On the night of December 5, 1956, an estimated 50 million Americans tuned in to Twenty-One, the most popular of the many quiz shows that dominated that early age of US television.

Over the previous eight weeks a stocky, nerdy and unappealing character named Herb Stempel had accumulated nearly $70,000 in winnings. All that day NBC had ratcheted up the tension by interrupting its programs to ask: “Is Herb Stempel going to win over $100,000 tonight?”

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