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Quiz Show (film)

Quiz Show
Quiz Show theatrical poster
Directed by Robert Redford
Produced by Robert Redford
Michael Jacobs
Julian Krainin
Michael Nozik
Screenplay by Paul Attanasio
Based on Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties 
by Richard Goodwin
Starring John Turturro
Rob Morrow
Ralph Fiennes
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Stu Linder
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • September 14, 1994 (1994-09-14)
Running time
133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million[1]
Box office $24,822,619[2]

Quiz Show is a 1994 American historical film produced and directed by Robert Redford, and written by Paul Attanasio, based on Richard N. Goodwin's memoir Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties. It stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes, with Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Christopher McDonald appearing in supporting roles.[3][4]

The film chronicles the Twenty One quiz show scandals of the 1950s, the rise and fall of popular contestant Charles Van Doren after the rigged loss of Herb Stempel, and Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin's subsequent probe. Goodwin co-produced the film. Though the film was a box office disaster, it received generally positive reviews and was nominated for several accolades, including a Best Picture Oscar and several Golden Globes.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Historical comparison 3
  • Release 4
    • Box office 4.1
    • Critical reception 4.2
    • Accolades 4.3
  • References 5
  • External links 6


In preparation for the latest broadcast of the popular quiz show Twenty One, the questions and answers to be used are transported from a secure bank vault to the studio as producers Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria) watch from the control booth. The evening's main attraction is Queens resident Herb Stempel (John Turturro), the reigning champion, who correctly answers question after question. However, both the network, NBC, and the corporate sponsor of the program, a supplementary tonic called Geritol, find that Stempel's approval ratings are beginning to level out, meaning the show would benefit from new talent.

Enright and Freedman are surprised when Columbia University instructor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of the renowned poet and intellectual Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and the novelist Dorothy Van Doren (Elizabeth Wilson), visits their office to audition. Realizing that they have found an ideal challenger for Stempel, they subtly offer to rig the game in Van Doren's favor, but he refuses. Enright later informs Stempel that he must lose in order to boost the show's ratings. Stempel begrudgingly agrees, only on the condition that he can remain on television, threatening to reveal the true reason of his success: he had been given the answers in advance.

Stempel and Van Doren face each other on Twenty One, where the match comes down to a predetermined question regarding Marty, the 1955 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite knowing the correct film, Stempel gives the wrong answer of On the Waterfront, allowing Van Doren to win by correctly answering a question he had been asked during his audition.

In the weeks that follow, Van Doren's winning streak makes him a national celebrity, but he buckles under the pressure and allows Enright and Paymer to start giving him the answers. Meanwhile, Stempel, having lost his prize money to an unscrupulous bookie, begins threatening legal action against NBC after weeks go by without his return to television. He visits New York County District Attorney Frank Hogan, who convenes a grand jury to look into his allegations.

Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young Congressional lawyer, becomes intrigued by the fact that the grand jury findings have been sealed and travels to New York to investigate rumors of rigged quiz shows. Visiting a number of contestants, including Stempel and Van Doren, he begins to suspect that Twenty One is indeed a fixed operation. However, Stempel's volatile personality damages his credibility and nobody else seems willing at first to confirm that the show is rigged. Goodwin enjoys the company of Van Doren, who invites him to social gatherings, and doubts a man of Van Doren's background and intellect would be involved in the hoax.

Stempel desperately confesses to Goodwin that he was in on the fix, and further insists that Van Doren must have been involved as well. As Goodwin collects more evidence, Van Doren deliberately loses, but is rewarded with a lucrative contract from NBC to appear as a special correspondent on the Today show. The House Committee for Legislative Oversight convenes a hearing, where Goodwin presents his evidence of the quiz show's corruption. He strongly urges Van Doren to avoid making any public statements supporting the show, and promises not to call Van Doren to testify in exchange.

During the hearing, Stempel's testimony fails to convince the committee, and both NBC network head Robert Kintner (Allan Rich) and Geritol executive Martin Rittenhome (Martin Scorsese) deny any knowledge of Twenty One being rigged. At Kintner's prompting, Van Doren issues a statement reaffirming his trust in the show's honesty. Goodwin is forced to issue a subpoena for Van Doren's testimony; Van Doren confesses his role in the conspiracy to his father, then publicly admits it at the hearing. Most of the committee is impressed, but one member instead upbraids him for waiting so long to tell the truth. After the hearing adjourns, he learns from reporters that he has been fired from Today and that Columbia's trustees are going to ask for his resignation.

Goodwin believes he is on the verge of a victory against Geritol and NBC, but instead realizes that Enright and Freedman will not jeopardize their own futures in television by turning against their bosses. He silently watches the producers' testimony, vindicating the sponsors and the network from any wrongdoing and taking full responsibility for rigging the show.


Historical comparison

Journalist Ken Auletta, in a 1994 article in The New Yorker, noted that Redford conceded at a screening of the film that summer that "dramatic license" was taken in making Quiz Show. Redford made no apologies for the liberties, which included telescoping three years of scandal into one. Redford stated that he had tried "to elevate something so that people can see it ... otherwise, you might as well have a documentary."[5] Redford noted there had already been a documentary on the scandal, referring to the Julian Krainin-produced work for a 1992 installment of the PBS series The American Experience.[5]

In a July 2008 edition of The New Yorker, Van Doren writes about the events depicted in the film, agreeing with many of the details but also saying that he had a regular girlfriend (who eventually became his wife) at the time he was on Twenty-One, who is not present in the film depiction. Van Doren also notes that he continued teaching, contrary to the film's epilogue which states he never returned to doing so.[6]


Box office

The film opened in limited release on September 14, 1994. After its initial run, the film grossed a domestic total of $24,822,619 and was a box office bomb.[2]

Critical reception

As of July 15, 2013, it had a 96% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.[7] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3-and-a-half stars out of four, calling the screenplay "smart, subtle and ruthless".[8] Web critic James Berardinelli praised the "superb performances by Fiennes", and said "John Turturro is exceptional as the uncharismatic Herbie Stempel."[9]


Robert Redford was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, the Academy Award for Best Picture (alongside Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, and Michael Nozik), the BAFTA Award for Best Film (alongside Jacobs, Krainin, and Nozik), the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film.

Paul Attanasio won the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

Paul Scofield was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor.

John Turturro was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, and the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor.


  1. ^ .Quiz ShowBox Office Information for The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
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  8. ^ Roger Ebert. "Quiz Show". September 16, 1994.
  9. ^ James Berardinelli. "Quiz Show". ReelViews.

External links

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