1994 film by Baltimore Pictures and Dreyfuss-James Productions and distributed by Hollywood Pictures. Directed by Robert Redford, and produced by him and Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin and Michael Nozik.
The film stars John Turturro (as Herb Stempel), Rob Morrow (as Richard Goodwin) and Ralph Fiennes (as Charles Van Doren) as well as Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria and others.
The plot is, basically, a true story based on a 1950's quiz show called 'Twenty-One'. Herb Stempel has been the reigning champion of the show, and amassing thousands of dollars, for many weeks - but his ratings (the show is sponsored by 'Geritol' - and the film is very careful to point out that the organisation behind that product, and the product still available today, are very different) have 'plateaued' (i.e. flattened out). Charles Van Doren, the son of a renowned university lecturer, auditions for a different quiz show, and is spotted by the producers of 'Twenty-One' as a potential contestant to knock Herb Stempel off the top spot. They give him an audition, and he knows the answers to the questions that they ask him. In the real head-to-head competition, live on national television, he receives precisely the same questions. He is about to complain, after the show, when the idea of how much money he has won catches up with him, and he decides to take it and come back the following week. Herb, meanwhile, has been told to 'take a dive' (i.e. deliberately get the answer to his last question wrong - and it's an easy question too, one that he would have known even if they didn't usually give him the answers: he is promised to be considered for a panel show in recompense - naturally, he never gets it). Van Doren, though, continues winning: at first, because of his high morals, supposedly, they give him the questions and he looks up the answers. Eventually, though, he gets the answers, too. Just like Stemple.
Richard Goodwin, an attorney, is called in to investigate the quiz shows and becomes good friends with Van Doren, having the same kind of intellect as him. He is even invited to a dinner party at his family's home and gets on very well with Charles's father. In trying to expose the facade of the quiz show, though, he ultimately has to ruin Charles's reputation too.
It's a great film, particularly because of the stability and confidence of the plot. It doesn't try to impress and stun with huge set pieces, and it doesn't pander to its audience at all. On paper, in fact, the film has no ending other than a petering out after the final courtroom scene (which is gripping to say the least). It makes its mark though - and the over-whelming sensation at the end of it is of disgust that America, in fact - by extension - TV audiences everywhere, are so fickle, and undemanding. Dan Enright, the producer of the show, says that once the furore has blown over, he'll be back. And he's noticed something - he doesn't have to give contestants the answers: all he has to do is make the questions easier. Audiences are not interested in the displays of intellectual gymnastics: 'they just want to see the money'.