From The Published Archives: Quiz Show

Let’s go back to 1994 for this next piece.  Published in The Satellite newspaper on November 15, 1994 on page 10, my review of the movie Quiz Show might be one of the shortest I’ve ever written. (It’s just under 500 words.)  It was, quite simply, one of the best films released that year and I screened it on October 8, 1994 at the Jackson Square cinemas, one week after seeing The Shawshank Redemption, another terrific movie, for the first time. 
 
I’ve made one change to the published version of the review.  At one point, I use the word “WASP”.  The entertainment editor at the time took it upon himself to offer the following explanation for that familiar acronym:  “For those of you who don’t know, a WASP is a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”  I’ve decided to cut that part because it’s unnecessary.  Surely everyone knows what WASP stands for.
 
I’ve decided to leave in a prediction that turned out not to come true.  I thought at the time that John Turturro was a sure bet for an Oscar nomination but the only acting nod the film received was for Paul Scofield’s performance as Ralph Fiennes’ father.  All the performances were strong in that movie so it was nice that at least one actor got singled out.
 
Other than the admitted edit the review you’re about to read is exactly the same as it appeared in print 12 years ago.
 
 

QUIZ SHOW
By Dennis Earl

When Television became a popular household fixture in the 1950s, westerns and game shows dominated the programming schedule. There was one game show, in particular, that received quite a bit of attention for its nail-biting suspense and sheer drama. It was a quiz show called Twenty-One and every week, millions of American viewers tuned in to watch this program on NBC. But, as the ads for Robert Redford’s brilliant new film, Quiz Show, clearly state, “No one saw a thing.”

The film examines the quiz show scandals of the 50s where it was painfully revealed that the results of these “contests” were rigged ahead of time. Contestants were fed the questions and answers well in advance of the live broadcasts. They were even carefully trained on what they should do before answering a question. Whether it was a slight hesitation, a quick squinting of the old eye sockets or a discreet dabbing of the sweaty forehead, all of these factors increased the level of suspense before a contestant responded to quizmaster Jack Barry’s questions.

Quiz Show not only serves as a flashback to that time when American innocence was alive and rather precious, it also offers some insightful answers as to why these events transpired and how Television began to lose some of its magical wonder and, more importantly, its credibility.

The movie opens with a behind-the-scenes look at a live broadcast of Twenty-One. The current champion, Herbert Stempel (played by Oscar shoo-in John Turturro), a 29-year-old Jewish whiz kid, is about to dethrone another opponent. Meanwhile, executive producer Dan Enright (a great performance by David Paymer) receives an urgent phone call from the sponsor (played by director Martin Scorsese). The Geritol representative is tired of seeing “the Jewish guy winning” and immediately wants Enright to find another charismatic performer before the ratings start to plummet; preferably, a photogenic WASP.

Soon after that, Charles Van Doren, (Ralph Fiennes from Schindler’s List) a Columbia University professor who was born into a wealthy family, is selected from a group of potential game show contestants. The following week, he simultaneously becomes the new champion of Twenty-One and a national celebrity.

Meanwhile, an investigator named Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) notices an item in the paper that reveals that someone approached the Supreme Court in order to complain that Twenty-one is a rigged quiz show. Herbert Stempel made this claim and for the next four weeks, Goodwin vows to investigate the quiz shows and eventually, uncover the truth.

I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Robert Redford and all of the creative and technical forces who worked on this marvellous production. The art direction is fantastic, the performances, including Christopher McDonald’s turn as quizmaster Jack Barry, are excellent and Redford’s direction is predictably superb. Quiz Show is Robert Redford’s most authentic film and it’s one of 1994’s best movies. Don’t miss it!

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 8, 2006
2:45 p.m.

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Published in: on April 8, 2006 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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