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Quiz Show

Year: 1994
Production Co: Hollywood Pictures
Director: Robert Redford
Producer: Robert Redford/Barry Levinson
Writer: Paul Attanasio
Cast: John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, Mira Sorvino, Griffin Dunne
One of the best conspiracy movies ever made. The scene where the president of the network is called up in court and he and the judge are talking amicably about how they'll have to play golf again soon - hands over their respective mikes - symbolises at a stroke everything that's wrong with the world - how there's no justice because there's them and the rest of us, how money attracts money and you can't really get into trouble if you're one of the elite.

It's a seemingly innocuous scene that's pivotal to the whole movie. The other is where network producer David Paymer rationalises his behaviour; ' [sic] the network makes out, the advertisers make out, the public are entertained, what's the problem?' It's a compelling argument - when everybody's happy and nobody's getting hurt, who's to say an action as harmless as fixing a game show is wrong?

The answer is hard to pin down - just ask any ethicist. It's a very similar proposition to the one explored in Gone Baby Gone, where a missing child returned to its mother is the right thing to do even though everyone involved would be better off if the child stayed where she was.

The central conflict of the premise is combined with some career-best performances and a smart script by Sum of All Fears and The Good German scriptwriter Paul Attanasio. It's the sixties and the TV game show is on the prime time ascendancy. Director Redford gets the period perfect, not just in the costuming and set design but little touches like the host doing the in-show sponsorship announcement (for Geritol, in this case), from an age before they cut to external commercial breaks.

But audience polling (an art and science as important to the media as the broadcasting technology that makes it possible) indicates that the current champion of the show current champion, Jewish yokel Herbie Stempel (Turturro), isn't popular with viewers and that the buttoned-down, good looking academic and rising champ Charles van Doren (Fiennes) is.

So the producers start feeding van Doren answers and encourage Stempel to throw the match. When federal prosecutor Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) gets wind of the case after Stempel's confession he pursues the producers and network in court, prompting producer Dan Enright's (Paymenr) pivotal line.

It's based on a true story that led to changes in United States laws, and although none of the marketing or even the execution of the film itself makes it obvious, this is one of the most razor sharp statements on business and media ever made.

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