A TV staple since 1976
July 12, 2022
The concept of this game show is fairly simple: two groups of five people – families – compete to see which group can successfully guess the top answers to questions answered by a studio audience.
The Family Feud premiered on July 12, 1976. It has been one of the longest running and most popular game shows on American television.
When it first went on the air, it was hosted by Richard Dawson, a British actor made famous as Lieutenant Newkirk on the 1960s sitcom, Hogan’s Heros. When that series ended, Dawson became a regular on The Match Game and was then made the first host of Family Feud.
Dawson was known for his kissing of the female contestants; a practice which drew criticism during the show’s first iteration. For Dawson, however, it seemed to have worked out well. From an article in Good Housekeeping, we learn:
“He allegedly asked viewers to vote on whether or not they would like him to stop. The votes came in 14,600 to 704 in favor of kissing, according to Hogan’s Heroes: The Unofficial Company. The book also reveals that contestants filled out a questionnaire before each game including, “Do you mind if Richard Dawson greets you with a kiss?” Apparently, not many declined.
As controversial as the kissing was, in 1981, Dawson planted a peck on a woman who would eventually become his second wife. Forty-nine-year-old Dawson met 24-year-old Gretchen Johnson when she was a contestant on the show.”
Dawson continued as host for the next nine years but the kissing stopped after he and Gretchen were married.
The show had two subsequent hosts after Dawson but the show – and game shows in particular – had lost popularity with the viewing public.
That all changed when, in 2010, they hit upon Steve Harvey, a host who was so relatable that it’s ratings skyrocketed back to the top. The infallible Wikipedia shares:
“The show’s Nielsen ratings were at 1.5, putting it in danger of cancellation once again (as countless affiliates that carried the show from 1999 to 2010 aired it in daytime, graveyard or other low-rated time slots). Since Steve Harvey took over the show, ratings increased by as much as 40%, and within two short years, the show was rated at 4.0, and had become the fifth-most-popular syndicated program. Fox News’ Paulette Cohn argued that Harvey’s ‘relatability,’ or ‘understanding of what the people at home want to know,’ was what saved the show from cancellation; Harvey himself debated, ‘If someone said an answer that was so ridiculous, I knew that the people at home behind the camera had to be going, ‘What did they just say?’ … They gave this answer that doesn’t have a shot in hell of being up there. The fact that I recognize that, that’s comedic genius to me. I think that’s [what made] the difference.’
Steve Harvey’s Family Feud has regularly ranked among the top 10 highest-rated programs in all of daytime television programming and third among game shows (behind Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!); in February 2014, the show achieved a 6.0 share in the Nielsen ratings, with approximately 8.8 million viewers. In June 2015, Family Feud eclipsed Wheel of Fortune, which had been on top for over 30 years, as the most-watched syndicated game show on television, and consistently began ranking among the top three shows in all of syndication.”
Unlike Dawson, Harvey does not kiss the female contestants. I think the thing which makes him so endearing is that he clearly is having fun as he hosts. You see him laughing along with the contestants and the audience at the ridiculous answers often given.
I had not watched Family Feud since the 1970’s when Dawson was the host. But in early 2012 when my mother landed in one particular care facility, their version of getting the residents up and interactive was to move them to a half circle of recliners set up to watch TV each morning and afternoon.
In my mother’s ‘house’ there were six residents plus one particular twice a day visitor and fixture, also known as my Dad. When I would visit Mom at the facility, Family Feud was often playing on the big TV.
For me, I always enjoyed the show but my dad, well, not so much. Every day there seemed to be a battle over ‘what’ would be watched on the living area TV. Dad consistently angled to get control of the remote and soon Family Feud was gone and Gunsmoke or Gilligan’s Island reruns would be playing.
Sometimes the residents – who seemed to like Family Feud – would complain and one of the staff would switch the TV back to the game show.
That sometimes would prompt Dad to get Mom up and we’d return to her small room to visit there.
After leaving that facility, Mom had a TV in her room at the new Adult Family Home and Dad always had control of the remote when he was there. I can’t say I’ve ever seen Family Feud on TV again.
But there is, of course, the internet. YouTube has, literally, hundreds of clips which provide endless hours to
waste, er, research for this topic.
For a more exhaustive look at Family Feud, here are a few links: