12 Fun Facts About Family Feud
By Garin Pirnia
Created as a spinoff of Match Game, Family Feud got its start in 1976 with Richard Dawson as the first of six hosts—a roster that would later include Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O'Hurley, and current host Steve Harvey. The format is simple: Two teams of families try to come up with the most popular answer to a list of survey questions and bring home a handful of cash. Think you know everything there is to know about the beloved game show? Survey says ...
1. A CONGENIAL HOST IS THE SECRET TO FAMILY FEUD’S SUCCESS.
“In the more game-oriented shows the host is essentially a traffic cop,” TV historian Tim Brooks told The Daily Beast. “On the other hand, someone like Steve Harvey is very involved with the contestants.” However, Family Feud producers attribute the show's longtime high ratings to the more risqué questions.
“A lot of humor has been added in and we’ve added in questions that lean that way,” executive producer Gaby Johnston said. “The material’s a little more—well, not so politically correct, but it’s fun” (which is probably what led to one contestant to answer “gerbil” when asked: What does a doctor pull out of a person?).
2. RICHARD DAWSON SAID HE KISSED THE FEMALE CONTESTANTS TO RELAX THEM.
The 1970s were a different time, as evidenced by the fact that one of original host Richard Dawson’s trademarks was kissing female contestants on the mouth, much to the chagrin of viewers and ABC’s Standards and Practices division. But he claimed there was a certain logic to this signature move.
A few weeks into taping the first season, Dawson noticed a nervous female contestant. The question was: Name a green vegetable. “I got to a lady and I could see her hands just shaking, so I always grabbed a hand and said it’s not open heart surgery,” he told EmmyTVLegends. “She’s still shaking, so I’m going to do something that my mom would do to me whenever I had a problem of any kind. I kissed her on the cheek and I said ‘That’s for luck’ and she said ‘Asparagus.’ It’s like I whispered in her ear, but you can see I didn’t.”
3. NOT ALL VIEWERS WERE A FAN OF DAWSON'S LIBERAL SMOOCHES.
Viewers complained about Dawson's wandering lips to the point where he conducted an informal survey, asking viewers to write in saying either yes or no to the kissing. “I don't remember the exact totals,” producer Howard Felsher told The Washington Post in 1978, “but it was something like 14,000 who said ‘kiss’ and 300 or 400 who said ‘don't kiss.’ It was that lopsided.”
4. DAWSON ENDED UP MARRYING A CONTESTANT.
In 1981, one of the contestants Dawson kissed ended up becoming his second wife. He kissed Gretchen Johnson—her family won $12,659—and in 1991 they married.
5. PEOPLE POLLED FOR THE SURVEYS DON’T KNOW IT’S FOR FAMILY FEUD.
The Wall Street Journal looked into how Family Feud's surveys are conducted and discovered that a polling firm named Applied Research-West phones random people to complete the surveys. According to the article, “The surveyors don’t disclose that the questions are for Family Feud. A typical phone survey includes 30 or 40 questions, culled from 100 submitted to [executive-producer] Gaby Johnston daily by writers and consultants for the show. Topical questions may air as soon as three weeks after the survey responses have been collected and compiled.” But the size of that pool can have a large margin of error. In the show’s beginnings, volunteers answered questions through a mailing list.
6. DAWSON DIDN’T CARE IF FEUD LOST SPONSORS.
One time, a sponsor complained to ABC that Dawson was making too many anti-Richard Nixon jokes. The network told Dawson to stop, but Dawson said on-air that if the sponsor didn’t like the jokes, they could pull out. ABC wanted Dawson’s remark to be edited out, but when Dawson threatened to quit they kept it in. “I know advertisers,” Dawson told The Washington Post. “They’d sponsor Eichmann if he could move Rust-Off, or whatever.”
7. LOUIE ANDERSON HELPED INCREASE THE PRIZE MONEY.
Until 2001, families who won the Fast Money round won only $10,000. But Louie Anderson grew up watching Feud and told The A.V. Club that he understood how viewers "live vicariously" through game shows, and that he wanted to see the winners walk away with even more cash. So in 2001, during his tenure as host, he managed to talk the producers into doubling the prize money to $20,000.
“You’re rooting for those people who are playing, you really are,” he said. “So I feel very proud about my days on the Feud. I took the money and really feel like I talked them into—or had a big part in helping them—make [the grand prize] $20,000 instead of $10,000.”
8. BEING OVER-THE-TOP IS ONE WAY TO GET ON THE SHOW.
On Family Feud’s website, co-executive producer and head of casting Sara Dansby offers some tips for families looking to become contestants on the show. Being energetic is a big thing and “there’s no such thing as too over-the-top,” she wrote. “Pick the most outgoing members of the family when putting together your team. We love loud and energetic contestants.” She also suggests families be confident and just be themselves.
9. STEVE HARVEY HAS HEARD A LOT OF DUMB ANSWERS.
While appearing on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Meyers asked Steve Harvey the dumbest answer he has ever heard to a survey question. “The question was, ‘If a robber breaks into the house, what’s the most unexpected thing he would hate to run into?’ You’re thinking, you know, an owner with a gun. You’re thinking a dog … this country dude goes: ‘A naked grandma!,’” Harvey said. “You just go, ‘What … what did … what … why is that your answer?'”
“Name a word or phrase that begins with pork” is another question that resulted in a dumb answer: “pork-cupine.” “Pork-cupine is not a damn word,” Harvey said.
10. DAWSON PRETENDED THAT THE DUMB ANSWERS "MADE SENSE."
Unlike Harvey, who tends to give a hard time to contestants for their silly answers, Dawson took a different approach. “Everything about the show fit perfectly for me or how I think,” he told EmmyTVLegends. “Usually, I say ‘good answer,’ in a sarcastic way. ‘Name a vegetable you have to peel to eat.’ They’d say grape, and I‘d say ‘good answer.’ Or if I say, ‘the dictator we fought against in World War II’—they’d say Otto Preminger and I’d say ‘the Otto Preminger?’ I’d talk to them like they had made sense.”
11. THE GAME SHOW HAS GONE GLOBAL.
Family Feud has been translated into many different languages and countries. Familetna, Algeria’s version, debuted in 2014. Familien-Duell was Germany’s answer to Family Feud. There have been a lot of Latin America adaptations, including Mexico’s current 100 Mexicanos Dijieron, and ¿Qué Dice La Gente?, which ran from 2006 to 2008. La Guerre des Clans airs in Canada, and until last year, Vietnam ran Chung Sức.
12. DAWSON IMPROVISED HIS ROLE IN THE RUNNING MAN.
In 1987, Dawson played a version of himself in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. In an interview, screenwriter Steven de Souza revealed that Dawson tried to entertain the bored extras. “He would just arbitrarily call somebody in the audience up on the stage and say, 'Where you from?,' but that’s not in the script!” de Souza said. “It’s what he would do in the real TV show.”
Dawson’s off-the-cuff dialogue became problematic, so de Souza had to rework the script. “With Richard Dawson ad libbing on and on, you go, ‘Well, why doesn’t Arnold knock out a guard and take a machine gun? Why does he just stand around like a schmuck while this guy’s rambling on?’ So we had to solve that problem,” de Souza said. “If you scrutinize the movie now, you can see where we skipped over that problem as quickly as possible.”