Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Family Feud has always been one of my favorite game shows. I watched it religiously during the 1970s. Part of its attraction, particularly in those rather dull, network-only days, was its unpredictability. Given a little pressure and a somewhat tricky question, there's no telling what somebody might blurt out. Plus, in the years before reality TV made every ordinary joe a "star," Feud was one of the few times you saw people on TV who looked and acted like folks you knew.
I cut my teeth on the glorious Richard Dawson years -- all that tongue-kissing, on-set smoking and boozy, manic behavior -- but continued to dabble through Ray Combs tenure. The ensuing hosts never engaged me, and I really missed the analog answer-board that flipped over with a resounding ding.
And now we're back with another Celebrity Family Feud, itself a pretty dusty concept: The celebrity families or groups playing for charity dates back to the Dawson era.
Much about Feud remains constant: the same game; the same patter ("One hundred people surveyed, the top six answers on the board ..."); and virtually the same set (though who doesn't miss that sampler-and-hillbilly motif of yore, meant to invoke such great domestic battles as the Hatfields vs. McCoys).
But I did note some "updates," none of them good: They've added five seconds to the bonus round. Today's "families" can include your personal assistant or the actors who play your parents on a TV show, which is kinda sad. The contestants are much heavier -- that side shot at the buzzer isn't doing a lot of this gang any favors. Also, plastic surgery has run amok! Among the alarming: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Mrs. Ice-T, Wayne Newton and Mrs. Wayne Newton. (But that's not so bad: Part of the fun is to catch the celebs in a harsh light or saying something stupid.)
What did irk me was the double-stupid idea of both dumbing down and sexing up the questions. "What's slippery and hard to hold onto?" "What would an older woman buy her boy-toy?" "You give a baby a pacifier; what do you give a man to calm him down?"
Not only does this wink-wink stuff feel dated (and the domain of 10-year-old boys), but such questions are designed to elicit funny answers rather than test the admittedly marginal skills needed to play Feud.
The fun of the game for viewers at home is not so much giving your best answer, but guessing what 100 people surveyed might have said. In the old days, they polled the studio audience, significantly shrinking the demographic. So a question like "Where's a good place for a first date?" isn't what you think -- The Maritime Museum, the drag strip or my mom's house -- but what the average, middle-aged woman living in the L.A. suburbs would say. Being inclined to have real-life wrong answers, I loved the mind-game of having to assume another identity, slip into the brain of Judy from Riverside, in order to do well while playing along.
Needless to say, the mind of Mrs. Ice-T, the overly pneumatic Coco, who seemed to have trouble just walking, talking and finding the buzzer, is not a place I want to visit.