[06/24/08 - 12:03 AM]
Interview: "Celebrity Family Feud" Host Al Roker
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

The saying goes that everything old is new again and with CBS finding summer success with "Million Dollar Password," it's only fitting that NBC would look to another favorite game show to fill some space on it's summer schedule. "Celebrity Family Feud" arrives tonight at 8pm EST/PT with jovial Today Show weatherman Al Roker taking over hosting duties.

Talking to Roker and executive producers Gaby Johnston and Toby Gorman, it sounds like despite a few tweaks, this is same entertaining "Family Feud" of yesteryear. With this prime time incarnation expanding to one-hour in length, celebrities such as Joan Rivers, Mo'nique, Viveca A. Fox, Ice-T and Margaret Cho appear with their families to compete for a cash prize for the charity of their choice. As Gorman explains, "We have three rounds so we have two celebrity families compete which produces a winner. Then you have another two celebrity families compete which produces a winner. Then the two winners go head to head and whoever wins that round goes through to fast money for their chance to win...50 grand."

By using celebrities and their families, the curiosity of the viewers should be satisfied. "America's curious about who the celebrity families are, who their people are. So, for instance, we had Ice-T and his wife and his son, and a couple of others. That's what's kind of fascinating in this version of the show."

Roker also pointed out that Kathie Lee Gifford's appearance on the show with her family proved that point because "so many people in America heard her and saw...Cassidy and Cody. Well, you're going to see Cassidy and Cody grown up which is pretty...great on the show." While Kathie and her famous husband, Frank, played, Roker says, "the kids were really the stars in a sense."

Being very diplomatic about how the different families did on the show, Roker would only say that, "I think everybody did pretty well...I mean, one team had to win and one team had to lose. But I don't think there was anybody � any teams � that embarrassed themselves." He did add that, "there were some teams that...we thought might do as well, and did pretty well."

Besides celebrity families, the game show also promises to bring together the casts of some of NBC's most popular series. Besides "American Gladiators" and "My Name is Earl," the show will also feature the cast members from "The Office."

Like they were in the original "Family Feud," a group of people is polled with a question and contestants must guess the top answers. The contestant with the most top answers correct gets to utilize their fellow family members to play another round and, hopefully, get more correct than the competing family.

As for the questions themselves, "Questions are a little more topical...we ask things about all sort of areas in life." Though Roker and his producers referred to "Celebrity Family Feud" as a family show, some questions definitely fall into more risqu� territory. Johnston commented that, "if you saw the answers, [they] are very clean up on the board." She added, "When you're dealing with celebrities as opposed to...regular families you need to kind of make it slightly more enticing and humorous."

Explaining further, Roker said if viewers watched the old shows from the seventies and eighties, "these were shows that [were] also...family shows but there was, you know, a little wink-wink, nod-nod." Roker also promises that, "we're not going to do anything that's going to make anybody embarrassed because, well, I've got kids and I hope they're going to be sitting down watching the show. So we're going to...[be] very careful about it."

As for his hosting responsibilities, Roker realizes he has big shoes to fill since it's next to impossible to think of the original "Family Feud" without thinking of the legendary lady-smoocher Richard Dawson. Roker doesn't necessarily dispel any notions that he might steal a kiss here or there if the mood strikes him. "Oh, you never know. I mean, yeah, it's one of those things � you kind of do this as you go along and...I know at least I'm going to start with a good, firm, hearty handshake and we'll see where we go from there." Roker added that he is just as much a fan of Dawson's. "Everybody who has done [the hosting job] has done a terrific job. You know, I gotta tell you...the host of the show is Richard Dawson."

Johnston is quick to give Roker props by saying that, "every host does it different but [Roker] brings a lot of warmth...[and] it works perfectly that a family show with Al Roker just seemed like a natural match." Gorman agreed. "I think people were amazed how easy Al took it on. You know, it's a big show to take on and it's...hard work."

One thing that did surprise Roker once he started the hosting job was, "just how much work it is. I mean, I have such respect for Richard Dawson and all the guys who did this because it is hard, hard work. I was pretty well wiped out when I was done." He commended Johnston and Gorman for helping him adjust to the task. "That I was even able to kind of walk my way through this thing was because of Gaby and Toby. You know, they've got this thing down to a science. And what I loved is its such a high-tech world but it's still pretty much the same way they did the show in the 1970s."

Perhaps showing what a fan he's always been of "Family Feud," Roker offered, "I can honestly tell you, hand to the Bible, it is the only game show that I have ever wanted to do. I am so excited about this and no matter what happens with it, I will be able to say I...was the host of 'Family Feud.'"

The inevitable question is why? Why revive Family Feud now? Gorman explains that the game show [renamed "Family Fortunes"] has actually been airing in England for the last two years and is a huge show, paired with "X Factor," the Brit's version of "American Idol." "Last year ["Family Fortunes"] was the most watched game show on British television." Gorman has his own theory about the current resurgence. "I think there's a real trend for these classic successful shows to come back and that trend is being shared on both sides of the ocean. And it was a network � actually, do you know where it came from? I can tell you what it comes from. It came from 'Game Show Marathon.' We had 'Game Show Marathon' in England...and, particularly, I think the...'Family Feud' edition of 'Game Show Marathon' did really well with audience so they decided to give it a go."

"Celebrity Family Feud" has six episodes ready for the summer and, if audiences respond the way they have for "Million Dollar Password," it won't be long before we see other game show revivals in prime time. "Card Sharks '08" anyone?

  [june 2008]  


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