Merton Koplin; Revealed Quiz-Show Rigging

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Merton Y. Koplin, an Emmy-winning TV producer who was the first executive to bring the quiz-show-rigging scandal of the late 1950s into the open, has died. He was 71, and his family said that he died Saturday of natural causes at New York City's University Hospital.

Koplin, co-producer of the 19-part "Walk Through the 20th Century With Bill Moyers" in 1984, which won Emmy and Peabody awards, also co-produced Moyers' 17-part "Creativity" series in 1982, which also won an Emmy.

Before that, and despite his direction or production of hundreds of TV shows, he was best known to the public as a witness in 1959 before the House Commerce Committee that was investigating the rigging of quiz shows.

Beginning in 1955, Koplin was producer or associate producer of two of the highest-rated shows in history, "The $64,000 Question" and its spinoff, "The $64,000 Challenge."

When he was called before the congressional committee, Koplin blamed the rigging on the sponsor, the Revlon cosmetics company, whose advertising executives, he said, pressured producers to let contestants who were popular with audiences win to boost ratings. Koplin was in charge of screening contestants for both shows, giving them a general idea of the questions they probably were going to be asked.

Although Revlon denied the allegations, others supported Koplin's testimony that the sponsors and producers met weekly to discuss how the show's ratings could be improved with a succession of consistent winners.

Other quiz shows were implicated in the scandal, and some were accused of giving contestants questions and answers in advance.

Bandleader Xavier Cugat said Koplin gave him answers that enabled him to win $16,000 on the "Challenge" show in 1958, but Koplin denied that.

No legal action was taken against Koplin, but others accused of lying to investigators were prosecuted for perjury.

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