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Charles Van Doren testifying before the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight, photograph, November 2, 1959

Charles Van Doren, a respected scholar, was recruited by the producers of Twenty-One, who wanted to boost the show’s ratings with a dramatic and predetermined defeat of six-week winner Herbert Stempel. Van Doren, who eventually won more than $129,000 on the show, denied any fraud––until he confessed to the House committee in November 1959 that he had been coached.

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Charles Van Doren testifying before the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight, photograph, November 2, 1959

Television Quiz Shows

In December 1956 Columbia University Professor Charles Van Doren beat longtime winner Herbert Stempel on the quiz show Twenty-One. Stempel later complained to the New York district attorney that the show was rigged. Following a grand jury investigation, the House Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight further investigated television quiz shows. The committee heard testimony from network officials, producers, and contestants, including Van Doren. After initial denials, Van Doren attested that Twenty-One was fixed. On the committee’s recommendation, Congress passed legislation in 1960 making quiz-show rigging a federal crime.

This subcommittee has only one purpose and that is the public interest—and whether or not there is a great area here in connection with this great industry that requires legislation, you certainly have helped clarify the record for the subcommittee’s benefit and consideration.

Chairman Oren Harris, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, November 2, 1959