Hi there. Welcome back to another installment of “What Went Wrong?”. Today, I’m not interviewing a host, but a producer. He is the son of a host though, and his name is Gary Dawson. Now with a last name like Dawson…..
Yeah, that’s the guy. Gary’s the son of the legendary Richard Dawson, better known as Corporal Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes and this guy in a movie starring the current governor of California.
And now, if you’d like to see what Gary looks like, here he is.
I had the opportunity to interview him over Facebook, but he was nice enough to e-mail it to me in a Word document, saving quite a bit of time for me. As for his background, Gary’s done a bit of work in the lottery game show business, including a game show hosted by Mark L. Walberg.
Greg Palmer: Hi, Gary. First off, we’re just gonna get this out of the way. Your father is Richard Dawson! Newkirk! That guy that’s always picked on Match Game. Damon Killian! I’m guessing he had a pretty big influence in your career. Am I right?
Gary Dawson: Since both my parents were successful in the entertainment field, I always knew that I wanted to be in show business in some capacity but I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go in. Eventually I got into producing and really enjoy what I do.
GP: With your dad and Goodson-Todman being so close, I bet you had (and correct me if I’m wrong) all these people from Match Game come over to your house for dinner or a party or something like that. It seems to me that your house was loaded with celebrities (Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, Johnny Olson, etc.) and you made an awful lot of friends in the business. Growing up, how normal was your childhood? Was I pretty accurate or far off?
GD: My dad was always a very private person so he didn’t have a lot of show business parties at the house. He had a couple of close friends but wasn’t much of a partier. I used to go down to the tapings of Match Game all the time and loved hanging out in the green room talking to all the celebs like Charles and Brett and Johnny… They were all really nice people and very sweet to me being Richard’s son. — I think the most fun I had though was when I was very young going to the set of Hogan’s Heroes. On the same lot they used to film Gomer Pyle and The Wild Wild West and my brother and I would always go exploring around all the great sets. It really was a kid’s dream playground!
GP: According to this video that’s up on YouTube, you were living in England for some time. You decided to come back and start producing. According to your IMDB page, you started off as a production assistant on Feud. What exactly did you do on the show?
GD: My family is all from England. My wife is from England. I have lived there on and off over the years and will always visit. I love it. In regards to my PA position on Feud. Remember when my dad would say, “100 people surveyed, here is the question,” well I was the guy that used to tabulate all of those surveys. They would be mailed out to people, usually about 25 questions and the people would send them back and I would have to open all that mail and go through and write down all the people’s answers… And let me tell you, there were some STRANGE ones. Sometimes we would post some of the more bizarre answers on a bulletin board for a laugh.
GP: After that, you went to Card Sharks as a member of the production staff. What did you do there, and what was it like?
GD: On Card Sharks I was an Associate Producer and it was my job to book all of the special audience groups that we would have. We would feature special groups like “women millionaires” on the show or “Olympic gold medal winners” and I would have to find all those people, book them for the show and then have them answer all the questions that we used on the program. It was actually really interesting meeting a lot of the people that came on.
GP: Then, you went onto Now You See It, a revival of the old show. What was that like?
GD: Now You See It was my first big producing job. I always liked the show as a kid and I wanted to see it brought back. I developed the new version with Andrew Felsher at the company and we brought it to Mark Goodson. He thought what we had done with it was a big improvement over the original and we ending up getting a sale.
GP: NYSI lasted only 3 months and 11 days. It was replaced with Wheel of Fortune, which by comparison, lasted close to 17 months on CBS. According to the credits and your IMDB page, you were the producer at the time. Also, it’s been said that Chuck Henry asked that his run not be shown on GSN. I saw an episode, and I think he did pretty well. I like the format. You did what you could with it, and you made changes that made sense yet kept the original aspect (a word search). The Wikipedia page on the show says it suffered some serious competition with talk shows. However, I’m curious to hear your side. So, Gary, what went wrong? Why did the show last only 3 months and 11 days?
GD: This show actually was doing pretty well comparatively in the ratings when Wheel of Fortune was cancelled by NBC. CBS couldn’t resist picking it up and our slot was the only logical spot to put it in. Interestingly enough, Wheel did the same ratings as we did in that time slot. It really was a time when game shows were all being replaced by talk shows in daytime television. I still believe in that format and think it could still work.
GP: Now, if you pay attention to the credits, you’ll see that the executive producer for the 1989 run was Jonathan Goodson, son of Mark Goodson. Jon later went on to produce game shows for state lotteries, and I think I read your name in the crawls of some of them. Which ones have you worked on?
GD: I co-created and produced the very first 2 pilots of the lottery shows that we did at Mark Goodson Productions. It was Jonathan’s project to go after state lotteries. The first one we sold was actually Estonia and that was a show that I created along with Andy Felsher. I spent 6 weeks in Estonia starting that show up. Let me tell you, if you can produce a show in Estonia, you can produce a show anywhere! It was quite a challenge. — I also co-created shows for Illinois, Massachusetts, and Florida for Jon Goodson. After I left the company and went into competition with him, we took the Florida show and did shows for the New York lottery.
GP: How different was it working on a lottery game show than, say, Family Feud?
GD: Very different in a lot of ways. First, you are dealing with unscreened contestants and it can be challenging to get them to be animated and let their personalities come out. Dealing with government bureaucrats has its share of challenges too.
GP: I bet you didn’t know this at the time, Gary, but on Flamingo Fortune, you were working with Rich Fields, who would become the announcer of The Price is Right in 2004. He’s not doing it now, but JD Roberto is.
GD: Of course I remember Rich Fields. Also JD. Re-connected with him a couple of months ago actually.
GP: So many of the games repeat themselves in these shows. There always seems to be a variant of “Double Dollars”. However, what made $1,000,000 Flamingo Fortune unique was not only the fact that Game Show Network was co-producing it, but that the end game was a variant of Card Sharks. Why is that?
GD: I know because I created the game. I left Jon Goodson to start a division at Sony/Columbia Tri-Star to launch lottery shows around the world and migrate the lottery games to mobile phones and the Internet. Game Show Network was part of Sony. [It still is, Gary.] Many games are derivative of other games and the “higher-lower” aspect of cards is certainly a game that has been around long before Card Sharks used it. We just adapted another version of that game mechanic because we thought it quite compelling and dramatic.
GP: Now, one of your more recent projects is Make Me a Millionaire for the California Lottery. 2 things are unique about this show. First off, you co-produced it with J.D. Roth, from The Biggest Loser and Unan1mous. How did that work out?
GD: It was a co-production with my very good friends at 3Ball Productions, JD Roth and Todd Nelson. They are the greatest guys that I have ever worked with.
GP: The other thing is you worked with Mark L. Walberg. How did that work out?
GD: Mark is a real pro. You tell him something once and he gets it instantly. There are not many guys in the business that have that skill.
GP: Most of the games on MMaM came somewhat directly from Flamingo Fortune. Why is that?
GD: We own those games and those are the games that the lottery liked. It was our intention to introduce 2 or 3 new games a year into the show but we wanted to start with those games because everyone knew they worked.
GP: Now, for this one, I’m not going to ask what went wrong. I know what happened. According to Mr. Walberg, the reason the show bombed was because of the budget. I don’t think it was any fault of your own.
GD: It’s funny because if you look at the numbers, we increased tickets sales over The Big Spin by 40%… Our lottery ticket was the CA lottery’s best selling $1 ticket in their history and we were extremely profitable. The lottery seemed to think that they could make as much from introducing a couple of new $5 tickets as they made on the show without the cost of doing the show… I hope that works out for them. I personally don’t agree with their logic.
[And neither do I. If you’re in California and you’re reading this, contact the California Lottery and ask them to bring back Make Me a Millionaire!]
GP: Another one of your more recent projects is Instant Recall, with Wink Martindale for GSN. First off, how did you get involved with the show?
GD: I co-created the show with Ron Deutsch, the creator of Cash Cab. They bought 8 episodes.
GP: What was it like working with Wink? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share with us?
GD: Wink is a great guy and a real talent. We had a great time on the set reminiscing about past experiences and stories when he worked with my dad. He is a very nice man and a great host.
GP: As you probably have guessed, Instant Recall did not last long on GSN and is panned tremendously. You’re co-executive producer. You had a great background, a lot of experience, what seemed like a unique spin on Candid Camera, and Wink Martindale. You had Wink Martindale, one of the 7 wonders of the game show world! So, what went wrong?
GD: As I mentioned, Ron Deutsch and I created the show. GSN gave us very little money to do the pilot and so consequently when they wanted to buy the show, they had some concerns about the look and slickness of the program. They consequently took the show from us but gave control to another producer and developed the program by committee at the network. It became the classic show business story of a good program that was radically different from the original concept.
GP: Gary, there seems to be a trend of people you wouldn’t expect to host a game show actually hosting them. You’ve got Drew Carey hosting The Price is Right, Sherri Shepherd hosting The Newlywed Game, and Steve Harvey hosting Family Feud! Of course, back in 1976, the idea of your father hosting Feud was pretty novel too. What’s your stance on all this?
GD: I think it’s great. Although I don’t think any of these new versions of these shows hold a candle to the originals.
GP: Have you seen the new Feud with Steve Harvey? If so, what do you think of it?
GD: I have not.
GP: Are you and your dad still pretty close? Do you and Mark [his other brother] and him eat dinner as a family or hang out?
GD: I am very close with my dad. I go up and visit quite a bit.
GP: Do you have any new projects you’d like to promote?
GD: I have a lot projects in the works. My company Milestone Entertainment is developing some new lottery programs that will be launched in Europe in the fall of next year and on the game show/reality show side, I recently joined forces with my good friend and Goodson alumni Joel McGee and we have a production company called “Silly Monkey Media.”
GP: Finally, Gary, what advice do you have for people who want to enter your field of work?
GD: You have to pay your dues. Get into a production job and always keep taking on more responsibilities and making creative suggestions. Have confidence in your ideas and you will move up the food chain. It can be a tough ride but also a lot of fun. Never lose sight of the fact that it’s show business… It is supposed to be FUN.
GP: Thank you very much for your time, Gary.
GD: You’re very welcome…
And Silly Monkey Media is again collaborating with 3Ball for a new project on GSN entitled “Love Triangle”. This comes to us from BuzzerBlog. Apparently, it involves scientific research and body-aging software.
And speaking of Wheel…..
That came from BuzzerBlog as well. Thanks for the headsup, Mr. Davis! Make sure to watch Wheel all this week, because we could have another millionaire. In fact, I’ll say it. We probably are going to have another million dollar win, the 2nd since the prize was first offered in 2008. SPOILER ALERT! Join the conversation here.
If you are unhappy with the preceding spoiler alert, don’t hate on me. Wheel made it glaringly obvious. Anyway, that interview with Wink is still coming. Stay tuned, folks!