01 August 2008

Truth or Consequences

I'm always fascinated by a single event that reverberates through time -- like when a volcano explodes and sends the entire planet into a year without summer, or when a space shuttle blows up and upends the entire space industry.

Few non-military events occurred in the 20th century with more long-lasting reverberations than the quiz show scandal that rocked television in 1959. It began three years earlier when a teacher, Charles Van Doren (pictured) unseated the reigning champion on a show called "Twenty One." It was a huge ratings winner, and (it turned out later) had been totally rigged.

The fallout from this event (and the congressional hearings that followed) last to this day. Then, it cast a pall over the insanely successful radio and television programs that gave away money to contestants who answered questions, it put an immediate end to single-sponsor programs (because the sponsor had control over everything that happened on their programs, and answered to no one), and game shows virtually disappeared from the air. Today, because there cannot even be a whiff of cheating on a program, questions are guarded and contestants are vetted.

Of course, Van Doren's life did not come to an end. He (and the dozens of others who confessed to cheating on various shows) went on and eventually the noise died down. But one thing never happened: Van Doren never gave an interview about his role in the scandal.

In this week's New Yorker magazine, that's all changed.

You can read all about the quiz show scandal here.

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