Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

All-Star Family Feud

What's more glorious? That we live in a culture that once pitted the cast of The Love Boat against the cast of WKRP In Cincinnati on a TV game show, or that the moment has been preserved on DVD? From 1979 to 1984, ABC occasionally aired special primetime editions of Family Feud, featuring television personalities winning money to benefit their favorite charities—and promoting their shows to boot. For the celebrities, it was a no-win situation. Were they supposed to behave in an entertaining manner, as they'd been programmed to since young adulthood, or were they supposed to win the game and make money for cancer research? And how could they do either while high on cocaine and bantering with Richard Dawson?


A lot of the fun of watching the four-disc All-Star Family Feud DVD set is in seeing how the celeb-testants respond to Dawson, the host who smiles and schmoozes with each of them as though he's relieved to be among his own kind for a change, instead of SoCal suburbanites and vacationing Okies. Old-guard TV stars like Betty White, Gavin MacLeod, and Dick Van Patten played well with Dawson, while the younger, hipper types, like WKRP's Howard Hesseman, Welcome Back Kotter's Charles Fleischer, and Barney Miller's Steve Landesberg squirmed uncomfortably, trying to retain at least a smidgen of their counterculture credibility. Meanwhile, black stars like Ted Lange, Ron Glass, and Tim Reid endured Dawson's attempts to be "down," and Loni Anderson and pretty much the entire cast of Eight Is Enough received a few more kisses and hugs than usual.

By this point in his career, buoyed by the success of two game shows, Dawson had begun to fancy himself the Johnny Carson of daytime, opening each show with a short, topical monologue, and spending as much time ad-libbing with his guests as playing Feud. And he could be funny, too—especially when he responded snappishly to technical mistakes and bad answers, with an icy tone that undid all his attempts to make himself seem like an ingratiating guy. All-Star Family Feud is packed with famous folk, but throughout, Dawson never let any of them forget that he was both the MC and the BMOC. Which makes for fine show-biz psychodrama.

Key features: Bzzzzzt!