Sunday, January 15, 2012

Classic TV: The Gong Show (1976)

In the 60's, Chuck Barris created and produced the iconic game shows, The Dating Game & The Newlywed Game, and wrote a Top 40 smash for Freddy Cannon, "Palisades Park". Barris then acquired the rights to revive Treasure Hunt in the mid-70's. Shortly after that, Barris was persuaded to go before the cameras himself as host AND executive producer of The Gong Show, which was, for all intents & purposes, Ted Mack's old Amateur Hour taken to wild, often excessive, extremes.

Gong was, I think, the first series Barris had sold to NBC, which plugged it into the troublesome 12:30 pm (ET) slot, where the network had been looking for a hit show to lead into their soap opera block in the afternoon.

5 days a week, Barris trotted out a variety of "unusual" acts, some of whom would later go on to bigger and better things. For example, the band we would later know as Oingo Boingo made one of their first television appearances on Gong. So did actor-performance artist Paul Reubens, long before he created Pee-Wee Herman. Barris even created a seminal star for the show in a simple studio janitor, who became Gene Gene, the Dancing Machine. Toward the end of the series' run, Gene Gene even became a panelist! Surreal!

The one constant at the judges' table was singer Jaye P. Morgan, who often had some more ribald commentary censored. Actor Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H) appeared frequently, leaving the 3rd chair to a revolving door of guests, including Pat McCormick, Arte Johnson (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In), Steve Martin, and, in one of his first TV appearances, David Letterman, who, I must acknowledge, wasn't exactly thrilled when Gene Gene came out one day to do his schtick.

Here's a sample of the silliness, with another semi-regular, the Unknown Comic (Murray Langston):

Well, the only question I have is whether or not Lucedale, MS really exists.......! In recent years, as indicated by his autobiography, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", Barris has come across as being, well, out there somewhere. To borrow a line from Brooks & Dunn about being "North of Heaven, South of Santa Fe" would be missing the point. A few years back, Sony, which owns the rights to Gong and the entire Barris library, tried reviving the series for Comedy Central with Dave Attell as host. It bombed, cancelled after 1 season. Not Attell's fault. The network underpromoted the show, perhaps failing to realize that maybe they should've picked up the original first, then tried to do the revival.

Rating for the series: A-.


magicdog said...

I remember this show - but the only times I could watch it as a kid was when I was home sick from school.

I remember thinking Barris was a bit lame as a host (he'd have a bucket on his head or something to get a cheap laugh), and almost all the acts on the show being rejects that American Idol wannabees could only hope to aspire to!

I particularly remember the appearances of "The Unknown Comic". He used to tell bad jokes while wearing a paper bag on his head.

hobbyfan said...

Ah, yes, the Unknown Comic. Like Gene Gene, UC (Murray Langston) also got to be a panelist for a week.

I neglected to mention a rare case of a Gong Show act that landed elsewhere. Remember Razzle P. Willy? Last time anyone saw him/it, as memory serves, was at the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon, not too long after appearing on the Gong Show.

DJ said...

It does exsist! I live here!

hobbyfan said...

Welcome, then. Anything else to add?

Unknown said...


hobbyfan said...

It was, wasn't it?