo, Richard Dreyfuss and Judith James. Michael Ballhaus is the director of photography, Jon Hutman is the production designer, Stu Linder is the film editor, Kathy O'Rear is the costume designer and music is by Mark lsham.
Paul Scofield stars as Charlie's father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mark Van Doren. Among the other cast members are David Paymer as "Twenty-One" producer Dan Enright, Christopher McDonald as show host Jack Barry, and Hank Azaria as co-producer Albert Freedman. Mira Sorvino portrays Goodwin's wife Sandra, Johann Carlo is Stempel's wife Toby, and Elizabeth Wilson plays Dorothy Van Doren.
"Something changed with this event," Robert Redford says of the quiz show scandals. "It really marked the end of a period of innocence in our social history. No longer did people believe that what you saw on television was the truth."
As the producer and star of "All the President's Men," the award-winning film which dramatized Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's journalistic investigation of Watergate, Redford is no stranger to social controversy. "It may sound peculiar to us today that a quiz show scandal could have provoked such public outrage, but it was really the first in a series of disillusionments that violated our sense of trust."
"I think 'Quiz Show' is a metaphor," says Rob Morrow, who portrays real-life investigator Richard Goodwin. "It's an example of how we can be deceived on a grand scale and what the damage can do. It prefigured the scandals of my generation, i.e. Watergate, Iran-Contra and Anita Hill. And I think it was the first public scandal that gave birth to the skepticism of the next generation."
"'Quiz Show' is basically a story that explores our ethics, an issue which has always been interesting to me," adds Redford. "There are three characters who get pulled into a vortex of events that will change their lives forever, and each represents a different segment of our society, but they all get pulled together for the same reason, which is greed."
To a post-war generation that was mesmerized by the promise of upward mobility and endless riches, quiz shows were an extension of the American dream. By 1958, there were three dozen quiz shows on the air, accounting for 50 hours of network program time.
What compelled millions to drop everything and tune into "Twenty-One?" Not the contest itself, which consisted of two competitors answering questions in dual isolation booths, but the well-promoted personalities of the contestants -- and the powerful seduction of money and fame.