Mon 17 Sep 2007
On an otherwise unremarkable July afternoon in 1976, ABC premiered an innovative new game show format that would capture the imagination of American viewers and forever change the game show landscape.
Of course, I’m referring to Family Feud. As all Food Court Lunch readers will know, the groundbreaking Family Feud pitted two families squaring off to answer questions already asked to 100 members of the public. The object of Family Feud was not to give the best answer, but to give the answer the unwashed masses were most likely to give. Thus, the key to victory in Family Feud rested not in each family’s relative intelligence, but rather in their ability to gauge the level of stupidity among a sampling of the American public.
The viewing public responded favourably to the folksy, homespun show, and to this day, sayings such as “Survey Says…” and the iconic buzzing XXX that accompanied wrong answers remain part of the American lexicon. Amazingly, the show is still in production, even in the face of a 2004 scandal in which it was revealed that since the show’s inception in 1976, the survey members used to answer questions were not part of a random sampling of the American public, but rather were made up of a group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison serving life sentences.
How has Family Feud, against all odds, managed to stay relevant? The key has been a series of gimmicky twists, including “special weeks” featuring face-offs between, for example, professional wrestlers, the stars of Baywatch, Playboy bunnies and American Gladiators. It defies credulity, but in 1980 ABC, which owned the rights to the World Series broadcast, arranged for (read: contractually obligated) members of the Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies to square off in a 6-show series on Family Feud, only weeks after the Phillies had dusted the Royals in 6 games in the World Series. One can only imagine the pride of George Brett when he realized that in addition to losing the World Series, he would be required to answer questions like “name 4 things a woman carries in her purse” during a heated “Fast Money” round against his nemesis, Steve Carlton.
But the true key to Family Feud’s sustained success has been the ability of its hosts to connect with the game’s contestants. It takes a quick mind and razor-sharp wit to take the helm of the Feud, and while a few chosen for the task have been stratospheric successes, many have failed and even brought the great game into disrepute.
It has been a monumental task, but the editors of Food Court Lunch have reviewed thousands of hours of broadcast tapes and behind-the-scenes footage to bring you, in ranking order…
The Definitive List of the Greatest Family Feud Hosts of All Time!
(Here’s a hint: Like many things in life, the first was the best, and it’s all downhill from there…)
1. Richard Dawson (1976-85, 1994-95)
Dawson broke into the Hollywood scene as a British officer on “Hogan’s Heroes”, and rose to critical acclaim for the gritty realism he brought to what was, admittedly, a bit part on a kitschy WWII comedy. Dawson was ultimately fired from the show after stabbing Werner Klemperer (the actor who played Colonel Klink) with a prop bayonet and proclaiming it was an act of “liberation”.
Nevertheless, Dawson managed to parlay his role on Hogan’s Heroes into the host role on the inaugural season of Family Feud in 1976. Dawson’s laid-back style and slightly drunk aura made him an immediate hit with viewers and contestants alike. He routinely made jokes at the expense of the oft-dimwitted contestants, while his approachable manner made him susceptible to frequent romantic advances by female contestants (in fact, Dawson’s second wife was a former contestant on the show.)
Dawson hosted Family Feud from 1976 until 1985, an unprecedented streak in the cutthroat world of game show hosting, prompting TV Guide to award Dawson with the title “The Lou Gehrig of Game Show Hosts” in 1984. Dawson returned to host the show again for a short period from 1994 to 1995, but ultimately left to pursue his first love, scotch.
Today, Dawson is acknowledged as the greatest game show host of all time, and his reign over Family Feud remains unchallenged, winning the Feud’s only daytime Emmy in 1977. Dawson is as culturally relevant today as he was 30 years ago, so much so that he has earned props in the music of the Wu-Tang Clan (“I’m causin’ more family feuds than Richard Dawson”), and even lampooned his own Family Feud persona in the critically acclaimed 1987 Arnold Schwarznegger vehicle, “The Running Man”.
Exclusive Food Court Lunch Trivia: It is rumoured that during the filming of “The Running Man”, Dawson drank liberally and frequently became confused with the futuristic construct of the film, which accounts for Dawson’s character’s insistence on using anachronistic ethnic slurs throughout the film.
2. Ray Combs (1988-1994)
Combs was pegged as Richard Dawson’s replacement as Feud host on the strength of his show-stealing repeat performances on sitcoms “Amen” and “Golden Girls”. Combs’ everyman personality made him an ideal fit for Family Feud and a big hit with American audiences. But behind his smiling facade, Combs suffered from inner turmoil fueled by his hatred for game shows.
Ratings began to lag in the early 1990s, and ultimately the producers of Family Feud decided to let Combs go in 1994. Not surprisingly, Combs was devastated. Nevertheless, he was determined to have the last laugh, and when the final contestant in the Fast Money round on Combs’ last show failed to score any points, Combs turned to the contestant and proclaimed that this was “a damn fine way to go out. Here I was a loser till you walked up, now I feel like a man.”
Less than 2 years after his dismissal from Family Feud, a despondent Combs was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist Medical Center, and soon thereafter used bedsheets to hang himself in a broom closet. The orderlies who found his body almost certainly made some crude remark involving “Survey Says…Suicide!”, or “Name something you’d find hanging up in a closet.”
Exclusive Food Court Lunch Trivia: Combs was a guest announcer at Wrestlemania VIII, where he uttered the now famous line “I cannot believe what I am seeing!!!!”
3. Louie Anderson (1999-02)
The producers of Family Feud didn’t have to look far for a replacement for Ray Combs: an unemployed Louie Anderson was apprehended by studio security while absconding with a buffet table on the Family Feud soundstage, and was immediately cast as the new host.
Anderson had initially been picked to star alongside Bronson Pinchot in the sitcom “Perfect Strangers”, but was dropped after shooting the pilot, when producers felt the chemistry between the two actors wasn’t right. Ultimately, Perfect Strangers was cancelled when a badly-injured Pinchot was found jammed between on-set sofa cushions as a result of being accidentally sat on by Anderson. In any event, Pinchot’s loss was Family Feud’s gain, as Anderson transformed Family Feud, bringing a social conscience that remained hidden in earlier iterations of the show.
Exclusive Food Court Lunch Trivia: Anderson, listed at #92 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-up Comedians of All Time, is also listed as #1 on Tyson Chicken’s list of the Largest Stand-up Comedians of All Time.
4. Richard Karn (2002-2006)
Karn, who played the phlegmatic Al Borland on the Tim Allen abomination “Home Improvement”, brought little new to the role of Family Feud host, and is remembered primarily for defying the producers’ orders to shave off his facial hair.
Exclusive Food Court Lunch Trivia: According to Wikipedia, Karn has appeared in two Air Bud sequels and his favourite dish is eggs Benedict.
5. John O’Hurley (2006-present)
Against all odds, O’Hurley managed to take a bit part as catalogue mogul “J. Peterman” on Seinfeld and parlay it into a career in television. Picked as host of Family Feud on the basis of his performance on the first season of “Dancing with the Stars”, O’Hurley’s reign as host has been met with low ratings and critical rebuke, mainly as a result of O’Hurley’s frequent tendency to drift into his J. Peterman character and repeated plugs for his idiotic self-help book, “It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump”.
Exclusive Food Court Lunch Trivia: O’Hurley is devilishly handsome.