(NEXSTAR) – Richard Dawson, the kiss-happy original host of “Family Feud,” wasn’t the producers’ first choice for the job. Instead, he said, they wanted to boldly go with another popular actor of the era.
Dawson had been a fixture on U.S. game shows for years before “Family Feud” debuted in 1976, most notably as a regular panelist on CBS’s revival of “Match Game” between 1973 and 1978. During that time, he became good friends with “Match Game” co-producer Mark Goodson, one-half of the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman production team.
Dawson, who became quite popular with both viewers and contestants, said Goodson took notice and offered him a job hosting whichever game show he produced next.
“I had a deal with Mark Goodson, that the next pilot they went [with] — whatever it was — they would have to offer me,” said Dawson in a 2010 interview with the Television Academy.
“Suddenly we hear they’re going to do a new pilot called ‘Family Feud.’ They’re interviewing people, and it looks as though … [William] Shatner … he was on the leading edge of getting it,” Dawson remembered.
William Shatner was several years removed from “Star Trek” by that time, but still a household name and a frequent guest on quiz shows.
“Game shows were fun and I enjoyed doing them,” Shatner wrote in “Up Till Now,” his 2008 autobiography. “They provided great exposure — it was very good publicity for whatever project I was doing — but mostly for me. And finally, by any ordinary standards the money was good.”
Among others, Shatner made appearances as a celebrity guest on “Tattletales,” “To Tell the Truth,” “Hollywood Squares” and “The $20,000 Pyramid,” once famously throwing his chair during an episode of the latter, after accidentally ruining a contestant’s chances at the top prize.
In his book, Shatner added that Goodson and Todman “really liked me,” but stopped short of revealing whether he was in the running to host “Family Feud.” (In a statement provided to Nexstar, Shatner — via his assistant — confirmed he was never formally contacted about the job.)
The way Dawson tells it, however, the job was Shatner’s to lose. At the time, Shatner had been married to the daughter of TV executive Perry Lafferty, who was head of West Coast programming at CBS when Goodson and Todman were developing “Family Feud.”
Upon hearing Goodson was eyeing Shatner, Dawson and his agent confronted Goodson. Dawson was told he could still audition and responded by telling Goodson it was all but pointless.
“’[Lafferty] doesn’t have any more daughters that I can marry,’” Dawson remembers telling Goodson, facetiously.
Dawson was nevertheless given his shot to audition, and it went swimmingly by his own account. “Everything about the show fit perfectly for me,” he said.
Dawson was ultimately given the job, but Shatner didn’t suffer for it. He soon went on to find success with the “Star Trek” film series and a starring role in “T.J. Hooker,” ultimately becoming a legendary actor, author and recording artist.
He also got his shot to host a few game shows — an early version of “Iron Chef USA” and a “Deal or No Deal”-type show called “Show Me the Money” — but both were short-lived. Once, he claimed, he was also approached with the idea for a show called “Land a Million,” the premise being that Shatner, an experienced pilot, would take a contestant into the air and then “bail,” forcing the contestant to land the plane. If they did, they could keep the million dollars that was stashed in the back of the plane.
“I don’t know what happened, but the show never went into production,” he wrote.