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Subject: Steve Carlin, '$64,000 Question' Producer

Dead at 84
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Date Posted: March 02, 2003 10:37:47 EDT

Steve Carlin, an ingenious and irrepressible producer of television game shows, including "The $64,000 Question" and others that proved to be rigged, died on Feb. 4 at his home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was 84.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease, said his wife, Peggy.

Mr. Carlin was executive producer of "The $64,000 Question," "The $64,000 Challenge" and other shows that were dropped in the late 1950's when the networks ended all game shows offering cash prizes. Though rigging game shows or "preplanning" outcomes, in the phrase favored by their producers was still legal, the public and sponsors would not tolerate them in their new, suddenly tainted context.

To Mr. Carlin, the shows were simply great entertainment, following in the tradition of radio quiz shows, which, it turned out, had also been fixed. He saw the shows as less about money than about "a celebration of the working class."

The idea was to help contestants the sponsors liked by feeding them answers or big hints. Contestants would then return week after week as the prize escalated to $64,000. Less appealing contestants, of course, got no such help.

Mr. Carlin told a grand jury how and why the shows were rigged, according to Tim Yohn, who wrote a book on the quiz scandals with Joseph Stone, a former Manhattan prosecutor who investigated them. The book was "Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950's TV Quiz Scandal" (Rutgers, 1992).

The only people charged with wrongdoing in the investigation were contestants who did not tell the truth to the grand jury. Fixing game shows did not become illegal until 1960.

After losing his shows, Mr. Carlin went to Europe, where he produced more than a half-dozen game shows, including the Italian hit "M'ama Non M'ama" ("Love Me, Love Me Not"). In this show, two contestants tried to win the most members of the opposite sex by determining whether the love and romance stories they were telling were true. This show was later produced on American television, for which Mr. Carlin worked regularly after memories of the scandal faded.

Another of his shows was a syndicated version of "The $64,000 Question," which began in the United States in 1976. It was called "The $128,000 Question," to reflect inflation.

Michael Dann, a broadcast consultant and the CBS executive who notified Mr. Carlin that his show was canceled in 1958, called Mr. Carlin a genius at quiz shows.

"He walked around with a game show in his head most of the time," said Mr. Dann, who hired Mr. Carlin to create shows in Britain, Sweden, Italy and other places in Europe after the death of quiz shows in the United States.

"Let's face it," Mr. Dann said, "he was a walking game show."

Steven R. Carlin was born and raised in Brooklyn, and was a graduate of the City College of New York. He started in the radio industry and moved on to TV and developed one of the most popular early children's shows, "Rootie Kazootie," a puppet series on NBC. He also wrote a comic strip, with the artist Myron Waldman, called "Happy the Humbug."

Mr. Carlin went to work for Louis G. Cowan, who owned the production company that developed the concept of "The $64,000 Question" and other game shows. Mr. Cowan's company was a packager that came up with ideas, found sponsors and sold the entire package to the networks. When Mr. Cowan took an executive job with CBS, he sold the company to other producers working there, principally Mr. Carlin.

Mr. Carlin testified before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight in 1959 that as executive producer of the production company that he had named Entertainment Productions Inc., he was "willing to please the client" by rigging game shows. But he repeatedly denied that he was specifically told to rig anything by the principal sponsor, Revlon.

In addition to his wife, the former Peggy Sanford, Mr. Carlin is survived by his daughter, Melissa, and his brother, Morty.

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