Originating in a USO activity created by Canadian Don Reid for World War II soldiers, the game was developed into a radio show by Reid and John Moses. Grant Tinker, later President of NBC and MTM Enterprises, got his start as an assistant on the show.
The format was simple. Two four-member teams representing various colleges and universities competed; one member of each team was its captain. The game began with a "toss-up" question for ten points; the first player to buzz in got the right to answer, but if (s)he was wrong, the other team could try to answer (if a player buzzed in before the host finished reading the question and was wrong, the team was penalized five points). Answering a "toss-up" correctly earned the team the right to answer a multi-part "bonus" question worth up to thirty points; the team members could collaborate, but only the captain was allowed to actually give the answer. The game continued in this manner, and was played in halves. During halftime, the players were allowed to show a short promotional film of their school; or they might talk about career plans or the like.
The first College Quiz Bowl match was played on NBC radio on October 10, 1953, when Northwestern University defeated Columbia University, 135-60. 26 episodes ran in that first season, with winning teams receiving $500 grants for their school. Good Housekeeping magazine became the sponsor for the 1954-55 season, and a short third season in the autumn of 1955 finished the run. The most dominant team was the University of Minnesota, which had teams appear in 23 of the 68 broadcast matches. The 1953-55 series had a powerful appeal because it used remote broadcasts; each team was located at their own college where they were cheered on by their wildly enthusiastic classmates. The effect was akin to listening to a football game, but this type of excitement evaporated in later versions, in which both teams competed in the same room.
G.E. College Bowl
Format Game Show
Created by Don Reid
Presented by Allen Ludden (1959-1962)
Robert Earle (1962-1970)
Country of origin United States
No. of series 12
Running time 30 Minutes
Original channel CBS (1959-1963)
Original run January 4, 1959 – June 14, 1970
Though a pilot was shot in the Spring of 1955, the game did not move to television until 1959. As G.E. College Bowl with General Electric as the primary sponsor, the show ran on CBS from 1959–1963, and moved back to NBC from 1963-1970. Allen Ludden was the original host, but left to do Password full-time in 1962. Robert Earle was moderator for the rest of the run. The norm developed in the Ludden-Earle era of undefeated teams retiring after winning five games. One upset occurred in 1961, when the small liberal arts colleges of Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, New York, defeated Baylor University to retire undefeated as the third colleges, along with Rutgers and Colgate, to do so. Another example, Lafayette College retired undefeated in Fall 1962 after beating the University of California Berkeley for its fifth victory, a David and Goliath event. The show licensed and spun off three other academic competitions in the U.S.:
* Alumni Fun, which appeared on all three major TV networks in the 1960s and featured former college students
* Bible Bowl, which has evolved into at least three separate national competitions and used the Bible as a source
* High School Bowl, which was broadcast in some local TV markets and featured high school students
In 1970, modern invitational tournaments began with the Southeastern Invitational Tournament, and the circuit expanded through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These tournaments increasingly made various modifications to the College Bowl format, and came to be known as quiz bowl. Earlier invitational tournaments, such as the "Syraquiz" at Syracuse University, had occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.