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1955: CBS Premieres 'The $64,000 Question'
June 7, 2012  | By Christy Slewinski  | 23 comments
On this day in 1955, CBS premiered its popular game show,  The $64,000 Question. Inspired by the popular radio quiz show Take it or Leave It (which later became The $64 Question), The $64,000 Question was the forerunner to contemporary game shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The $64,000 Question, hosted by actor Hal March, featured contestants answering a series of questions on one particular topic, with the prize amount doubling — $64, $128, $256 to $512, then $1,000, $2,000, $4,000, $8,000, $16,000, $32,000 to $64,000 — with each correct answer. Once a contestant successfully reached $512, he or she could choose to walk away with the earned winnings. If the contestant chose to continue moving forward, the questions got more complicated and the stakes grew higher.

One of the most interesting phenomenons about $64,000 was that many of the average Americans who appeared on the show became overnight celebrities, and, much like today's reality show stars, some got far more than the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.

Marine Captain Richard McCutchen, an expert on gourmet cooking, was the first contestant to record a $64,000 win. The feat made him an instant celebrity. Another contestant to reach $64,000, thanks to an encyclopedic knowledge of boxing, was none other than Joyce Brothers, whose stint on the quiz show led to a lifelong TV and writing career. Bronx cobbler and opera aficionado Gino Prato — who stopped playing at $32,000 and walked away because his father in Italy told him via telegram to do so — was feted throughout the country and landed a one-year, $10,000 contract to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the shoe-repair industry. And they are just a few whose $64,000 fame continued long after their game show appearance.

Three years into the show's run, the infamous quiz show scandal erupted, based on allegations that the CBS game show Dotto and NBC's Twenty-One had been rigged. The $64,000 Question and its spin-off, The $64,000 Challenge, escaped major scrutiny, although one former $64,000 Question contestant, the Rev. Charles E. (Stoney) Jackson Jr., testified in front of a congressional subcommittee — on the same day as Twenty-One's Charles Van Doren — that he had been asked questions on the show that the producers had previously asked during a pre-show quiz session.

As a result of the scandal, viewership for nearly all of the TV quiz shows plummeted. Those programs not cancelled as a result of the incident were soon shuttered for lack of ratings.

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