11 August 2003 | sddavis63
An Interesting Study Of TV Corruption, But Strangely Lacking In Intensity
In the late 1950's the TV game show "Twenty-One" was rigged. Popular contestants who could grab ratings were fed the questions and answers, and those who the network wanted off were told to take dives, all for the sake of keeping ratings up and selling Geritol. "Quiz Show" is the story of the scandal, and of the potential danger of the power of television. The movie focuses around two contestants in particular: Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), the reigning champ at the start of the movie who the network decides it wants to dump in favour of someone more glamorous who can pull in higher ratings: Charles Van Doran (Ralph Fiennes), a college literature professor. Stempel feels cheated of the glory that he feels was his due, while Van Doran is tormented by his desire to tell the truth, but also to cover up his involvement in the scandal.
This is an interesting film that gives a fascinating look at the inside workings of the TV game show of that era. And it does paint a fascinating moral dilemma. As Dan Enright (David Paymer) - Twenty-One's producer - says to the Congressional committee that investigates the scandal, this was after all just a TV show; by definition a piece of entertainment. The sponsor sold its product, the network got ratings, the contestants made money and the public got entertained. Where was the victim? And yet it WAS dishonest. It's a fascinating issue, this whole concept of a victimless crime. And the ultimate irony was summed up by Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), the head Congressional investigator: the Committee got Van Doran, but what he wanted was to get television. In the end, as he says, television will probably end up getting them.
All in all this was an interesting movie, although - strangely for a true story - I felt it lacked any sustained dramatic intensity. Remembering Jack Barry from the 1970's as host of the game show "The Joker's Wild" (he was also the host of "Twenty-One"), I was very impressed by Christopher McDonald's portrayal of him. Although the role wasn't really that central to the movie, McDonald had Barry down pat, and I felt as if it really were Jack Barry I was watching.
All in all, this is a very good movie. I wouldn't run out and buy it, but it's certainly worth a rental.