Quiz show scandals - where was the crime?

In the 50s the quiz show format was king on US TV until a standby contestant on Dotto found a notebook in the dressing room left behind by the current contestant in which the questions and answers were written down. He took it to a journalist, CBS cancelled the show and one by one all the other quiz shows (21, the $64000 Dollar Question, etc) were investigated and found to be rigged.

A DA then opened up a case against the producers and contestants. But why? I’m having trouble seeing any crime here. Just as today’s ‘reality’ shows are totally bogus yet some viewers watch them as if it’s all genuine, what does it matter if the quiz shows were rigged? Just who was being defrauded? The contestants were told when they went on the shows what the deal was, they were rehearsed just as actors and a lot of them walked away with a nice chunk of change. The sponsors, who knew and approved of the rigging, were happy. The viewers were richly entertained. If they thought it was genuine, so what? They lost nothing by the deception. So TV lies to us. News at 11. Shock, horror.

Just who were the victims here and what was the crime?

I don’t think all of the contestants were in on it scheme. If you have 3 contestants, and you pick one and give them the questions and answers that’s a fraud in my way of thinking.

But is it really fraud, or just good drama?

It’s really fraud. If you get people on the show by telling them they have a chance to win $64,000, and then it turns out they can’t because someone else was rigged to win it, then you’ve defrauded them.

Not only of money, but also embarrassing them on national TV isn’t cool either.

David Halberstam in his book on the 1950s, quotes someone who thought they happened too early in television history. Audiences thought they were seeing people who could memorize facts but it turned out many were coached to win or lose depending on how audiences felt about them. Audiences felt cheated by deceptive advertising.

You also have the producers lying to a grand jury and putting pressure on contestants to lie. If they did nothing wrong, why lie about it?

Interesting the two most famous contestants are still alive. Charles van Doreen is 90 and Herb Stempel will be 90 on December 19.

It wasn’t a crime at the time, but after, a law was passed to make it illegal.

The grand jury was convened in New York, which allows a grand jury to be convened to examine evidence of virtually any “offense,” including civil infractions. It was unlikely that the quiz show investigations were going to result in prosecution, but it was certainly possible that they’d turn up something (e.g., bribery).

Lying can still get you in a lot of trouble whether or not it’s a crime. They stood to lose their jobs, reputations, and so on. A lot of the witnesses also faced the possibility of civil liability - for example, Twenty-One “winner” Charles Van Doren had received a book deal, some endorsement opportunities, and even a permanent segment on the Today Show. He was also a professor at Columbia and I doubt the university would have kept him on if he admitted that he was complicit in a legal-but-still-fraudulent scheme.

Because the shows made an enormous amount of money for the networks. But if the viewers found out it was all staged, they’d stop watching. Even if it wasn’t criminal behavior, testifying to a grand jury that it was all staged would make the information public and could be the end of the shows.

ETA: And people lie to cops and DAs all the time to protect their reputations (at least on TV). If you were with your mistress the night of a murder, you might not want to tell the cops that and ruin your life.

People thought that what they were seeing was real, when it really wasn’t. That’s different then watching a ‘reality’ show since most of them are not real, or at least aren’t as real as you might think.

When people today watch game shows they expect them to be fair and square. Imagine if we learned that Ken Jennings had been given the Jeopardy questions and answers in advance. How is that fair?

Of course it’s not* fair*.

But was it* illegal*? That was the ($64,000) question in the OP.

I don’t understand how that could be “too early.”

I imagine it’s because it happened before people got cynical about TV. But people would only get cynical because of things like the quiz show scandal. So the person who said that wasn’t thinking things through.

Not sure how it could have been much earlier.

Another style of rigging happened to Dr. Joyce Brothers: Wanting drama, the producers of the $64,000 Question asked for contestants with unusual juxtapositions of backgrounds and knowledge. Brothers got on the show by presenting herself as a psychologist (and obviously, a woman) who was a boxing expert. The producers initially let her participate, but then decided they wanted her off the show. (Some accounts say they figured she wasn’t good-looking or bubbly enough to get good ratings.) She was pitched a tough question about a boxing referee… and got it, because she’d studied referees too. She went on to win the show’s top prize despite the producers’ intentions (More details here.)

Were the producers’ actions illegal? Wild guess: Back then, it might have been considered fraud. These days, perhaps discrimination.

Didn’t somebody from Geritol (the sponsor of Twenty-One) watch that show’s first episode, notice that the contestants were missing “easy” questions left and right, and told somebody at NBC something along the lines of, “This better not happen again”?

Notice the law applies only to “contests of intellectual skill.” Talent shows, and shows of physical skill, seem to be exempt, which is not that surprising as a talent show, by its very nature, is subjective in how its winners are chosen. Another example: Hell’s Kitchen - Gordon Ramsay can choose pretty much whoever he wants as the winner, and for whatever reason.

On the other hand, the need for the law still exists. A few years ago, Fox was going to air what was in effect an all-kids version of The $64,000 Question, and got as far as airing commercials for it. However, about two weeks before its announced premiere date, the show’s executive producer discovered that some lower-level producers had given “additional information” to some of the contestants. Depending on who told the story, this was (a) telling a contestant that his questions would be restricted to a subset of the announced category (the way Gino Prato’s “Opera” questions on The $64,000 Question were always about Italian operas), (b) telling the contestant some of the questions in advance, or even (c) giving the contestant some of the answers. The show was pulled from the schedule, and never aired.

I don’t think payola (record companies paying DJs or radio stations to play songs without disclosure to listeners) was a criminal matter before the scandal erupted in the early '60s, but it was, well, scandalous. :mad:

I’ve worked on cooking competition shows and though I was never privy to the judging process, I was told we were covered by game show laws. Now there’s no way to know how sausage gets made (heh) during the judging, but on a basic level I assume it means all the stoves must work the same, producers don’t stack the deck by giving one person better cuts of meat, etc.

No one was ever indicted for the quiz show scandals so, in that sense the OP is correct. There were no laws violated. Laws were enacted later to keep it from happening again.

Jackmanii, payola was a violation of the FCC rule that broadcasters must disclose when money changes hands in exchange for programming and sponsorship must be “clearly identified.” Even though in some cases, the stations didn’t know the DJ’s were taking money, they were still held responsible for it.