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Quiz Show

1994 motion picture starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes and Paul Schofeld

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Robert Redford's film recalls TV's quiz show scandal of a half century ago.

  • Jun 22, 2009
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Over the years director Robert Redford has made a number of splendid motion pictures.
Redford won an Academy Award in his very first stab at directing with 1980's "Ordinary People".   Likewise, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director for 1992's magnificent "A River Runs Through It" and the 1998 film "The Horse Whisperer". While these were all terrific flicks my favorite Robert Redford-directed film always has been 1994's "Quiz Show".  Now in the 1950's quiz shows were all the rage on network television.  Shows like "21" and "The $64,000 Question" drew upwards of 50 million viewers each week.   It is difficult to imagine those kinds of numbers in this day and age where the audience is so fragmented   In any event,  there was enormous pressure on network executives to keep these shows fresh and interesting to the audience.  The networks quickly discovered that one of the best ways to achieve this end was to manipulate the results.  In that way a certain number of these contestants would be sent packing before audiences grew tired of them.  This strategy was quite successful for a number a years before one estranged contestant decided to blow the whistle on all of it.  "Quiz Show" recalls in a very compelling way the people and events surrounding this scandal.  This is a film that commands your undivided attention from the outset and simply never lets go!

There are really three principal charactors in "Quiz Show".   John Turturro  stars as Herb Stempel,  the thirtysomething Jewish contestant who was the reigning champion on "21".   To be kind,  despite winning for several weeks in a row Herb proved to be about as charismatic as a mortician.  The sponser was calling the network demanding that  Herb be "replaced".   Enter one Charles Van Doran (played by Ralph Fiennes),  a handsome, highly educated and captivating young man who possessed all of the charactoristics that both the sponser and the network were looking for.   Would he be willing to "play the game" and be fed the answers?  At first he resisted but the allure of fame and fortune proved to be too much.   

In order to make this all happen producer Dan Enright (David Paymer) must convince Stempel to deliberately miss a question.  Stempel is outraged but reluctantly agrees and Van Doran would become the new champion.   In the ensuing weeks the ratings would go through the roof and Charles Van Doran would become a household name.   Meanwhile, Herb Stempel, who is now nothing more than yesterday's news is seething.  His celebrity is gone and the network has refused to make good on a deal he struck with them to throw that question and end his reign as "21" champion.  Totally frustrated, Stempel goes to the authorities and tells all.

It is at this point that Redford introduces us to the third major player in this saga.  Dick Goodwin finished at the top of his class at Harvard Law School.  Although he realized that he was one day destined for big things on Wall Street he decided that he wanted to pursue other avenues first.    He goes to work as an investigator for a Congressional subcommitee and finds the work to be rather mundane.  All of that changes rather dramatically when Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow) begins to suspect there just might be something fishy about some of these TV quiz shows.  Goodwin is a feisty and persistant son-of-a-gun who relentlessly pursues the investigation.  Eventually, he catches up with both Stempel and Van Doren and the whole tangled web slowly and painfully begins to unravel.   All three men are conflicted about their roles in this drama and soon Goodwin discovers that there are forces at the highest levels of both the government and corporate America that are out to discredit him.

Although the film was criticized for taking some "artistic license" Robert Redford stands by his portrayal of these historic events.  "Quiz Show" features outstanding acting and a terrific script.  In my opinion this  was one of the finest films made in the 1990's.    Very highly recommended!

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September 06, 2010
Great review of a great movie with a great cast!!! I think this was my first time seeing John Turturro who captivated me with his acting. Ralph Feinnes a great actor in an early work. The incomparable Paul Schofield, one of America's great actors of stage. I forgot Redford directed this splendid must see movie.
June 22, 2009
Haven't seen this yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm also a huge Robert Redford fan. Met him at Sundance a couple years ago and was very impressed.
More Quiz Show reviews
review by . November 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Exciting story of a scandal
The year is 1957, and everyone, it seems, is watching the popular TV game show, "Twenty-One."  Contestants can stay on the show for weeks, earning then-astronomical sums of money and becoming household names.  Such was the case for Herbert Stemple (John Turturro), a buck-toothed, blue-collar guy who was raking in the money.  Little did the public know that the show was entirely scripted and that Herb was told the answers in advance.  When a bright, …
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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on I never could … more
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About this movie


Quiz Show is a 1994 American historical drama film which tells the true story of the Twenty One quiz show scandal of the 1950s. It stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Christopher McDonald. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the popular contestant Charles Van Doren (played by Fiennes) after the rigged loss of Herb Stempel (played by Turturro) to Van Doren and Congressional investigator Richard N. (Dick) Goodwin's probe of Twenty One's game fixing. Goodwin, who also co-produced the film, is portrayed by Morrow. Mira Sorvino appears in the film as Goodwin's wife Sandra.

The movie was adapted by Paul Attanasio from Goodwin's book Remembering America. It was produced and directed by Robert Redford.

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Release Date: September 16, 1994
Runtime: 133 minutes
Studio: Hollywood Pictures

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