September 12, 1956 - October 16, 1958
NBC Primetime Game Show

Jack Barry

Bill McCord

Arlene Terry
Ardell Terry
Terry Ford
Marlene Manners

On "Twenty One," two contestants, each in an isolation
booth, competed in a quiz show to test their knowldege
with an unlimited cash prize possible. The object of
the game was to score twenty-one points by answering
general knowledge questions. The degree of difficulty
of the questions determined the point value, from one
to eleven. Each round was based on a different category,
with each player choosing the amount of points he or
she wished to play for. The winner of the game received
$500 for each point difference between the scores. If
the game ended in a tie, the point value was doubled
in the next game. After two rounds of questions,
either player who thought that he or she was winning,
could stop the game. Winners played until they
were defeated.

On November 28, 1956, college professor Charles Van
Doren made his first appearance on "Twenty One."
He became a celebrity overnight and in his four months
on the show won $129,000 before losing to Vivian
Nearing on March 11, 1957. In the fall of 1958 the
series was canceled amid charges that the program was
fixed. Charles Van Doren answered questions before a
congressional committee in 1959, after confessing that
he had been fed the answers to the questions in advance.
He told the committee that the producer of the show had
said that Herbert Stempel, the reignning champion, "was
an 'unbeatable' contestant because he knew too much.
He said that Stemple was unpopular, and was defeating
opponents right and left. . ." So Van Doren, a boyishly
attractive intellectual, was given the answers to
defeat the dumpy, arrogant Stempel.

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2000 Version:

Maury Povich, one of the most recognized names in American television, hosts "Twenty One." This multiple-choice, question-and-answer quiz show pits two individuals in head-to-head competition for millions of dollars.

Sequestered in soundproof booths, both players can hear and speak only when instructed by the host to do so. Thus, he or she is unaware of his or her rival's score and must play a game of chance and intuition when deciding whether to continue playing.

A key difference between "Twenty One" and other game shows is that contestants can keep on playing, and keep on winning. The champion keeps winning money -- even multi-millions of dollars -- until he or she is defeated and retired by a challenger.

Dan Enright
From The American Experience

A Tribute to Twenty One
By Chris

Twenty One
By Alcus Greer II

These links were last tested July 2004.

Check out this classic TV Guide cover...
February 23, 1957 TV Guide cover




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