Quiz Show (film)

For other uses, see quiz show (disambiguation).
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
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 $24.8 million[2]

Quiz Show is a 1994 American historical film produced and directed by Robert Redford, and written by Paul Attanasio,[3] based on Richard N. Goodwin's memoir Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties.[4] It stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes, with Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Christopher McDonald appearing in supporting roles.[3][5][6]

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. The film received generally positive reviews and was nominated for several awards, including a Best Picture Oscar nomination and several Golden Globes. It had a disappointing box office return.


In 1958, the questions and answers to be used for the latest broadcast of NBC's popular quiz show Twenty One 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. But, both the network, as well as the corporate sponsor of the program, Geritol, a supplementary tonic, 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 a prominent literary family, 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, on the condition that he can remain on television; he threatens 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 Freedman 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, learns that the grand jury findings have been sealed and travels to New York City 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 a fixed operation. But, Stempel's volatile personality damages his credibility, and nobody else seems willing at first to confirm that the show is rigged.

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. He is rewarded by NBC with a lucrative contract to appear as a special correspondent on the morning Today show. The House Committee for Legislative Oversight convenes a hearing, at which Goodwin presents his evidence of the quiz show's corruption.

During the hearing, Stempel's testimony fails to convince the committee. Both NBC network head Robert Kintner (Allan Rich) and Geritol executive Martin Rittenhome (Martin Scorsese) deny any knowledge of Twenty One being rigged. After being subpoenaed by Goodwin, Van Doren testifies before the committee and admits his role in the deception. 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 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."[7] 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.[7]

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.[8]


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, the film had a 96% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of four, calling the screenplay "smart, subtle and ruthless."[10] Web critic James Berardinelli praised the "superb performances by Fiennes", and said "John Turturro is exceptional as the uncharismatic Herbie Stempel."[11] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman highlighted the supporting performance of Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, stating that "it’s in the relationship between the two Van Dorens that Quiz Show finds its soul."[12]


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. Box Office Information for Quiz Show. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Quiz Show (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
  3. 1 2 "Quiz Show". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  4. Goodwin, Richard N. (2014). Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties (Paperback ed.). New York City: Open Road Integrated Media. ISBN 978-1497676572.
  5. David Ansen (September 18, 1994). "When America Lost Its Innocence--Maybe". Newsweek.
  6. Maslin, Janet (September 14, 1994). "QUIZ SHOW; Good and Evil in a More Innocent Age". The New York Times.
  7. 1 2 Auletta, Ken (September 19, 1994). "The $64,000 Question". The New Yorker: 48.
  8. Van Doren, Charles (July 28, 2008). "All The Answers". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 8, 2013.
  9. "Quiz Show, Rotten Tomatoes". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2013-12-13.
  10. Roger Ebert. "Quiz Show". September 16, 1994.
  11. James Berardinelli. "Quiz Show". ReelViews.
  12. Owen Gleiberman. "Quiz Show", Entertainment Weekly.

External links

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