Home TV by Decade TV Shows - 1950s Twenty-One 

Twenty-One 

1 9 5 6 – 1 9 5 8 (USA)

This highly popular big-money quiz show based on the card game Twenty-One premiered on NBC on 12 September 1956.

Contestants were pitted against each other head-to-head and tasked with answering general knowledge questions. The first player to answer 21 questions correctly was the winner.

The show was ruined by the 1958 quiz show scandals of fixing when it was discovered that contestant Charles Van Doren (pictured below right) had been given some of the correct answers in advance by the show’s producers, enabling him to win $129,000 in prize money over 14 appearances.

twentyone_jackbarry1957A handsome, articulate English instructor at Columbia University, Van Doren was popular with the viewing audience and the producers wanted to keep him on as many broadcasts as possible.

When contestant Herbert Stempel (who had lost to Van Doren) went public with the truth, the ensuing brouhaha caused not only the cancellation of Twenty One, but the cancellation of game shows Dotto, The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge.

The 1994 movie, Quiz Show, unveiled the insidious corruption at the heart of Twenty One.