When I was a kid, TV game shows were in their prime. The original “Match Game” with Gene Rayburn, “Password” with Allan Ludden, “Concentration” with Hugh Downs, “Hollywood Squares” with Peter Marshall, “Family Feud” with Richard Dawson, and “The $100,000 Pyramid” with Dick Clark were must-see TV.
Our family would huddle around the tiny black-and-white television, and root for contestants while wolfing down a lunch of Swanson Chopped Sirloin Beef TV dinner/Morton Turkey Pot Pie, Tater Tots and Hawaiian Punch.
Next came syndicated prime-time hits “The Dating Game,” The Newlywed Game,” “Wheel of Fortune,” repeats of Groucho’s old “You Bet Your Life,” and, of course, “Jeopardy!,” first with Art Fleming and then with Alex Trebeck, who has hosted the show since 1984.
Well, TV game shows are having a resurgence. “Wheel,” starring ageless Pat and Vanna, “Family Feud,” with Steve Harvey as host, and “Jeopardy!,” with Trebeck, who has been diagnosed with cancer, are leading the way. “Jeopardy” is a ratings bonanza, having its most-watched week in 14 years, due to the incredible run of James Holzhauer and the fact it’s the best and most challenging of all the game shows.
Holzhauer has won 22 consecutive games, earning $1,691,008 to date. He is chasing “Jeopardy!” record holder Ken Jennings, who won 74 times in a row and $2.5 million. Holzhauer will return May 20, after the show’s annual teachers’ tournament.
My wife and I haven’t seen one second of Holzhauer’s amazing run, having been seduced by “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS. But we never miss “Family Feud,” which was named outstanding game show at the Daytime Emmys. No matter what you think of Steve Harvey, he’s the perfect host — funny, sarcastic and playful. The insipid revivals of “To Tell the Truth,” “Pyramid” and “The Gong Show” might have succeeded if Harvey was host.
Harvey, though, is not quite the equal of British-born Dawson, who was also a favorite on the “Match Game” panel with Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. Dawson was the best. He would kiss every female contestant smack on the lips “for good luck, darlin'” and tease players and chastise them for giving a mornonic answer.
For those unfamiliar with the “Feud” format, five members from each of two competing families try to guess the most popular answers to questions asked of 100 people in surveys. A “fast money” competition at the end of the show involves coming up with five quick answers to survey questions within 15 seconds.
On one show, Dawson asked a man, “Name an animal with three letters in its name.” The man said “frog.” Dawson howled with laughter. When he asked the man’s brother the same question, he answered “alligator.” Dawson lost it, as did the audience.
Another time, Dawson asked the question “During what month does a woman start showing she’s pregnant?’ The woman contestant said “September,” and the host could barely continue; every time he tried to speak he’d cry tears of joy.
A quick spin through YouTube videos revealed other highlights. Q: “Name a famous Willie.” A: “Willie the Pooh.” Q: “Name a noisy bird.” A: “Chipmunk.” Q: “Name a yellow fruit.” A: “Orange.”
With Harvey at the helm, “Family Feud” is much more risque than it was back in Dawson’s day. It’s also much funnier; a little scatalogical humor is good for tickling the funny bone. Survey says, the show is racy and smutty, and not as family-friendly. Contestants seem to go out of their way to give salacious answers to questions like “Name something that has white balls” and “Which of the seven dwarfs reminds you of your wife in bed?”
The all-time highlight: One airheaded family was asked “Name a word that comes after pork.” An overly enthusiastic woman from the South answered, “Lawn, Steve. Lawn.” A bemused and bewildered Harvey asked “Huh? Lawn?” The woman screams, “Yes Steve. Lawn. Pork lawn. L-I-O-N (sic). Lawn.” Pork loin was one of the correct answers.
But her equally exuberant brother yelled “Qpine, Steve. Qpine.” when asked to “Name a word that comes after pork.” His family shouted “Good answer” but Harvey responded “Huh? What is Qpine. Qpine is not a word,” finally realizing that it was the most brilliant dumb answer in the show’s history. Host, audience and contestants roared with laughter. You will, too: Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kMBcBdjQl0.