This Sunday, The Hub’s award-winning, hit game show Family Game Night returns to The Hub to give away thousands of dollars in cash and prizes to lucky, competing families. Daytime Emmy Award-winning host Todd Newton has the inside information on the multiple new changes coming to the upcoming third season of Family Game Night, including the debut of a brand new game. In this interview, Todd also explains his new biography, Life In The Bonus Round, what inspired him to become a game show host, and even down to his favorite game on Family Game Night.
Dexter Johnson: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what ultimately led you to seeking a career in the television industry.
Todd Newton: Well, I grew up in St. Louis and I’ve always been a TV junkie. I can’t say exclusively a game show junkie, but certainly a host junkie. The three men that influenced me the most when I was just starting out was Johnny Carson, Dick Clark, and Bob Barker. Obviously as a child, I was too young to really clearly define what it was about those guys that entertained me and enthralled me so. As I got older and started working in television myself, I realized that it was the fact that they were entertaining huge, huge audiences by just being themselves or a slightly exaggerated version of themselves, and once I was able to label that and really define it, I realized that that was what I wanted to do. I started off in radio; actually, I started working in nightclubs, as I go back even further. I started working in nightclubs just to get in and see contests and grabbing any opportunity to talk into a microphone that I possibly could. The nightclub work led to radio, and radio led to television, and I’ve just been really fortunate to surround myself with really talented, generous, and experienced people who I’ve learned from, coached by, and mentored by, and eventually got the chance to work with. I think when you really focus on just one thing, when you kind of have that “laser-beam” like focus, you tend to do pretty well in that field. I’m not really trained or qualified to do anything else but be a television host. So, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunities that I have to do it.
DJ: What was your favorite game show growing up?
TN: Pretty much, the standards. Obviously, The Price Is Right. Bob [Barker] was and still is the greatest to ever do this. Nobody will ever reach the level of hosting success that he had. So, I watched Bob host The Price Is Right [and] watched Johnny do The Tonight Show. I’ve always loved Dick Clark’s interaction with the contestants and with the guest celebrities on Pyramid. Sandy Stewart, who along with his father Bob created Pyramid, is one of my mentors. I kind of got to see the behind the scenes of all that, hear all the stories, and found out what worked and what didn’t work for Dick [Clark] and for the show. I got to spend a lot of time with Bob as well. So, I would say Pyramid, Price Is Right, and of course, the original Press Your Luck were probably the ones I tuned into the most.
DJ: Tell me about the newest changes to Family Game Night and what we can expect for the third season.
TN: With anything that is successful, whether it’s a television show or a career of any sort, in order to remain successful and to grow, you have to constantly reinvent yourself a little bit and that doesn’t mean giving yourself an entirely new facelift. It just means making tweaks, improvements, changes, and that you’re showing signs of growth in various areas. The folks at Hasbro and The Hub obviously know what it takes to remain relevant. You can’t walk through a toy store at Target without seeing shelves and shelves of Hasbro games. They stay in the public’s eyes for all these years and they are very few of us that don’t have games like Twister, Yahtzee, Scrabble, Trouble, Bop-It in our game closets at home. They saw what was really working with seasons one and two and just said “Hey, let’s take those aspects and let’s crank them up even higher”. Some of the things we have done this year that make the show ten times more exciting and energetic as it was even last season was instead of having just two families compete in all of these different games, after every game, I go into the audience and pluck out new families to play the next game. So, it kind of gives it that “Price Is Right” feel to it. This season, we noticed that our audience was made up entirely of fans of the show, people that have been watching it for two years now and that gives us a lot of ammunition to really, really take it to the next level. So, that’s one thing: the fact that we’re incorporating more energetic families into it. We’ve changed a few of the existing games around to make them more interactive, more fun, and more captivating for the home audience, giving the home audience more to root for when they’re watching their favorite families on the show. And then of course (as I’m sure you’ve heard), we’ve added Battleship, which is probably the most technically advanced games we’ve ever [had]. So, when you take the improvements we’ve made to the existing favorites and add something like Battleship and incorporating more families into it, it’s just far away our most energetic and exciting season yet.
DJ: Right, and I’ve seen a small clip of Battleship being played in the promo and I was like “Wow, I have got to see this show!”
TN: Yeah, when you look at the other game shows that are on TV and obviously the other shows that have been successful for so many years now, and you realize that what we’ve done is we’ve incorporated all the “must-have” characteristics and traits of a successful game show and amped them up with electronics that happen live in front of a studio audience. It’s really unbeatable and we’ve done a heck of a job with that and Battleship, especially with the special effects. I can’t think of too many game shows that have incorporated special effects into a game and we’ve done that. When you’ve got the minds behind the magic that we have at Hasbro and The Hub, people that just live for game shows, it’s unbeatable!
DJ: Which of the Family Game Night games are your personal favorites?
TN: You know man, I will always be a Bop-It fan, and that happens to be one of the games we did a few tweaks to as well. Bop-It will always be the one that gets me every single time. I’m set on mastering Bop-It and this is the season I’m going to try to up my game a little bit.
DJ: Every time I see your show when Bop-It Boptagon is played, you seem like you’re really into it and you’re just as excited as the contestants are.
TN: Yeah, I get into that one, man. I definitely get into that one.
DJ: With the changes made to the show’s format, do you believe the show will be more entertaining to watch and play?
TN: I do. The key to a really successful game show is getting the audience at home to yell back at their television set within the first couple of minutes. And I say “yell back”, but the old saying is ‘You want them to talk back to their television set’. We want them to yell because we want them to be as excited as we are about what’s happening here. Season three, when it hits television sets this Sunday, it’s going to be unbelievable. I mean, obviously season one was a task, season two was even better than season one, and in keeping with that tradition, season three will be even bigger and better than season two.
DJ: Family Game Night has played a big role in your career as you have recently received a Daytime Emmy for your outstanding role in hosting the show. How did you feel when your name was called over Meredith Vieira, Wayne Brady, and Ben Bailey to accept the award?
TN: It’s definitely a singular emotion. I didn’t feel a collection of different emotions. It was definitely a singular emotion, an emotion that is impossible to define, to be honest. Was I shocked? Yes. Was I overwhelmed with pride and gratitude? You betcha. I think the best way that I can describe it is by saying when I stood on that stage to accept that award, what I was a feeling was a culmination of everything that had led up to that moment: all the people that have helped me, all the people that had taught me, the tens of thousands of miles I’ve traveled as a game show host and as a speaker, the years that I have just put into working on my craft, and I do consider game show hosting a craft. I don’t consider it a job. I think it’s an art form and I’m passionate about it and very protective of it. So, it was 20 years of my life and career coming to that one moment and when I held the statue in my right hand, the two things that were going through my mind were how exciting and how proud I am that my career has come to that point and how important it was to share that moment with my two kids, because it was really a demonstration of the fact that when you pour your heart into something and when you dream of something, if you put in the work and the effort, and you’re good to people, and you just focus on doing the next right thing for yourself and for others, those dreams really do come true. And now, after standing on that stage and accepting that award, no one will ever be able to tell me that anything is impossible, and I think that that’s what was going through my mind when I heard my name called.
DJ: Wow. Powerful stuff, very powerful stuff. You’re making me emotional over here (laughs).
TN: (laughs) Well, it was a very powerful and emotional moment. You know, it was just one of those nights, man. One of those nights of your life that you never forget.
DJ: In July, you released your biography Life In The Bonus Round. Tell me a short summary about the book.
TN: Well, the book is a compilation of stories, experiences, and lessons I have learned along the way in the 20 years that I’ve been doing this. And, the reason I wrote the book was to kind of assist people on their journeys on where they want to be. I believe that we all want different things. We all deserve happiness and the feeling of fulfillment. So, not everyone wants to be a game show host; what they’ll find in the 178 pages of my book are the things that have worked for me and achieving my dreams. Those things are applicable to anyone, regardless of what it is they want to do.
DJ: Final question: Of the game shows you have hosted (Hollywood Showdown, Whammy!, The Price Is Right, Family Game Night, to name a few), which one have you enjoyed hosting the most?
TN: Well, I’ve enjoyed Family Game Night the most, and I’m just saying that because of the Emmy and I’m not just saying that because that’s what you and I are talking about. The reason I have enjoyed Family Game Night the most is because (it’s very, very simple, it’s very black and white) it incorporates the two things that I love most in my life. Number one: being a father. My kids love the show. Their friends love the show. It’s a great game for kids to play along with their parents and families to play. And secondly, it lets me be a game show host that truly interacts with and enjoys contestants. As a game show host, you’re never the whole cake; you’re just the icing on the cake. The contestants and the game are the cake. This is a great game, a well-structured, well-formatted game. So, whenever a father, who happens to be a game show host gets to host a game show that incorporates family values, man, count me in! That’s my favorite thing about most of this show and that’s why this one really is my favorite. The others, Hollywood Showdown and Whammy!, were a lot of fun. I worked with amazing people and I learned so much along the way. So, in and of each one of those shows, I can find things that I love specifically. But, when you take my two biggest passions in life and you combine them, that’s tough to beat.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this informative and inspirational interview as much as I’ve had. Special thanks once again to The Hub and Todd Newton for allowing me to conduct the interview. Quick reminders: Stay tuned for “The Best of Family Game Night” Marathon tonight starting at 8:00pm EST and the third season premiere of Family Game Night on Sunday, September 23 at 7:00pm EST on The Hub!