In 1976, Chuck Barris and NBC introduced The Gong Show. And it was good.Nominally a Game Show and talent search, the idea was that an act was given one minute and had one rule: Don't Suck. Even that was too much to ask for most of the contestants, who would be gonged offstage if the judges found them particularly awful. The contestants all got a minimum of 45 seconds (originally 15, then 20, then 30) to perform no matter what; the judges would sometimes watch the clock, mallet in hand, waiting for the time to pass. Those who weren't gonged were scored by the panel from 0-10, with the highest score receiving a trophy and $516.32 ($712.05, then $716.32, on the concurrent nighttime version).In truth, it was a parody of talent shows like Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, with its anarchic rules, wildly-varying quality level, and random-number prize check (which was supposedly based on the minimum daily pay from the Screen Actors Guild). But none of the acts seemed to notice.Barris was simultaneously the best and worst host possible. He was the worst because he had no comfort in front of the camera. But, given the nature of the show, his hosting skills were often on par with the contestants' talent. Besides, he was little more than the framing device. You really watched to see the awful talent, the risqué content, or both. (One recurring sketch had "Rhett Butler" replacing the word "damn" in his most famous line with even worse language. Censored, of course. Naturally, xkcd references this at one point.)The risqué stuff was all intentional; in fact, Barris often threw in acts he knew would be cut in order to get the borderline stuff past the censors. Of course it backfired — one memorable sketch featured a pair of 17-year-old girls sucking on Popsicles with no accompaniment. Phyllis Diller gave it a 0, Jamie Farr gave it a 2, and Jaye P. Morgan not only gave it a 10 but physically prevented the other two from gonging it. Why? "That's how I got my start in show business!"Almost as famous as the awful acts were the recurring characters. The most famous was the Unknown Comic (Murray Langston), who performed with a paper bag over his head. Others included the aforementioned Scarlett and Rhett, Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine (always treated as a surprise cameo; by the end), and scriptwriter Larry Spencer, whom the audience was told to boo and hiss at as though he were Oil Can Harry.The show lasted two years on NBC and a further two in syndication, but in that time became something of a cultural phenomenon, even showing up in other programs (including, most famously, an episode of The Carol Burnett Show). Given the popularity of the American Idol "losers" shows, perhaps it was ahead of its time. Barris, meanwhile, became the subject of the movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, whose title should tell you all you need to know about him.Surprisingly (or perhaps not), a number of performers who would later have considerable success made their TV premieres on The Gong Show, including an early incarnation of the band Oingo Boingo.The show has had several revivals, each in ten-year intervals. The first was in 1988 with Don Bleu as host, a version which lasted for only one season. Game Show Network revived it as Extreme Gong in 1998 with George Gray at the helm, and kept it going for two seasons. The most recent revival was in 2008 on Comedy Central, also lasting for only a season with Dave Attell as host.
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