Jack Barry (1956–1958)
Monty Hall (1958)
Jim Lange (1982)
Maury Povich (2000)
Arlene & Ardell Terry and Terry Ford & Marlene Manners (1956–1958)
Melissa Busby & Mercedes Cornett (2000)
Bill McCord (1956–1958)
Charlie O'Donnell (1982)
John Cramer (2000)
Unsold Pilot for CBS: 3/1956
NBC Primetime: 9/12/1956 – 10/16/1958
21 pilot
Unsold Pilot for Syndication (21): 5/4/1982
Twenty One 2000
NBC Primetime: 1/9/2000 – 5/28/2000
Barry & Enright Productions (1956–1958, 1982)
The Fred Silverman Company/The Gurin Company/NBC Productions (2000)

Twenty One was a question and answer game show where contestants who were placed in isolation booths tried to get to 21 before their opponents do. The show was also known for starting the infamous 1950s "Quiz Show Scandals" at the time.


Two contestants (one a champion, the other the challenger), were both placed in isolation booths, so they cannot hear or see the other's score or progress. Plus, they couldn't see the audience due to the arrangement of the lighting in the studio.

The object of the game was to score 21 points as fast as you can, or come closer to 21 points than the opponent.

The game was played for up to five rounds. In each round, a category was given, each category has eleven questions of increasing difficulty, they ranged in value from 1 to 11 (one point being the easiest, eleven being the hardest). So any contestant can reach 21 in as few as two rounds. Each contestant in turn (starting with the challenger) with the other's booth turned off, decided how many points to play for, and then a question worth that value was asked by the host. A correct answer added the chosen point value to the player's score, but an incorrect answer subtracted the chosen point value from the player's score (the scores can never go below zero). After the first two rounds, both players' booths were turned on though they still don't know each other's score and they were now given the option to stop the game, but they must stop only if they think they're leading. That's important, because when the game is stopped voluntarily, the player with the most points at that point wins; if they didn't decide to stop the game, the game continues. On games when they didn't stop voluntarily, the first player to reach 21 points won the game. Should the challenger reach 21 first, the champion who has a score of 10 points or more was given one last chance to catch up and take the game to a 21-21 tie or save more money (which will all be explained later); the challenger's booth was left on during that time to make sure he/she can hear everything going on.

Winning players won money for the game just won. In the 1950s version and 1982 pilot, winning contestants won money according to the difference between the winning & losing scores. Money won by the challenger was taken out of the champion's total winnings; that's why before each game, championship players always get a decision to either play that next game or retire from the show.

50s VersionEdit

In this version, winning contestants won $500 times the difference between the winning & losing scores should they win the first game (thus, a 21-0 win is worth $10,500). In case of a tie, new games added $500 more to the pot.

Future Let's Make a Deal host Monty Hall hosted the show during Summer 1958.

This version was notorious for being one of the many game shows of its kind to be a part of the 1950s quiz show scandals, the first of which was Jack Narz's Dotto. It was exposed to the scandals because of the fact that many of the contestants were briefed on how they should act and were given answers in advance. This all came about because two contestants playing the very first game on the very first show didn't do so well. The man in the center of the scandals was the show's big time champion Charles Van Doren, a college professor. He first came on the show on November 28, 1956, his first contender was then current champion Hebert Stempel who won $69,500 at the time. They played five games together and on the forth game, Herb had a chance to win his next match; what the viewers didn't know is that Stempel was forced to lose by executive producer Dan Enright. The question on which he answered wrong was a five-point question, and it went like this: "What film won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955?" Stempel knew it was Marty, which was one of his favorites, but he was forced to answer On the Waterfront. That caused Van Doren to beat Stempel in the next round except Stempel came through and brought the game to a fourth tie. Charles Van Doren won the match on the fifth game with a score of 18-10 giving him $20,000 from Herb's total which was dropped to $49,500. During his time on Twenty-One, he appeared as a regular on NBC's Today Show. On March 11, 1957, he was finally defeated by a lady named Vivienne Nearing; his final total was $129,000. In frustration, Stempel squealed on the grand jury about the whole thing. Van Doren's little secret was finally exposed when he appeared before a House hearing and confessed to being given the answers. Twenty-One at last was cancelled on October 17, 1958; taking its time slot was a more successful and "puzzling" game show Concentration which Jack hosted and produced up until that point.

Barry & Enright would not produce another game show together for more than a decade. But in 1969, Jack Barry returned to television by hosting The Generation Gap (replacing Dennis Wholey) for ABC, and then two years later hosted and produced The Reel Game for the same network. Over a year later, on September 4, 1972, Jack Barry became a star once again by hosting and producing The Joker's Wild for CBS after the show had been in four years of development. (The other shows that premiered that day were The Price is Right & Gambit.) Barry rehired Dan Enright as executive producer in early 1975 and reformed Barry & Enright Productions soon after the show's cancellation.

These fateful incidents became legendary, and they even inspired a 1994 movie called Quiz Show, directed by actor Robert Redford.

1982 PilotEdit

Barry & Enright had this idea of reviving 21 for the syndication market just like they did with The Joker's Wild and Tic Tac Dough. So they produced a pilot for the show in 1982, with Jim Lange (who just finished his two-year hosting duties on another Barry & Enright game show Bullseye) serving as host (it would have been the third game show where Jim did not wear glasses). The pilot didn't sell.

In this version each category had nine questions instead of eleven, so they were ranged in value from 1-9 points; still the higher the value, the harder the question. The 8 and 9 point questions received additional thinking time (like the "Center Box" Question on Tic Tac Dough). Also, the value was doubled to $1,000 (plus that amount for every new game in case of a 21-21 tie game) times the difference between the winning and losing scores. The biggest difference was the addition of a bonus game which used the traditional "avoid the bad guy" format but in a different way.

Bonus GameEdit

The champion faced a board of random shuffling numbers from 1-11, the champion was given a remote control to stop the shuffling. The object of the bonus game was to get to 21 or come as closer to 21 than the "computer" without going over, anything over 21 is a bust (a la blackjack). Now on each turn, the champion decided to either take the number he/she would land on or give the number he/she would land on to the "computer" after which he/she stopped the shuffling. Whatever number it landed on was added to either player's score. The computer could keep building its score until it hit 17 or more, this rule did not affect the contestant. If the contestant could manage to beat the computer in any way, he/she won $2,000 and a trip.

2000 VersionEdit

Twenty-One finally made its return to NBC in 2000 after 42 years of nonexistence. The new host for this version was talk show host Maury Povich; it returned due to the wake of big money game shows thanks to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

The game was basically the same as the original but with these exceptions:

  • All questions were multiple choice with the 1-6 point questions having three choices, the 7-10 point questions having four choices (with the 10 point question having as the fourth choice "none of the above"), and the extremely hard 11 point question having five choices (plus, it required two correct answers).
  • Contestants no longer lost points for incorrect answers; instead, they received a strike. Like in baseball, three strikes and that player was out. If both players struck out, they both lost, and two new players were introduced. At one time, host Povich made a mistake by telling the champion that his opponent already struck out when he shouldn't have. So to ensure that there would be a winner, the champion went for and answered correctly a one-point question. Maury made an announcement about the mistake after the commercial break and before playing the Perfect 21 bonus game (which will be explained later).
  • On any question (only once per game), if the active player was stumped he/she could call for a "second chance". The second chance was where a relative or a friend of the active player came in to help out by giving his/her own answer. On a second chance if the active player missed, he/she received two strikes instead of one while a correct answer still earned the question's point value.
  • If the game ended in a 21-21 tie (or less than that if one player called to stop the game after Round 2 or if all five rounds were exhausted), instead of starting a brand new game, a tie-breaker question was asked to both players whose booths were both turned on, just like in the stopping the game portion (which didn't exist in the first show). Host Povich read the question and the first player to buzz-in with a correct answer won the game. A wrong answer meant the opponent had a chance to answer, and if correct, won the game. Otherwise, a new tie-breaker question was asked. Upon buzzing in, the background behind the player's score turned yellow and it turned green if a correct answer was given, but it turned red if an incorrect answer was given.


Contestants no longer won money according to the difference between the winning and losing scores, instead they won money according to what game they were playing.

In the early weeks of the show, the payoff structure went like this:

Game Value
1 $100,000
2 $200,000
3 $300,000
4 $400,000

The payoffs were repeated after every four wins.

After the first several episodes, the prize ladder changed to the following:

Game Value
1 $25,000
2 $50,000
3 $100,000
4 $250,000
5 $500,000
6 $750,000
7 $1,000,000

These amounts accumulated, so winning seven games would be worth at least $2,675,000. As before, any contestant who defeated a seventh opponent started again from the beginning of the chain (i.e. the 8th game would be played for $25,000; etc.).

When the rules changed, the returning champion had won one game and $100,000 in his appearance on the final show under the old prize structure. Instead of being "grandfathered" under the old prize structure, he played and won his second game for $250,000 (the next amount after $100,000), and played but lost his third game for $500,000.

Losing challengers went home with $1,000.

Cash HandoutsEdit

Upon the champion's defeat, the money he/she won was handed to him/her in cold hard cash. One of the models walked in with a silver-plated platter with cash totaling the champion's winnings. The money was placed into a bag with the show's logo & NBC peacock on it (unless the amount was so large that it would not fit into the bag).

Perfect 21Edit

The winner of each game went on to play a new bonus game called Perfect 21. Host Povich asked up to six true/false questions of increasing difficulty under a specific category. Each question increased the value of points, starting with 1, then 2, 3, 4, 5, and finally 6. Each point was worth $10,000 so the maximum total was $210,000. If the champion missed any question along the way, the bonus round money was lost, which is why he/she was always given the option to stop the game and keep whatever they won and add it to the current winnings. No player ever got the full $210,000 by getting all six right, although one player named Tim Helms came very close; in fact he answered five of the six questions right, but he refused to go for the hat trick and chose to keep the $150,000 he did score; after the break, Maury asked the final question to Tim just for fun.

Contestant selectionEdit

During the first six episodes, the audience chose the winner's next opponent. The audience would be presented with two potential challengers to face the current champion, and the audience would vote for an opponent using keypads. The person who received the higher vote played against the champion; the other person would be one of the two potential challengers to be voted on for the next game. In the first episode, there were three potential opponents to face the champion. After the sixth episode, the process was changed to a random selection. At the beginning of the show, six potential challengers would be introduced, and would be selected randomly from that group for each new game. People who had not been selected by the end of the show were not guaranteed to return on the following show, although some people did appear on the show multiple times before being selected to play.


David Legler was the show's biggest winner having won $1,765,000 in six games.

International VersionsEdit

The following are a list of countries that have aired their versions of Twenty One:

  • Australia 
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Canada (French language only)
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom


NBC Studio 6B, New York City, NY (1950s version)
NBC Studios, Burbank, CA (2000 version)


Board GameEdit

One was released by Lowell in 1957.

Quiz BookEdit

Pyramid (1958)
The slim paperback has one to eleven point questions in each of the forty-five categories.


"I'm going to give you a category, each category contains 11 multiple choice questions, point values range from one, which is the easiest to 11, the hardest. Questions 1-6 has three choices, 7-10 has four and 11 has five with two correct answers. You will choice the point value, based on how well you think you know the category. Get a question right, we are going to add those points to your score. Get a question wrong, you will get a strike. [Like in baseball], three strikes and you are out of the game. Each of you will have one opportunity during the game to ask on a second chance if you need help on a question. Each player has to wear a pair of headphones, so they can not hear anything going on with his/her/their opponent. [Nor they could not see our studio audience because of the way the lights hit the glass.] Let's play Twenty One!" - Maury Povich explaining the rules on the 2000 version

"If you're right, you get (insert selected number) added to your score. Get it wrong, you'll be out of the game/get 2 strikes." - Maury Povich explaining about the Second Chance


Press PhotosEdit

Black and White Format
Color Format
Other Press Photos
The Movie Quiz Show
Website Screenshot

Did you know...Edit

  • Phil Gurin, one of the executive producers of Twenty One, brought back the classic 1970s dating game 3's A Crowd with Alan Thicke in the shoes filled by Jim Peck?
  • Gurin's executive producer on Twenty One was ABC Entertainment veteran Fred Silverman, whose scripted mystery/crime drama track record including the long-running NBC/ABC legal drama Matlock, starring the late Andy Griffith.


Robert Noah


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Set DesignersEdit

1956-1958 - Jack Landau
1982 Pilot - John C. Mula
2000 - John Shaffner and Joe Stewart


1955 Pilot and 1956-1958 - Paul Taubman
1982 Pilot - The Alan Parsons Project
2000 - Scooter Pietsch; Early episodes featured a live orchestra conducted by Tom Scott

Additional PageEdit

Twenty One/Video Gallery


Rules for Twenty-One
Rules for Twenty-One @
A tribute to Twenty-One
Rules for Twenty-One 2000
All about Twenty-One
Official site of the 2000 revival
Twenty-One 2000 Episode Guide



Twenty One - July 8, 1957


For YouTube videos of Twenty One, click here.