The Gong Show

NBC (ended 1980)


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The Gong Show

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And now, let us introduce, for your viewing pleasure: • A bearded, demented-looking dentist taunts his hapless patient as he drills her teeth, flipping the drill's switch to the tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever." • A petite homecoming queen, obviously nervous, is duped into singing the National Anthem after she and fellow members of the choir have been introduced as collectively performing "The Star Spangled Banner." • A grossly overweight man tap-dances to music from "Swan Lake"; later his equally obese wife squeezes into a tiny tutu and, after fitting her head in a teacup, spins around while playing "Old Folks at Home" on the mandolin. • An Elvis impersonator sings "Hound Dog," but his voice is a monotone. Who didn't live for acts such as those on The Gong Show, the classic parody of ameteur talent contests? Chuck Barris was the straight man (yeah, right) to a panel of three celebrity judges – usually singer Jaye P. Morgan, comedian Arte Johnson (of Rowan and Martin's Laugh In) and Jamie Farr (of M*A*S*H*); plus one or more guests – each assigned the task of enduring and judging the ameteur acts that performed, either solo or in groups. Yes, some of the acts that performed had legitimate talent and did very well, although all of good acts were ameteurs because of Barris' strict rule against allowing professionals as contestants. However, the real fun came in watching those hilariously awful acts. Just a short list of acts might include: • The mustached-magician trying to get his "talented" pigeons to dance. • The teen-aged girls in pastel-colored prom dresses singing "People Who Need People" while dancing in a conga line. • The young comic who did impressions of modern-day actors performing Shakespeare. • An older woman whose dog had the knack for imitating other barnyard animals. • A man who broke eggs over his head while making faces in a sheet of Plexiglas. • "Professor Flamo" – a man who sang out in pain while lowering various body parts onto burning candles. Joey D'Auria was "Professor Flamo" and would later become Bozo the Clown on WGN (1984-2001). • An entire episode dedicated to contestants singing their rendition of "Feelings." ... and countless other acts that were wild and outrageous. Do those acts sound bad? Of course they did, and any one of the celebrity judges had the right to terminate the act by striking his/her mallet against an oversized "gong" (often, two or all three did, and several times, they fought to get to the gong first). The act had to immeidately cease and were out of the running for the grand prize. Early in the run, some acts were "gonged" just seconds into the act, prompting Barris to implement a mandatory 45-second wait (though judging by the frequent reactions of the celebs, that was often way too long). Acts that did reach their conclusion (the longest performances were usually two-and-a-half minutes) were scored by the panelists on a scale of 0 to 10, with a high score of 30 possible. The highest-scoring act of the day won the grand prize – $516.32 on the daytime show, $712.05 (later $1,000) on the syndicated version; however, a grand-prize winner was not necessarily guaranteed, particularly if all of the acts were gonged. The 1976 syndicated version, which debuted months after the NBC version began, was identical to the daytime version, except that Gary Owens hosted (until 1978, when Barris took over that job). Acts on The Gong Show became more and more risqué during the final months of the daytime version. The final straw came during a 1978 daytime telecast, when many viewers declared a certain act obscene (The Popsicle Twins) (that act would fit in quite nicely with Game Show Network's overtly sex-littered 1998 revival, called Extreme Gong); NBC apparently agreed and – whether on its own accord or bowing to pressure from viewers and advertisers – cancelled The Gong Show. Not to worry for original Gong Show fans; the fun continued unabated in syndication until 1980. Running gags featuring the show's regular cast were also popular. Some included: • An inept musician (Larry Spencer) who announces his intention to "play" a certain musical instrument "right now" (with the instrument failing on cue) • Barris reading a children's story with alternate endings (and enacted by the show's cast). • Brief skits from the "Unknown Comic" (comedian Murray Langston) and "Gene Gene the Dancing Machine" (Gene Patton). There was also Scarlett & Rhett where every joke was a dirty one that constantly required the "OOPS!" sign to flash! Also, guest performers – former winning contestants with legit talent and real celebrities, including Alice Cooper – were invited to perform in non-scoring, non-gongable segments. John Barbour (later of Real People) was supposed to be the host, but his straight-man style didn't work out and Barris let him go before the first aired episode taped. Barris took over the job himself and the rest was history. The Gong Show quickly became a part of American popular culture, with local versions staged as fundraisers by college, high school and civic groups. There were two unsuccessful attempts to revive The Gong Show. A 1988 revival, hosted by Don Bleu didn't catch on with viewers and was cancelled after less than 26 weeks. Critics panned the aforementioned Extreme Gong (a revival to play off the popularity of reruns of the original series), thanks in large part to the risqué content; hosted by comedian George Gray, the celebrity panel was replaced by a 1-900 number for viewers to judge the acts.


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