TV TIME (Part II-Scandal Aftermath)
Last time, I discussed a popular kids show from the mid-50s, Terrytoon Circus, a
weeknight staple. But there were wonderful weekend shows as well. I was always
excited when Video Village, Jr. came on (I was about 9-years-old at the time during
its short run) on Saturday mornings. There was a regular Video Village that ran as
an adult game show, but the Jr. version was just for kids.
Game shows had pretty much been wiped off the television map following the
revelations that many of them were rigged. The Quiz Show scandal that rocked the
country in the summer of 1958 revealed that one show after another involved
the deliberate "coaching" of contestants and the "feeding" of correct answers to
those players the shows' producers wanted to win.
The most infamous of these shows was Twenty-One. Herbert Stempel was in
a three-month run as the winner, flawless in giving correct answers to nearly
impossible questions. Week after week, Stempel would look pained as he tried to
come up with correct responses. Little did the audience know that he had been given
the answers before the show and the histrionics were for the creation of tension. The
studio bigwigs decided that they wanted Stempel to make a mistake so that handsome
and urbane Charles Van Doren could succeed him as champion. They gave Herb the
wrong answer on an Academy Award question that he knew easily, and he complied by
flubbing the answer on TV. In Stempel's final show (see below), he gives up his crown.
A year later, the scandal broke., and many other shows were also indicted for
cheating. Robert Redford directed an award-winning movie about the period called
Quiz Show. It took almost five years before big-money game shows returned. Long-run
winning contestants, of course, have returned with much fanfare. Just think of the
excitement when Ken Jennings or James Holzhauer had their lengthy tenures on
Jeopardy in recent years.
So, after the scandal, different types of game shows surfaced, and that leads me back to
Video Village, Jr., about which I knew nothing except that I wished I could be a contestant on it!
The show was hosted by the legendary Monty Hall, who became famous a few years later
as the host of Let's Make a Deal. The draw for me was the life-sized game board--the set was a
village containing streets that had spaces like you might find on board games like Monopoly
or Life. Playing such games with my friends was a regular pastime. Imagine being a playing
piece yourself! There were three streets: Money Street, Bridge Street, and Magic Mile. There was
even a jail in Video Village--just like Monopoly. The contestants were between five and ten (my
age group!) and the winner received (Wait for it...) a US Savings Bond that matured when you
were eighteen! The adult show usually featured spouses, but the kids' version usually saw
the child being partnered by a parent.
Here is a clip of the show's opening and a video of the play-at-home game version being
reviewed today by a way-too-happy collector of retro materials!
Sadly, there are almost no extant recordings of either show, except for the last program
of the adult version before it went off the air. It was not unusual for studios to tape over the
previous show as a way to save money, so tape got reused until it was thrown away. That's why
many early episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson are no longer available for
viewing. Here is a brief clip of that last show which you may or may not enjoy. But I think
you'll agree that it seems like an artifact from another time and place!