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This article is about the show which aired in the 1970s and 1980s. For the 2008 version of the show, see The Gong Show with Dave Attell.


The Gong Show is a parody of television variety shows. It broadcast on NBC's daytime schedule from June 14, 1976 through July 21, 1978, and in first-run syndication from 1976-1980 and 1988-1989. The NBC version and the 1977-1980 syndicated seasons were emceed by Chuck Barris, who also produced them.

Format

Each show presented a contest between amateur performers of often dubious talent, with a panel of three celebrity judges. The program's frequent judges included Jaye P. Morgan, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson, Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller, and Anson Williams. Rex Reed was notorious for being the harshest critic, often giving acts a 9 when they received perfect 10s from the other judges. If any judge considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could strike a large gong, thus forcing the performer to stop. Most of the performers took the gong with sheepish good grace, but there were exceptions.

Originally, panelists had to wait 20 seconds (later 30, then 45) before they could gong an act; knowing this, some contestants deliberately stopped performing just before the 45-second rule kicked in, but Barris would overrule this gambit and disqualify them. On other occasions, an act would be gonged before its minimum time was up; Barris would overrule the gong, and the hapless act would be obliged to continue with the full knowledge that their fate was already sealed.

When an act was on the verge of being gonged, the laughter and anticipation built as the judges patiently waited to deliver the coup de grace: They would stand up slowly and heft their mallets deliberately, letting everyone know what was coming. Sometimes, pantomimed disputes would erupt between judges, as one celebrity would attempt to physically obstruct another from gonging the act. The camera would cut back and forth between the performers onstage, and the mock struggle over their fate. Sometimes an act was "Gang-Gonged", meaning it was so bad that it was gonged by two or even all three judges at once.

If the act survived without being gonged, they were given a score by each of the three judges on a scale of zero to ten, for a maximum possible score of 30. On NBC, the contestant who achieved the highest combined score won the grand prize of what Chuck Barris referred to as the "highly unusual amount of" $516.32 (reportedly the Screen Actors Guild's minimum pay for a day's work) and a "Golden Gong" trophy. On the 1970s syndicated run, the prize was $712.05 (later increased to $716.32). In the event of a tie, three different tiebreakers were used at various times during the show's run – originally, the studio audience decided the winner by their applause; later, the producers chose the winner; later still, the celebrities chose the winner.

When Barris announced the final score, a dwarf in formal wear (former Munchkin Jerry Maren) would run onstage, throwing confetti while balloons dropped from overhead. On some occasions, two acts each received a trophy and check (this happened very rarely). On still other occasions, all the acts that appeared on a single episode were all gonged. When this occurred, the trophy and check were not awarded (this happened at least a couple of times during the run).

On NBC, Barris also had a "Worst Act Of The Week" Award (later changed to the "Most Outrageous Act Of The Week" Award), where the producers and that week's judges awarded the most terrible act; each Friday, after that day's winner was announced, Barris announced the week's worst act and presented them with a dirty tube sock and $516.32.

Originally, the show was advertised as having each day's winning contestants come back after a few weeks (this is also mentioned in the pilot episode) to compete in a "tournament of champions", with the winner being given the chance to appear in an unspecified nightclub act. However, only one of these tournaments was ever held. The winners on the NBC version became eligible to appear on the syndicated version for a chance to earn that show's prize.

Hostesses

Hostesses included Siv Aberg (a Swedishmarker-born model who appeared on Barris' syndicated New Treasure Hunt), actress Marlena Clark, porn actress Carol Connors, and Barris' then-teenage daughter Della. Johnny Jacobs and, on occasion, Jack Clark served as announcers.

In 1976, Carol Burnett (who did a skit on The Carol Burnett Show where her character Eunice Higgins performed – and got gonged – on the show) introduced Barris with this quote, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce a man with the charm of Cary Grant,good looks of Robert Redford, and the acting skills of Sir Laurence Olivier. I'd like to meet that man, but until then, I'm stuck with Chuck Barris." That same year, actor Dick Van Dyke also introduced Barris; later in that episode, Barris promoted Van Dyke's short-lived NBC series Van Dyke and Co.

Holidays

The show celebrated many holidays such as Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving, but invariably did so by singing the Irving Berlin standard, "Easter Parade". (When Easter was feted, the cast and crew would sing Berlin's "White Christmas.") The annual Christmas episode also featured a major rule change – in honor of the holiday spirit, judges were not permitted to gong contestants. Predictably, Christmas shows were heavily-loaded with the most unappealing acts available.

Judges

Among the people who acted as "celebrity judges" were David Letterman, Shari Lewis, Paul Williams, Pearl Bailey, Dionne Warwick, Harry James, Steve Martin, Patty Andrews, Pat McCormick, Louis Nye, Michele Lee, Pat Paulsen, Tony Randall, Joyce Bulifant, Clifton Davis, Soupy Sales, Joan Rivers, Gloria Gaynor, Barbara McNair, Harry Wayne Casey, Dr. Joyce Brothers, The Unknown Comic, Freddy Cannon, Johnny Paycheck, Mae Questel, Scatman Crothers, Gary Mule Deer, Pat Harrington, Ronnie Schell, Peter Lawford, Allen Ludden, Chuck Woolery, Mabel King, Eva Gabor, Elke Sommer, June Lockhart, Wayland Flowers, Charlotte Rae, and Steve Garvey.

Milton DeLugg

Milton DeLugg, a popular musician and bandleader during the 1940s, got the Gong Show job by default. As musical director for the network, he was responsible for any NBC project that required special music (like the annual telecasts of the Thanksgiving Day parade). Barris initially regarded Milton DeLugg as "an anachronism", but he soon found that DeLugg was very much attuned to the crazy tone of the show; his band, which Barris introduced as "Milton DeLugg and the Band With a Thug," included top jazz players like Bob Findley, Joe Howard and Lanny Morgan, kept the show's energy level high. The band even led into station breaks, with Barris's enthusiastic "Take me into the commercial, Milt!". DeLugg remained associated with Barris for many years after Gong ended.

Recurring bits

The show had many running gags and characters who appeared as regular performers.
  • The Unknown Comic (Murray Langston, formerly of the Sonny and Cher TV stock company) was a stand-up comedian who told intentionally-corny jokes while wearing a paper bag over his head. On one occasion the Unknown Comic brought a dog on stage – with a paper bag over its head. "You've heard of a boxer?", asked Langston. "This is a bagger!" Eventually, Langston would beckon to "Chuckie" and tell insulting jokes at his expense ("Have you ever made love to your wife in the shower?" "No." "Well, you should, she loves it!"). Barris would then feign anger and eject Langston from the show. Langston later made appearances as a judge on the show.
  • Gene Gene the Dancing Machine (Gene Patton) was a heavy-set, middle-aged black man wearing a warm-up suit and flat hat. Gene-Gene's arrival would always be treated as though it were a glorious surprise to everyone on the show, especially Barris. Upon hearing the opening notes to his theme music (an arrangement of "Jumpin' at the Woodside," a popular Count Basie song), Barris' face would light up and he would stop the show, yielding the stage to Gene-Gene. Members of the crew would toss random objects from the wings, littering the stage while Gene-Gene danced on, seemingly unaware of the activity around him. Barris and the panelists would enthusiastically mimic Gene-Gene's dance moves, which consisted primarily of a slow-footed chug-chug motion, punctuated by an occasional, exultant fist pointed skyward. Typically, the dance break would be interrupted by a commercial or by the show's promotional announcements. In reality, Patton was an NBC stagehand whose backstage dancing caught the attention of Barris, who moved him out in front of the curtain when time ran short during an episode. Occasionally, Gene-Gene filled in as one of the three mallet-wielding judges. Patton's popularity was such that his retirement from NBC made the national news wires in 1997, unique attention for a stagehand.
  • Scarlett and Rhett were wardrobe master Jefferson Becker and makeup artist Peter Mims, dressed as Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind. Their act always began with Rhett bellowing, "I don't give a damn!" and the shocked Scarlett gasping, "You can't say that on television!" Rhett would respond by asking, "Well, can I say this, Scarlett?" and launch into a vulgar riddle along the lines of "Why are pool tables green?" Scarlett would answer, "Why, Rhett?" "Because if someone was--" and the off-color punchline would invariably be bleeped out. After two or three jokes, and the same number of shocked reactions, Barris would stop the act and close the curtain.
  • Larry Spencer, played by the show's writer of the same name, wore an old-fashioned black cape and top hat; the audience was encouraged to hiss at him as if he were a villain from 19th century melodrama.
  • "Larry And His Magic _____", an alleged musician (also portrayed by Spencer) whose various appearances featured a series of different instruments. His call-and-response act featured him proclaiming, "I'm gonna play my (trumpet, fiddle, xylophone, kettle drum, accordion, etc.)" and the audience shouting back, "Whatcha gonna do?" This exchange would be repeated twice, after which he would announce, "I'm gonna play my (instrument) nowwww!" Instead of playing, though, he would merely repeat his audience-punctuated declaration. After a few verses of this, the skit would inevitably end with Spencer failing to play his instrument. Either time would run out, the instrument would malfunction or be booby-trapped, or he would manage to produce a few inept notes before being permanently interrupted by Barris.
  • Chuckie's Fables, featuring "The Mighty Gong Show Players", an alleged acting troupe (in actuality, members of the production and stage crews). Barris would flop into a rocking chair and read a narrative from an oversized storybook, while the Players would pantomime the action behind him. These stories always ended with a convoluted moral. The name was a takeoff on the "Mighty Carson Art Players" from the Tonight Show, which in turn was a copy of Fred Allen's "Mighty Allen Art Players".
  • The Worm, a supposed "dance craze" consisting of three men who flung themselves to the floor and wriggled on the ground. At the end of each of their performances, Barris would come out and say "One – More – Time!" The Worm would often be performed four or five times in succession before the commercial break interrupted the men's performance.
  • The show's air of spontaneity was abetted by various comic appearances by supporting staff members.


Legitimate talent

The two biggest Gong Show-related show-biz successes were Andrea McArdle and Cheryl Lynn. Twelve-year-old McArdle appeared on an early show in 1976, shortly before winning the lead role in the hit Broadway musical Annie. Lynn was signed to a recording contract as a result of her performance, and recorded the Top 40 disco hit "Got To Be Real".

Among the other true talents that appeared on the show were singer Box Car Willie; comics Paul Reubens (best known for Pee Wee Herman); Joey D'Auria ("Professor Flamo", later WGNmarker's second Bozo the Clown); character actress Edith Massey; impressionist/comic Michael Winslow; and a band called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo which evolved into Oingo Boingo, led by future film and television score composer Danny Elfman. Mass-murdering gangster Stanley Tookie Williams appeared on the show in 1979. Future NFL head coach Brian Billick also made an appearance, performing a routine known as the "spider monkey". Dancer Danny Lockin, who had played Barnaby in the film Hello Dolly!, was murdered hours after winning the show taped August 21, 1977.

Broadcast History

NBC

NBC decided to take the chance on Chris Bearde's talent show to fix a scheduling problem at 12:30 PM (11:30 AM, Central). This was NBC's least important time slot, running only 25 minutes (leaving room for a five-minute newscast anchored by Edwin Newman), so the actual program content was less than 20 minutes. Many NBC affiliates in larger Eastern Time Zone markets opted not to run network programming during the Noon hour at all, preferring to broadcast local news and talk shows instead. Thus Gong made its debut mainly on medium-market and smaller stations (or on large-market rival stations that picked up the program from the NBC affiliate that had rejected it, as occurred in Bostonmarker).

After the New Year, Gong found itself at 4:00 PM (3:00 Central), succeeding the cancelled soap Somerset. However, numerous NBC affiliates had been pre-empting the slot for years, meaning that Gong ran at a disadvantage against CBS' Tattletales and ABC's The Edge of Night. By early December, the network decided to return Gong to 12:30/11:30; at the start of the year, NBC had discontinued the five-minute newscast, meaning the program could remain at a full 30 minutes.

Barris as Emcee

An established game show producer (The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game), Barris was not the original host; he was an emergency replacement for John Barbour. Barbour, who later hosted Real People for NBC, objected to the show's satirical concept and tried to steer it towards a traditional amateur-hour format. He taped five episodes that were never aired (the very earliest episodes had the celebrity judges earnestly giving helpful advice to the amateur performers). An NBC executive who had watched Barris rehearse the show suggested that Barris replace Barbour. Barris accepted but resisted the requirement that he wear a tuxedo; he only caved in when the executive threatened not to take the show at all. (In time, mandatory tuxedos gave way to more casual attire. Also, Barris began wearing a variety of silly-looking hats on stage, which were seen on a rack at stage right. He would frequently change hats during a show.)

Barris was actually the show's third host; Gary Owens had hosted the original pilot episode, which included four celebrity judges (Jo Anne Worley, Adrienne Barbeau, Richard Dawson, and Arte Johnson). Owens also hosted the first syndicated season.

Barris was ill at ease before the camera; he had a nervous habit of clapping his hands together and pointing to the camera while talking. He did this so often that, by the show's second year, it had become a running gag. Audience members began clapping their hands in unison with Barris whenever they saw him doing it. Barris caught on, and would sometimes pretend to clap, deliberately stopping short to fool the audience.

Producer Chris Bearde, formerly of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, clashed with Barris over the show's content, favoring scripted comedy over chaotic nonsense. (Bearde's "new talent" segments on Laugh-In had featured oddball performers, the most famous being Tiny Tim.) Bearde eventually withdrew from The Gong Show, leaving Barris in full charge of the show. Before long, Barris was working so loosely that some viewers assumed he was drunk – or worse. He would pull his hat down over his eyes, totally obscuring them. His monologues, never exactly crisp or slick, occasionally rambled. Barris later recounted in an interview that he was never drunk, and that he would not allow drugs in his production company.

If Barris enjoyed an act, it was obvious – he would stand there beaming, clapping his hands, or even dancing. For the losers, no matter how bad, Barris was unfailingly positive about their performances, often consoling them afterward with allegedly-comforting words of encouragement like "I don't know why they did that! I loved your act. But then again, I also like getting a tick bath." (or "But then again, I love cramps.") The celebrity who had gonged the performer was typically asked "Why'd you do that?" and was expected to provide an explanation, joke, or further insult. Typically, Barris would lead into commercial breaks with the cryptic promise "We'll be right back, with mor-re stuff – right after this message!"

Cancellation

Despite fairly respectable ratings for a non-soap-opera midday show, NBC cancelled Gong, with its final episode to air on July 21, 1978. Much speculation occurred as to the network's true motivations for dumping the show. Barris himself has commented that the official reason he heard was that NBC acted in response to both "lower than expected ratings" and a desire by the network to "re-tailor the morning shows to fit the standard morning demographics". America Alive, a magazine-style variety program hosted by Art Linkletter's son Jack, replaced Gong.

Following the cancellation, many critics and industry analysts – including Gene Shalit and Rona Barretts – reported having heard comments from within NBC's programming department from "sources preferring anonymity" that the true reason behind the cancellation was Barris' refusal to tone down the racy nature of the show. According to the sources, after the "Popsicle Twins" incident and Morgan's "breast baring", Barris had been given an ultimatum by NBC's Standards and Practices department to deliver cleaner shows, with a particular eye to the potential children and youth watching the show. Barris, however, continued to deliver shows with the same amount of supposedly questionable content, apparently in an effort to call the network's bluff.

Finale

NBC allowed Barris to continue the show for the rest of the contract, and Barris made no perceptible change in preparation for the finale.

On the finale, staff member Larry Gotterer appeared as "Fenwick Gotterer" to host the show, after Barris started the show doing a "Chuck's Fables" sketch. The rest of the show was done in sort of a way to explain the life of the show, and its cancellation. Barris managed to have the last word on the cancellation, appearing as a contestant. Playing in a country music band called "The Hollywood Cowboys" with the house band's rhythm section, Barris sang Johnny Paycheck's Take This Job and Shove It – and even gave the camera a "middle-finger salute" to accentuate his point. Not surprisingly, NBC censored the offending digit in the same way it handled offensive celebrity score cards and Morgan's flashing (the word "OOPS!" superimposed over a still shot of the set). Barris was gonged by Jamie Farr, who quipped "because that little fella's been saying that I've been a long a nose, I'm also long a gong, fella."

The group "Lobster Repair" (who sang Harry Belafonte's song Day-O) won the last $516.32 and trophy for the NBC era. Gene Gene the Dancing Machine then came out after a few more skits, and said that the "Moral" to the episode-long "Chuckie's Fable" was "Don't bet against the Minnesota Vikings in the wintertime!"; following that, he did his famous dance. The rest of the cast, including staff members, people who participated, and even Jaye P. Morgan (who had been banned from the NBC series some time earlier) all joined in at the end to dance with him.

In addition to cancellation, NBC denied Barris permission to continue recording the show from its studios in Burbank, forcing him to find a new home for the syndicated version. That home was the KTLAmarker studios in Hollywood until 1980, when the show ended production.

Syndicated (1976-1980)

Gong continued in syndication for two years after NBC's daytime dismissal, often airing on weekends and at night. Not surprisingly, with censors largely out of the picture, this evening version pushed the envelope even further, with local stations making the decision about whether the show would be suitable for local mores and taste. In all likelihood, this version was chiefly responsible for the show's cult following, since it usually reached a far larger audience than had been possible on NBC.

Reruns of the NBC version (with filler material inserted to pad out the 25-minute episodes) began in syndication in Fall 1979. Both NBC and syndicated episodes were reran on the USA Network and Game Show Network, although by the time GSN picked up the series many episodes had become unairable due to performance clearance issues.

Later incarnations

A syndicated weekday revival of The Gong Show, hosted by San Franciscomarker disc jockey Don Bleu, ran during the 1988-1989 season, but lasted only one year. Each winner was paid $701.

The Gong Show was later revived on the Game Show Network as Extreme Gong, in which viewers could call in and vote on whether or not the act was bad. It was hosted by George Gray.

A few years after the cancellation of Extreme Gong, Barris & Sony Entertainment decided to revive the game (under its original title and format) for The WB, but it was never picked up.

Comedy Central debuted a new incarnation called The Gong Show with Dave Attell on July 17, 2008. The show's format is similar to the original, but its scoring is based on a scale of 0 to 500, and winning acts receive $600. The $600 was shown as paid in cash on the spot, rather than being paid by check as in earlier versions, but in reality (because of contestant eligibility regulations by Sony) was paid as a check from Sony Pictures. In place of a typical trophy, winners are awarded a belt in the style of boxing championship belts.

Film

In 1980, The Gong Show Movie was released by Universal Pictures to scathing reviews and was quickly withdrawn from theatrical release. It is considered a minor cult classic by some. Advertising proclaimed it as "The Gong Show that Got Gonged by the Censor". It is seen periodically on cable TV but has never been officially released on DVD.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a film directed by George Clooney and written by Charlie Kaufman, was based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris. Part of the film chronicles the making of The Gong Show, and features several clips from the original series.

Following the success of the print and screen versions of Confessions, GSN produced a documentary called The Chuck Barris Story: My Life on the Edge, which included rare footage from the Gary Owens pilot.

Foreign versions

  • Sabse Badhkar Gong ("The Gong's The Boss") ran in India on Sony TV in the mid-1990s as an officially-licensed format. Since its acquisition of the Chuck Barris game show library in 1989, Sony has owned the Gong Show format and has licensed it to India and Indonesia.






  • A one-off British version of The Gong Show aired on Channel 4 at Christmas 1985. The compere was Frankie Howerd. The show was deemed a failure and a series was not commissioned; this was considered surprising, as the station had recently been airing episodes of the original American series and had been getting high audience ratings from them. In 2006, BBC Television aired Let Me Entertain You, a talent show with a similar format to The Gong Show.


  • The Spanish language program Sábado gigante regularly airs a similar segment, El chacal de la trompeta ("The Jackal of the Trumpet"). During this contest, six contestants are given the chance to sing a song, with the bad performers being eliminated mid-song by el chacal, a ghostlike character who blows an old trumpet to end such acts. Unlike The Gong Show, el chacal does not have to wait a specific amount of time before eliminating someone (on many occasions, players have been eliminated almost immediately after beginning). The "surviving" performers are voted on by the audience, with the one receiving the most applause winning a prize or some cash.




Spinoffs

At the height of the show's popularity, NBC gave Barris a prime-time variety hour, The Chuck Barris Rah Rah Show. This was played somewhat more seriously than the zany Gong Show, with Jaye P. Morgan singing straight pop songs as in her nightclub and recording days, and bygone headliners like Slim Gaillard reprising their old hits for an enthusiastic studio audience. Spinoffs include The $1.98 Beauty Show hosted by Rip Taylor and The Gong Show Movie (see Film. above).

Episode status

All runs of The Gong Show are presumed to exist and have been seen on GSN with the exception of the Owens version. The first episode of John Barbour's week has been aired by GSN, and the Premiere of the Owens version is on the trading circuit.

Legacy

During its run, many critics excoriated The Gong Show as one of the worst shows in TV history. Today, however, Gong is seen as an inspiration for much of the modern-day genre of reality television.

Gong was part of a long continuum of non-professional talent shows such as the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, a very popular radio broadcast of the 1930s and 1940s. Using a boxing bell, Edward Bowes would "ring" performers off the stage who he considered to be "dying" onstage. It was the bell that inspired the gong for Barris' Gong.

Although many televised talent shows had preceded it, Gong's sardonic outlook continues to influence many unsympathetic talent and reality shows including American Idol, and Pants-Off Dance-Off (where the often out-of shape stripper contestants are frequent objects of derision). America's Got Talent and its international versions also use a similar form of judging, where an act can be prematurely halted if all three judges press a button at their desk (which in turn activates a buzzer and lights one of three large "X" signs above the stage).

On an episode of Sanford and Son, Fred (Redd Foxx) and his friends visit the show and perform, along with his son Lamont (Demond Wilson), doing a jazz act and scoring 21 points. Chuck Barris appeared in this episode. In order to win the prize and get back at his ever-hated brother-in-law Rodney (who is doing an opera act), Fred sneaks over to the gong and bangs it (earlier he acted like he had a nervous breakdown and intentionally shoved the beaters away from the judges so that they can't gong him; Barris didn't see this happen).

During the second season of What's Happening!! ("Going, Going, Gong"), a storyline occurred involving Raj (Ernest Thomas) managing "The Givens Family", a kid's singing group appearing on The Gong Show at the same time, Rerun (Fred Berry) was to appear on the same show The Givens Family was to perform. Barris did not appear despite the Gong storyline (probably because Gong aired on NBC and What's Happening!! aired on ABC); another minor tweak was that, after the Givens Family's performance (in which they received the maximum score of 30), Kene Holliday (one of the judges in the episode, along with Wolfman Jack and Barbara Rhoades) stood up and awarded the group the trophy and prize money – something the judges never actually did on the show.

References

  1. TVParty.com, Gong Show review by Billy Ingram
  2. Nostalgia Central, The Gong Show
  3. Game Show Fame: The Gong Show
  4. Danny Lockin's Death.
  5. Game Show Fame, the first host
  6. Game Show Fame, Gong Show history
  7. Tv Week, New Gong show coming to Comedy Central
  8. Review of The Gong Show Movie at Angelfire
  9. New York Times, overview of The Gong Show Movie
  10. The Gong Show Movie at Yahoo Films
  11. Shock Cinema, Review of The Gong Show Movie, by Steven Puchalski
  12. Nostalgia Central, The Gong Show Movie


See also



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