The Dark Side Of These Game Show Hosts – Nicki Swift

Game shows exist all over the world, but they’re an enduring television phenomenon in the United States. From the early days of television until now, these fun, entertaining, thrilling, and sometimes even educational displays of friendly but intense competition have filled countless hours of daytime and evening time slots for broadcasters. Whether it’s a word puzzle game like Wheel of Fortune, a quiz show like Jeopardy!, or a random guessing game like Deal or No Deal, these shows are an utter delight, allowing regular people like Joe and Jill Television-Viewer to live vicariously and wonder what they’d do with that prize money, or how they’d react if they were to finally meet the almost legendary hosts of those shows.

These hosts are as virtually unchanged in demeanor over six decades of TV as the formats of the shows. These MCs are brotherly, friendly, low-key enthusiastic, and almost invariably impeccably dressed with great heads of hair. But sometimes, game show hosts are not necessarily good people, or at least all the time. Everybody’s human, and everybody’s got a little darkness and nastiness inside of them — even some of the most famous and beloved game show hosts of all time.

Bob Eubanks is bad at telling jokes

The smooth and easygoing Bob Eubanks has hosted a lot of game shows over the years, but he’s probably most associated with The Newlywed Game. The format is simple: Three recently married couples are quizzed on aspects about their spouses and how their spouse might answer. The questions themselves ranged from the boring to the envelope-pushing, usually something about the couple’s habits and history in the area of “making whoopee.” Eubanks dutifully played his role as the objective observer, pretending to be shocked at the safe-for-mid-century-TV while cultivating an atmosphere of naughty fun.

The very embodiment of a neutral and excitable game show host, Eubanks never gave off any strong vibes one way or the other, up until the release of Roger and Me in 1989. The first film from comic documentarian Michael Moore, Roger and Me examined the effect of the downsizing of a General Motors production facility in Flint, Michigan. Moore nabbed an interview with Flint native Eubanks, who told a sleazy joke that managed to be homophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic. And this wasn’t a one-time lapse in judgment — according to The Advocate, Eubanks made another homophobic joke during a 2012 live send-up of The Newlywed Game. This likely would’ve led to calls for Eubanks to be fired from his TV jobs, but by 2012, he was no longer an active game show host.

Bob Barker was a terrible boss

Even if you didn’t count his other programs, hosting The Price is Right alone puts Bob Barker in the leagues of legendary game show hosts. He started helping excitable people come on down, guess the price of a vacuum cleaner, play Plinko, and win a brand new car and whatever trips were part of the Showcase Showdown way back in 1972 and continued all the way to 2007, by which point his daytime staple and sick-day favorite was the last game show standing on network TV. His daily sign-off implored viewers to spay and neuter their animals, which helped control the pet population and signify that Barker was a good guy with a big heart.

Multiple women who appeared as “Barker’s Beauties,” the models who presented and showed off prizes on The Price is Right, would disagree with that statement. In 1994, longtime cast member Dian Parkinson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Barker. According to Time, Barker admitted to having a physical relationship with Parkinson, but attested that it was consensual. Barker and his lawyers set out to publicly discredit Parkinson and call her lawsuit into question, which she dropped, claiming it adversely affected her health. Fellow Price is Right model Holly Hallstrom reached a settlement on her suit with Barker, which alleged that she was treated terribly by the host for refusing to criticize Parkinson in the media, and also that “she was fired from the show for gaining weight.”

Dick Clark manipulated pop music for personal gain

Dick Clark helped millions celebrate each December 31 with the annual Dick Clark’s New Year’s RockinEve special, and he also used his friendly, approachable charm to help regular people win big bucks playing word association games on The $25,000 Pyramid (later boosted to The $100,000 Pyramid). All of that sprang from his work hosting the venerable American Bandstand from the 1950s to the 1980s. Under Clark’s guidance, the Philadelphia show became a national showcase for major musical acts and rising stars. Some booking practices on American Bandstand could have derailed Clark’s career not long after it began.

Per History, in 1960, the House Committee on Legislative Oversight looked into the “payola” scandal, a sleazy moment in music history in which it was discovered that broadcasters received kickbacks and other illegal incentives for giving airtime to preferred singers and bands. Investigators discovered that Clark had a stake in 33 different music companies (via History), many of whom got their acts a coveted performance slot on American Bandstand. That, in turn, drove record sales, leading Clark to secretly and greatly profit. “I think the crime I have committed,” a defiant Clark told Congress, “if any, is that I made a great deal of money in a short time on little investment.” By the time of his non-apology to the government, Clark had sold off his record label stock, because American Bandstand‘s network, ABC, suggested he do so. He was not punished for his financial misdeeds.

Jack Barry's game show was a scam

According to Closer Weekly, the 1956–58 show Twenty One featured two brainy contestants competing to correctly answer the toughest questions. Whoever got to a score of 21 first won. That’s a loose format without a guaranteed winner — on the first episode, both contestants went on a 17-question losing streak. Representatives from sponsor Geritol were so upset and ashamed that producer Dan Enright and host/producer Jack Barry conspired to rig the show, to make it more exciting. Not only did they see to it that contestants were coached, but they also convinced a contestant to take a fall. Enright and Barry promised Herbert Stempel a spot on a new quiz show if he’d lose on purpose to handsome, TV-friendly college professor Charles Van Doren. After Stempel attempted to blackmail Enright, the New York State District Attorney’s office discovered the whole charade, busting Twenty One and leading to a series of fairness-minded rules and regulations TV game shows still adhere to today.

After a period out of the spotlight, Barry returned to producing and hosting game shows, first in Canada and then in America, on ’70s-era hits The Joker’s Wild and Break the Bank.

Anne Robinson was not on board with #MeToo

After ABC made primetime game shows hot with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, NBC answered in 2001 with Weakest Link. After each round, contestants would vote out one of their own they considered to be the weakest player, or link, in the chain. That moment would prompt host Anne Robinson, a stern, stoic British lady, to bark, “You are the Weakest Link, goodbye!” Robinson ended each episode with a playful grin to viewers at home, to show that maybe she wasn’t such a harsh person in real life.

But in October 2017, Robinson, not in character as a game show host, demonstrated a distinct lack of empathy. The #MeToo movement had just launched, with proponents seeking to put an end to sexual harassment and sexually aggressive behavior, particularly in places of employment. Robinson wasn’t impressed. When she was a younger woman, decades ago, as she told BBC Radio 4 (via The Telegraph), society “had a much more robust attitude” to appropriate actions. “In my day we gave them a slap, and told them to grow up.” Then she cast scorn on “the fragility of the women who are unable to deal with the treachery of the workplace.” In other words, Robinson publicly engaged in a bit of eye-rolling and victim-blaming.

Chuck Woolery has some curious thoughts on civil rights

Chuck Woolery had everything a guy needed to be a successful game show host in the 1980s: an affable demeanor, a strong but soothing voice, and the ability to fill out a suit. Woolery was all over daytime TV at the time, as the original host of Wheel of Fortune, the only host of Scrabble, and the curious cupid at the heart of the confessional video dating service that called itself Love Connection.

Fully entrenched in the collective American psyche as a friendly, inoffensive guy, it was a little surprising regardless of one’s personal politics when, in the 21st century, Woolery started telling the world how he really felt about things. 

His beliefs fell hard to the right on the conservative side of the spectrum, with some not entirely aligned with the mainstream Republican philosophy. According to HuffPost, Woolery appeared on a radio show with former Republican Congressional representative Michele Bachmann and explained that he didn’t think minorities needed civil rights protections, because all people, regardless of marginalization, already had certain guaranteed rights. He also said that everyone experiences bias — even him. “I’m discriminated against all the time,” he said, adding, “because I’m old. I’m too old to get a job as a game show host.”

Alec Baldwin and anger are a real match

After making a go of it as a matinee idol in ’90s big-screen action movies like The Hunt for Red October and The Shadow, Alec Baldwin reinvented himself as a TV comedy actor, winning multiple Emmys for his work on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. His latest laughs-oriented small-screen role: hosting the rollicking ABC primetime revival of Match Game.

While he’s a funny guy on television, off-screen, Baldwin has had his moments of intensity. In 2013, a paparazzo tried to take a photo of Baldwin, prompting the actor to chase them down and utter a profane, homophobic slur. In 2014, Baldwin unleashed similar anti-gay profanity in a tweet directed at a former aide to politician Mitt Romney (via Buzzfeed News).

And back in 2007, Baldwin levied his nastiest vitriol at his own daughter. A voicemail he left for then-11-year-old daughter Ireland Baldwin leaked to the media via TMZ. She’d missed a phone call from her father, and that got him very upset. “I don’t give a damn that you’re 12-years-old or 11-years-old, or a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the a** who doesn’t care about what you do,” he screamed, bringing ex-wife Kim Basinger into the conversation, which was topped off by the actor calling Ireland a “thoughtless little pig.”

Kevin Hart keeps making anti-gay comments

Eager for programming that could be produced from participants’ homes during 2020 coronavirus lockdowns, E! ordered Celebrity Game Face, a game show produced and hosted by Kevin Hart. According to The Wrap, the show replicates a couples’ game night with video conferencing technology. There were no same-sex pairings on Celebrity Game Face, which makes sense considering Hart’s history of comments and jokes that could be considered homophobic. 

In a 2016 interview with New York radio station Power 105.1 (via The Hollywood Reporter), he discussed turning down a role in the movie Tropic Thunder because the character was gay. A couple of years later, Hart landed the plum gig of hosting the 2019 Academy Awards, but then lost it days later when some tweets dating back a few years resurfaced. In one posting (via The Verge), Hart said that if he ever caught his son playing with his daughter’s dollhouse, he would “break it over his head” and tell him to stop it because “that’s gay.” 

The Guardian also reminded the world of a part of Hart’s 2010 special Seriously Funny, wherein he mentioned that one of his “biggest fears” is having a gay son. “Being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will,” Hart quipped. “Every kid has a gay moment but when it happens, you’ve got to nip it in the bud!”

Steve Harvey doesn't like to be bothered

Family Feud was a smash hit in the ’70s and floated along in the decades since with various hosts, enjoying a boost in popularity when Steve Harvey — an actor, talk show host, author, suit aficionado, and Original King of Comedy — began headlining the game in 2010. It’s often the most-watched show in syndication (beating even the likes of Wheel of Fortune and Judge Judy), and primetime celebrity iterations with Harvey doing his usual schtick of cracking wise, gently teasing contestants, and holding court.

Behind the scenes, however, Harvey doesn’t come across as welcoming of a guy as he does on TV. In 2017, a memo that Harvey emailed to the crew of his daytime talk show leaked to media outlets, including Robert Feder’s Chicago media blog. In it, Harvey laid out the rules for how underlings were to treat him. “Do not come to my dressing room unless invited,” he wrote. “Do not approach me while I’m in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly,” he added. All of this, Harvey unnecessarily explained, was for the benefit of his “personal life and enjoyment.” 

Harvey later confirmed and defended the memo to ET (via Deadline). “I could not find a way to walk from the stage to my dressing room, to sit in my makeup chair, to walk from my dressing room to the stage or to just sit and have lunch without somebody just walking in,” Harvey said.

Nick Cannon was fired after some remarks he made on his podcast

Nick Cannon did what so many of his fellow teen stars couldn’t: successfully transition to a career in the entertainment industry as an adult. After finding fame on Nickelodeon’s kid sketch comedy show All That, then starring in teen movies like Drumline and Roll Bounce, Cannon settled into a career as a comedian and as a host of unconventional game shows, such as MTV’s improv comedy standoff showcase Wild ‘n Out (which he created) and the bizarre Fox mega-hit The Masked Singer, which lets formerly famous people sing their hearts out while disguised in elaborate costumes.

Of Cannon’s many gigs, he lost all of them that fell under the corporate purview of ViacomCBS, including Wild ‘ Out, in 2020 after he delivered anti-Semitic commentary on an episode of his podcast Cannon’s Class. According to a statement released through Variety, ViacomCBS personnel thought Cannon’s remarks about how Black people are the “true Hebrews” and spreading anti-Jewish conspiracy theories “promoted hateful speech.”

After his expulsion from ViacomCBS, Cannon apologized to his “Jewish Brothers and Sisters” via Facebook but then requested the company apologize to him and make things right. “I demand full ownership of my billion dollar Wild ‘N Out brand that I created, and they will continue to misuse and destroy without my leadership!” he wrote. “I demand that the hate and back door bullying cease and while we are at it, now that the truth is out, I demand the Apology!”

Ben Stein issued some unpopular takes on hot topics

Ben Stein was an unlikely celebrity, let alone a game show host. The former speechwriter for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford made a memorable impression as a boring teacher in the teen classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (“Anyone? Anyone?”). He looked like a smart individual, which Comedy Central sent up with the game show Win Ben Stein’s Money. The innovative program pitted Stein in a battle of wits against regular people — their prize money came out of Stein’s appearance fee.

That show ended in 2002, and in 2008, Stein co-wrote and starred in the anti-evolution documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. That’s all well and good, but Stein and the film argued that supporting science was un-American, and that evolution was a Nazi notion. The Anti-Defamation League publicly denounced the film.

Stein also penned a defense for The American Spectator (via LA Weekly) of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former manager of the International Monetary Fund, accused of several sexual assaults. While he was never found guilty of a criminal charge, he settled a civil suit with one plaintiff. Stein cast doubt on the accusation of one woman, a hotel maid, because of her profession. “I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me,” Stein wrote. “How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?”

Richard Dawson could play the feud

Richard Dawson is one of the most memorable game show hosts of all time because of his blatant and utter refusal to perform the basic duties required of a game show host. An expert master of ceremonies is supposed to keep the game moving along, but not Dawson, who’d wile away large chunks of a Family Feud episode’s 30 minutes, chatting up contestants, telling long stories about his acting days, delivering jokes, and flirting with female Feud-ers. And by flirting, we mean kissing — it was a habit if not ritual for Dawson to deliver a full, on-the-mouth kiss to every adult woman who just wanted to play the Feud with her relatives. There’s no way that could happen on TV anytime past the 1970s and 1980s — when Dawson hosted Family Feud  –but it at least seemed to come from a place of gregariousness and affection.

What audiences didn’t see was that Dawson was apparently not so easy-going and carefree. According to David Baber’s Television Game Show Hosts, Dawson was a prickly individual, arguing with producers over the validity of contestant responses, and his penchant for stories and jokes were a nightmare for editors because the episodes would routinely run five minutes too long. Dawson would also get fired up over minor on-set glitches, like burned-out lightbulbs, and at one point replaced a Family Feud producer with his own daughter-in-law.

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