Family Feud aired for the very first time in 1976, hosted by none other than Richard Dawson, more about him later. Starting out on daytime television, it quickly gained popularity. Dawson was a charming celebrity who originally helped contestants win thousands of dollars as a Match Game regular panelist. Logically, he was cast as the first host in this spin off idea, taken good naturedly from the Match Game. Family Feud was the highest-rated daytime game show for two seasons (1977-78 and 1978-79) until CBS's The Price Is Right surpassed it. It was also the highest-rated syndicated game show from 1978 until 1984, when Wheel of Fortune took over the top spot. In May 1978, during the height of the show's popularity, ABC aired the first in a series of All-Star Family Feud prime time specials where teams of celebrities -— often the cast members of a television show — played the game to raise money for various charities. The show won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Game Show in 1977, while Dawson won the Daytime Emmy for Best Host or Hostess in a Game Show in 1978.
The game itself was deceptively simple. Two families of five competed. Originally, with Dawson at the helm, a question asked to one hundred people was posed to a player from each team at the podium. One player buzzed-in and gave a response. If at least two people said it in the survey, the answer appeared on the board and one dollar was put into the bank for each person who gave that answer. There could be anywhere from three to twelve answers for a question. If the first to buzz-in did not get the most popular answer, the other player could give an answer. Whichever team had the most popular answer had the option of playing the question or passing it. Then the family in control gave answers one-by-one. An answer not on the board was a "strike" and three "strikes" passed control to the other team. They discussed and gave one answer. If it was on the board, they won all the money in the bank. If not, the opposing family did. If a family got all the answers, they also won the bank. More rounds were played, the third round and on worth double dollars, until one family reached two-hundred points. That family went to the bonus round. In the bonus round, "Fast Money", two members of the family played. One was sent into isolation. Five questions were asked in fifteen seconds. After they gave their answers, they were revealed on the board. They earned a point for each person that gave that answer. Then their partner came out and had twenty seconds to answer the same five questions. They could not duplicate answers. If they earned two-hundred points or more they won $5,000 or on the syndicated version, $10,000. If they lost, they won $5 a point. Families could return until they won $25,000. Over time, during its long run, the game structure changed numerous times. At one point they played up to three hundred and then to four hundred with various combinations of rounds.
Richard Dawson was the first to host Family Feud (1976-1985). Richard Dawson's hosting style, was very unusual: for example, he almost always kissed the female players, and gave some of the women and their children lollipops from a special "lollipop tree" (introduced in the middle of the 1982-83 season) at the end of each family podium. Dawson also did not let sobriety or good taste stand in the way of his hosting. A number of times contestants could not understand the question due to Dawson's slurred speech. Dawson also did not let race relations deter his jokes, in spite of objections to Richard kissing black people...something simply not 'done' during those days of television. In one show an African American contestant picked a black lollipop, the winning color, and Dawson held the lollipop up to the contestant's skin and asked the crowd if the contestant had an advantage. On another show, an Asian family was not ready to answer a question when Dawson asked, so he yelled gibberish Chinese at the family until they turned around and answered. This personable style made him very popular as a game show host, but makes old versions of the show somewhat inappropriate by contemporary standards. After becoming a star, Dawson got very, very difficult, demanding control, requesting (and getting) enormous raises and placing his daughter in key jobs. Friction with the producers eventually led to his leaving. You can download the entire E! Online True Hollywood Story, commercial free, and watch at your leisure, the rise and fall of television's star, Richard Dawson, who looked great in front of the camera...well, until he was drunk, sloppy, and often times, petulant.
Moving on to the next era of Family Feud, after Richard Dawson is given the proverbial boot, enters Ray Combs, who replaced Dawson from 1988 - 1994. He was hired to revive the sagging show. No surprise that the ratings dropped, especially since Dawson was a demanding, drunken ego maniac and had to go. CBS expanded the show from thirty minutes to one hour, with the addition of a 'Bullseye' round and renamed it 'The New Family Feud Challenge in 1992. Combs was a talented stand up comic, very charming fellow. The idea was to bring in someone who could step out of Dawson's looming shadow. His trademark shtick was to tell contestants that he liked their high-heel shoes, ask to try them on and walk around the set, wearing them. Oh, he caught on quickly enough. Combs' problem was he couldn't sustain the ratings; which, as we all know, signals life and death to television shows. After all, a shtick is only amusing for a little while. Without new material, Combs' days were numbered. The death knell came when Combs was replaced by none other than the former Richard Dawson. Interestingly, Combs never recovered from what he called the 'final blow'. His life spiraled downward, never to recover. Combs fell into debt, foreclosure, and was nearly paralysed after a serious car accident. Things got worse for Ray Combs. His marriage fell apart, he was using drugs. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he checked into a mental institution. In 1996, he commited suicide, hanging himself in a hospital closet, leaving his ex-wife and six children destitute. He never stopped blaming Dawson for his bad fortune, from the day he was booted off the show, until the day he died. Sad, but true and True Hollywood Story brings all the gory details to you in this true documentary that you can watch, uninterrupted and commercial - free!
Moving on to the next victim....Louie Anderson hosted Family Feud from 1999-2002. Yet another lovable stand up comedian, Louie was successful, well-liked and personable? Ah, who are we kidding? Louie was a wise cracking comic, whose material stemmed from being the 10th of 11 kids, growing up poor and struggling. Those topics pretty much dominated Anderson's stand up and continued as he hosted Family Feud. Again, he was in Dawson's shadow; but, his unique comedic style managed to 'up' the ratings for a little while. When interviewed by True Hollywood Story, Louie has a story to tell about his drinking and gambling problems and the scandal that led to his dismissal from the show in 2002. The scandal? Well, briefly, after a night of gambling, Louie propositioned hustler Richard Gordon--and was refused. Years later, Gordon surfaced and asked for $100,000 to keep quiet. Anderson paid. When Gordon upped his price to $250,000, the FBI busted him. Anderson tells THS: "I felt ashamed for what I had done. I don't have any excuses. I did what I did. I take full responsibility for myself and my actions. I wouldn't pawn this off on anybody. I'm sorry it happened. And I, I hurt people. You know, I hurt everybody involved and hurt the show, maybe on some level." Ah, Louie. Eventually, Richard Gordon was shipped off to federal prison for extortion and blackmail; but, the damage was complete. Louis was gone.
On the E! True Hollywood Story: Family Feud, Anderson was quoted in 2002 saying that the show would last one season without him. His prediction proved to be wrong, as the show has continued for four additional seasons. Richard Karn, known as the beloved sidekick for Tim the Tool man of Home Improvement, currently hosts Family Feud, and is slated to be on at least through the 2006-2007 season. Rumour has it that Karn is ready to step down for reasons not yet revealed.
So. Is Family Feud cursed? Each and every host of this very long-running show has a tragic twist to their careers and lives. You can see how Dawson, Combs, and Anderson were affected, shortly after becoming hosts for one of THE most popular series in the history of television. Drinking, gambling, extortion, are only a few of the deadly sins committed during each celebrity's time spent hosting Family Feud. What is it about this show that brings out the best and worst of their personalities? See for yourselves, as you watch the real E! Online True Hollywood Story unfold and reveal all the sordid details that brought three popular comedians to their knees.