When you ask David Luner about how he became a self-confessed ‘game show dork,’ he quickly responds, ‘it’s my family’s fault.’ The VP of licensing at FremantleMedia’s U.S. arm says his penchant for being a TV game show contestant is in his blood. Long before his time, his parents made it on to Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy, and later turned up on Card Sharks in the ’70s. Resistance was futile.
The real turning point for Luner, however, came after an aborted appearance on Family Feud. A then 12-year-old David was scheduled to take a shot on the Feud with his mom’s side of the family. During the pre-show prep, the producers told female members of the team they would have to kiss host Richard Dawson. (Anyone who’s seen it, would recognize Dawson’s meet-and-greet as a hallmark of the show.) Luner’s mom refused, point blank. ‘So they kicked us off,’ he says. ‘I never got to compete and that’s when I determined I’d have to get on a show myself.’
About a decade later, and fresh out of college, Luner got his big break on the board game-inspired Scrabble, hosted by Chuck Woolery of The Dating Game fame. He didn’t walk away as a champ that day, but Woolery did slap three crisp US$100 bills into his palm for landing on a special square – and he won the much-fabled lifetime supply of Turtle Wax. For the record, a truckload of the car-polishing substance did not arrive on his doorstep. ‘It was just one small box,’ Luner says. ‘One jar lasts for 10 years.’ [editor's note: I, too, was a little disappointed to hear this.]
From there, he moved on to what would be his toughest outing – taking a turn on Alex (Mr. Jeopardy!) Trebek’s Classic Concentration. It’s not a fluffy game and involves knowing how to translate symbols into words under punitive time constraints. For example, who knew a picture of a sewing needle means eye? Well, Luner didn’t, and he walked away at the show’s end to a chorus of boos emanating from the studio audience.
Luner’s second career as a game show contestant culminated in his 1999 appearance on the revived version of Hollwood Squares. As a three-day champion, he chose comedian Kathy Griffin to be his celebrity partner when he made it to the bonus round. Twenty seconds and 10 correct answers later, he walked away with US$90,000. To celebrate he ‘bought a ridiculously expensive’ bottle of wine and put the remaining cash into a down payment on his first home.
When Fremantle came knocking a year or so later, Luner had a tough decision to make. Licensing and developing new products based on Fremantle’s extensive portfolio of classic game shows (including the Feud) was part and parcel of the new job offer and would make him ineligible as a contestant. Needless to say, he took the job and says working on game shows is as fun as participating in them.
Right now, he’s now working on bringing family-friendly titles such as the Price Is Right into different media, including DVD and mobile versions. As for other game show hopefuls out there, Luner says the contestant screening process isn’t intimidating. ‘Producers want to make sure it’s good television,’ he says. ‘If you’re willing to humiliate yourself a little and clap a lot when you win a toaster, I think you’ve got a good chance.’