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The Gong Show with Chuck Barris
by Billy Ingram

"There will never, and I repeat, NEVER, be a show as askew as the Gong Show. I mean, the Chuck Barris shuffle alone was enough to tune in for... but acts like the Unknown Comic and the Popsicle licking twins (the act that got the show unceremoniously taken off the air) were just to good for words. Alas, Chuckie is in retirement in the south of France and we will never see the likes of the spontaneity that was the Gong Show.

"Please include it in your next issue!"
- Regards, T.J.

gong showBy the mid-seventies, the game show genre was enjoying a popular revival, thanks to the success of 'The Price Is Right', Match Game' and others from Goodman/Todman Productions.

Infamous game show producer Chuck Barris and variety show producer Chris Bearde ('The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour') were producing 'The Bobby Vinton Show' for syndication when they sold ABC on the idea of a daily talent / game show. The acts featured would be both the best and worst they could find, with an emphasis on the bad.

Chuck Barris was responsible for some of the most popular programs of the Sixties, primetime and daytime hits like 'The Dating Game' and 'The Newlywed Game'. These pseudo-game shows fed off of an individual's willingness to do anything to be on television, 'The Gong Show' would take that premise a step further. ABC bought the show for nighttime syndication, to debut in the fall of 1976.

The gong show with Chuck BarrisFilmed at KGO-TV in San Francisco, the audience reaction was enormous. "Host Gary Owens was an old friend from 'Laugh-in'," Chris Bearde said at the time, "So were most of the panelists - Arte Johnson, Joanne Worley, Dick Dawson and Adrienne Barbeau. People were literally rolling in the aisles, really out of control."

The reaction to the first filmed episode was so strong Barris was able to sell NBC on a daytime version of 'The Gong Show'. Bearde would produce the nighttime version and Barris the daytime show.

Chuck BarrisNBC, who was having a lot of trouble finding an audience for their lame game show offerings in 1976, wanted a different host for their daytime version. Chuck Barris went on a search, trying out different people before settling on John Barbour (later of 'Real People'). Frustrated with the results, Barris fired Barbour and took over hosting duties himself because taping day for the first week was too close to hire anyone else.

Gene Gene the Dancing MachineThe NBC version actually beat the syndicated version on the air by several months and the audience took an immediate liking to the unlikely game host.

Chuck Barris eventually took over the nighttime hosting duties on 'The Gong Show' as well, firing Gary Owens and buying out Chris Bearde. Gary Owens was upset by his ousting: "You were working at a disadvantage, doing a show the producer wanted to do himself."

The show was a true phenomenon with T-shirts, a best-selling book and even a major motion picture release. It made 70's icons out of 'The Unknown Comic' and 'Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine'.

'The Gong Show' had a simple premise: If an act didn't get the gong from one of the three celebrity panelists (usually featuring the lovely Jaye P. Morgan), then they were scored on a 1-10 scale. The contestant with the highest score wins the 'grand' prize.

Chuck Barris stated that he kept the prize amount low ($516.32) to keep it from being too important to anyone. To be fair, professionals weren't allowed to compete for the grand prize. Instead they were paid the actor's union scale for their performance - $516.32. ($712.05 was the take on the syndicated nighttime version, later an even thousand).

Taping on Saturdays and Sundays, 'The Gong Show' alone burned through 65 acts a week (out of the 300 a week that auditioned). It seemed every bit actor in Hollywood in the late Seventies was recruited at one time or another to be a contestant on The Gong Show (1976 - 1980 in syndication, 1976-1978 daytime on NBC) and other subsequent Chuck Barris game shows (like the '$1.98 Beauty Contest' hosted by Rip Taylor).

Five shows were taped during the weekend, with snacks and drinks (including alcohol) between tapings. Some of the celebrities would get pretty drunk as the day wore on. During one infamous filming, Jaye P. Morman ripped open her top and exposed her boobs - but then, she had a reputation for being a wild woman.

In 1976, I was trapped for a summer in a one stoplight town in the deep South (Kenansville, NC). Every day a group of us would gather at the condemned restaurant that would open just for us to have lunch and we would eat fried pork chop sandwiches, watch 'The Gong Show' and howl with laughter.

I liked the way Chuck would nervously clap his hands together and shuffle his feet all the time. (And now I know why the Friday shows were always so over the top!)

Gong Show photoChuck Barris was philosophical about the success of the Gong Show; "All I want to do is make the bread, put it in the bank and live happily ever after."

Here's a plea . . . Chuckie baby, come back, all is forgiven!!!


STEVE MARTIN ON THE GONG SHOW PANEL

TVparty
Mighty, Mighty!


THE GONG SHOW

"I loved reading about Chuck Barris. I worked for him from '65-'69.

"'The Gong Show' wasn't the first project where Chuck fired the host and jumped in at the last minute. He did this on 'The Family Game' pilot (circa 1967).

"Geoff Edwards was preparing to do the "run through" and the night before, Chuck got cold feet, released Geoff and hosted himself. The network (ABC) bought the show but not Chuck. Chuck brought in Bob Barker and the show lasted less than 13 weeks.

"Seeing how much fun Chuck had that night, I just knew we hadn't seen the last of him on stage."

Regards - Pghtvguy

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"Here's an interesting tidbit about one of the (semi) regulars - Carol Conners, one of the "...and here he is... Chuck Barris!" girls (the one that usually wore a bikini, very well endowed) was a porn star in the seventies.

"She was most known for her role in 'Deep Throat' as the blond nurse. She also appeared as 'Candy' in 'Candy Goes to Hollywood' and 'Candy Goes to Washington' (and others). She later on became big (prominent?) in the west coast bodybuilding scene."

- Peter

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TV Guide's The Gong Show Page, with TV Listings, Photos, Videos, Exclusive News and More.

 

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