Show: Remembering When

Episode: 868-095 The 64,000 Dollar Question


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Episode Description:

The $64,000 Question is an American game show broadcast from 1955–1958, which became embroiled in the scandals involving TV quiz shows of the day. The $64,000 Challenge (1956–1958) was its popular spin-off show.

The $64,000 Question was created by Louis G. Cowan, formerly known for radio's Quiz Kids and the television series Stop the Music. Cowan had difficulty locating sponsorship for The $64,000 Question. Cosmetics giant Helena Rubenstein, which eventually did become a familiar television advertiser, rejected the idea, reportedly because its wealthy founding namesake did not own a television set at the time and had no idea of the medium's advertising potential. The Chrysler Corporation turned down the chance to launch the show because the automaker reportedly feared sponsoring a big-money quiz show would outrage company workers whose wages they were trying not to inflate. A vacuum cleaner company also said no to Cowan, reportedly because the concept would be too glamorous for its product.

Finally, Cowan convinced Revlon. The key: Revlon founder and chieftain Charles Revson knew top competitor Hazel Bishop had fattened its sales through sponsoring the popular This Is Your Life, and he wanted a piece of that action if he could have it. According to Fire and Ice (1976), Andrew Tobias' biography of Revson, Revlon first signed a deal to sponsor Cowan's brainchild for 13 weeks with the right to withdraw when they expired.

The $64,000 Question premiered June 7, 1955 on CBS-TV, sponsored by cosmetics maker Revlon and originating from the start live from CBS-TV Studio 52 in New York (later the disco-theater Studio 54). The first contestant on the show was Thelma Farrell Bennett, a housewife from Trenton, New Jersey who failed to make it to the first plateau but won a 1955 Cadillac convertible.

To increase the show's drama and suspense, it was decided to use an actor rather than a broadcaster as the host. Television and film actor Hal March, familiar to TV viewers as a supporting regular on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and My Friend Irma, found instant fame as the quiz show's host, and Lynn Dollar stood nearby as his assistant. Author and TV panelist Dr. Bergen Evans was the show's expert authority, and actress Wendy Barrie did the "Living Lipstick" commercials. (Coincidentally, in 1978, Evans and Barrie died within 72 hours of each other.) To capitalize on the initial television success, the show was also simulcast for two months on CBS Radio where it was heard from October 4, 1955 to November 29, 1955.

Contestants first chose a subject category (such as "Boxing", "Lincoln" or "Jazz") from the Category Board. Although this board was a large part of the set, it was seen only briefly, evidently to conceal the fact that categories were sometimes hastily added to match a new contestant's subject. The contestant would then be asked questions only in the chosen category, earning money which doubled ($64, $128, $256 to $512, then $1,000, $2,000, $4,000, $8,000, $16,000, $32,000 to $64,000) as the questions became more difficult. At the $4,000 level, a contestant would return each week for only one question per week. They could quit at any time and retire with their money, but until they won $512, if they got a question wrong, they were eliminated without winning anything. Missing a question worth $1,000-$4,000 left the player with $512. Once the contestant won $4,000, if they missed a question they received a consolation prize of a new Cadillac. Starting with the $8,000 question, they were placed in the Revlon "isolation booth", where they could hear nothing but the host's words. As long as the contestant kept answering correctly, they could stay on the show until they had won $64,000. The first contestant to win the top prize money, on September 13, 1955, was Richard S. McCutchen, a Marine whose subject was cooking. McCutchen became an instant celebrity, with people stopping him in the street to ask for his autograph.

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SD (Standard Definition) File

File Name of SD Episode: 868-095 The 64,000 Dollar Question.mpg

Total SD Episode Video Runtime (hh:mm:ss): 00:32:01

File Size of SD Episode Video: 1,492,916,500 Bytes

Resolution of SD Episode Video: 720x480

Date SD Episode Video Uploaded: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 13:34


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