Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Might've Been: Twenty-One (1956)

Twenty-One was immortalized in Robert Redford's expose of the 50's game show scandals, "Quiz Show", but it wasn't always rigged.

The series, sponsored by Geritol, and hosted by co-producer Jack Barry (ex-Juvenile Jury), ended up running for just 2 years (1956-58) before being booted off the air after it was revealed that, following the series opener, Barry & partner Dan Enright, fearing pressure from Geritol, began rigging the game, as if it were a carnival game, mind you, in order to 1) improve the quality of the show, 2) increase drama and ratings, and 3) appease the sponsor.

The initial episode had two contestants who didn't know many of the answers. That infuriated the suits at Geritol's then-parent company.

After Barry was forced off the air, he would not return to television for 11 years before replacing Dennis Wholey on ABC's Generation Gap (previously reviewed), and, then, reforming his production company, which enjoyed a revival in the 70's & 80's.

However, plans to revive Twenty-One, with Jim Lange (ex-The Dating Game) as host failed to get past the pilot stage in 1982. Lange, though, would host a Barry-Enright game after all, Bullseye, which we'll discuss another day. Meanwhile, in 2000, NBC revived the series, entrusting production of the show to former program director Fred Silverman, and bringing in talk show host Maury Povich as MC. This version lasted 13 weeks before moving to the Pax network (now Ion), where it finished its run rather quietly, and without scandal.

Following is an episode with two contestants at the heart of the fixing scandal, Charles Van Doren & Herb Stempel (played by Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro, respectively, in "Quiz Show").

Knowing what we know now, we can't rightfully say we could enjoy the reruns. If this comes back again, they can always ask Vince McMahon to produce it....!

Rating: B-.

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