Twenty One (partially found Barry-Enright game show; 1956-1958)

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Twenty One (June 3, 1957) 0-33 screenshot.png

The show's logo.

Status: Partially Found

Twenty One was an American game show that was created by Jack Barry and Dan Enright that aired on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from September 12th, 1956, to October 16th, 1958, and was hosted by Barry. The show was created in response to the success of other shows Barry and Enright productions that were airing on the network at the time like The $64,000 Question and Tic Tac Dough. The show was cancelled alongside the previously mentioned shows because it was found to be rigged by Enright and almost caused the demise of the game show genre. Because the show was and still is deep in controversy, the show never re-aired again and most of its episodes have become lost to time.

Format[edit | edit source]

Two contestants are sent off to two isolation booths and wear headphones to prevent them from seeing or hearing each other's answers. They also couldn't see the audience because of the lightning in the isolation booths. One of the contestants has to score 21 points or close to that number before the other contestant does by giving correct answers to questions given to them by the host. Five rounds are played with a category given and the contestant can choose how many points they want to answer the question for (either somewhere between 1 to 11 points, 1 point being the easiest and 11 being the hardest). A correct answer awards the contestant the number of points they played the question for and a wrong answer took away the number of chosen points from the player's score (not going any lower than 0). After two rounds, the players (still without knowing their scores) are given the option of continuing or end the game, they must stop only if they think they're leading. If the game stops, the contestant with the most points wins, if they want to continue, the game does just that. Sometimes when they don't stop voluntarily, the first player to reach twenty-one points won the game. Should the other contestant reach twenty-one first, the champion who has a score of ten points or more was given one last chance to catch up and bring the game to a tie or save more money, the challenger's booth was left on during that time to make sure they can hear everything going on[1].

Scandal & Cancelation[edit | edit source]

Enright would call the usually broadcast of Twenty-One "a dismal failure" as neither contestants could give correct answers to the questions given to them and this made the show's sponsor Geritol furious on the night the first episode aired and are quoted to have said to Barry and Enright "in no uncertain terms that he never wanted to see a repeat of what happened the previous night," and demanded improvements to the show[2]. Barry and Enright ended up deciding to rig the show and give the contestants answers to the questions they would be asked in the game. By Fall 1956 post office clerk Herb Stempel was a returning champion on the show having scored $69,500, but was disliked by the audience and Geritol. Columbia University graduate Charles Van Doren was brought in as a contestant on November 28th, 1956 (he previously wanted to be a contestant on another Barry and Enright game show Tic Tac Dough and didn't even own a television set at the time[3], but was talked into appearing on Twenty One by Enright and associate producer Al Freedman) as Stempel's new challenger. The two tied four times and this ended up boosting the show's ratings and kept audiences interest. Van Doren ended up beating Stempel and went on to have a winning streak scoring $129,000 by his final game in March 1957. After his lose Stempel attempted to blow the whistle on the show by having a federal investigator look into the show, but very little came of these investigations and Stempel's accusations of the show being rig were dismissed as jealousy as there was no evidence to support his claims. The door was blown wide open when the show Dotto was cancelled in August 1958 after a notebook full of answers to every question that was to be asked to the show's current champion Marie Winn and Stempel accusations of Twenty One being rigged ended up getting so much creditability that a grand jury was convened in Autumn 1958 to investigate Dotto and other possible game-show riggings (including The $64,000 Question, Tic Tac Dough and Twenty One) with findings of rigging confessions by another contestant on Twenty One Richard Jackman. Because of the findings and dip in ratings, without warning Twenty One was cancelled on October 16th, 1958. Barry and Enright denied that the show was rigged until another Twenty One contestant James Snodgrass, came forward in congress with proof that the show was in fact rigged by showing registered letters that he had mailed to himself with every answer given to him before taping[4]. Outside of the memory game Concentration that premiered two months before Twenty One's cancellation, Barry and Enright ended up not working together again until 1976 when Barry made a comeback producing and hosting The Joker's Wild and Enright would produce the show's final season in 1975 and their partnership would be resurrected in 1976 with a new version of Break The Bank and eventual revival of The Joker's Wild in 1977. Barry died in 1984 of a heart attack[5] and Enright died in 1992 after a battle with cancer[6]. The events would later be made into the 1994 film Quiz Show. A new non-rigged version of Twenty One would briefly air in Spring 2000 and was hosted by talk show host Maury Povich.

Availability[edit | edit source]

Because of the controversy and it was made in the time were wiping tapes was common practice, it's no surprise that a large majority of the show is lost. The exact number of episodes of Twenty One that were made is unknown. Only four episodes (including the Van Doren and Stempel matches from December 5th and 12th) can be found online. Six other episodes exist on audiotapes that haven't been uploaded online yet[7]. Thirty-two episodes are currently stored at the Library of Congress[8]. The March 1956 pilot for the show can also be found online[9]. The rest of the show might remain lost forever.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Restored version of December 5th, 1956 episode
June 3rd, 1957 episode
January 23rd, 1957 episode
December 12th, 1956 episode

References[edit | edit source]