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Series: The Gong Show

In 1976, Chuck Barris and NBC introduced The Gong Show. And it was good.

Nominally a Game Show and talent search, the show gave amateur performers of all types a chance to show off their stuff and had one basic rule: Don't Suck. Even that was too much to ask of some contestants. If any of the three celebrity judges found an act to be particularly awful, they could hit a large gong hanging behind them and force the act to leave the stage. 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 received a 0-10 score from each judge, with the highest total (out of a possible 30) 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. Meanwhile, Barris wrote a dubious autobiography called Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, whose title should tell you all you need to know about him. The book, in which Barris claimed to have been a CIA agent, was adapted into a movie with Sam Rockwell starring as Barris.

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 and future Bozo the Clown Joey D'Auria.

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.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • All or Nothing: Only the highest-scoring act won the cash prize.
  • Confetti Drop: Balloons (and later trash) were dropped when a winner was announced, while a little person ran around throwing confetti on everyone.
  • Home Game: Surprisingly, there was one. Unsurprisingly, it didn't play too well.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Johnny Jacobs on the original, Charlie O'Donnell on the 1988-89 version. Jack Clark filled-in for a time in 1977.
    • Game Show Host: Gary Owens hosted the original pilot and first syndicated season. John Barbour taped the original debut week for NBC, but was replaced by Chuck Barris. Don Bleu hosted the 1988-89 revival, George Gray hosted the GSN version, and Dave Attell emceed the 2008 revival.
    • Lovely Assistant: Various females, including Chuckie's daughter.
    • Studio Audience
  • Whammy: Unsurprisingly, the Gong. Also zero scores, to an extent.

This show contains examples of:

  • The Carol Burnett Show: In a "Family" sketch, Eunice appeared on the show and got Gang-Gonged by Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan, and Allen Ludden.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • "From Hollywood, almost live...it's The Gong Show!"
    • "We'll be right back with more-uh...stuff...right after this!"
    • From the Comedy Central version:
    Attell: Welcome to The Gong Show, where dignity and humiliation intersect with "Who cares?" and "What else is on?".
  • Censor Decoy: The popsicle twins. Ended up airing anyway.
  • Drop the Cow: The Gong.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Chuckie Baby made it his mission to see how much he could with this show.
  • Grand Finale: The last NBC episode had a member of Barris' staff guest-hosting as Chuckie's Fables presented "The Land Of Ferb And Fenwick Gotterer", which presented an alternate take on Gong's creation. Barris himself appeared to sing a slightly-modified "Take This Job and Shove It" — and got gonged by Jamie Farr.
    • At the end of the show, Gene-Gene appeared as Fenwick years later. After the moral, Chuck called for Gene-Gene to come out, and who should (in his clothes, no less) but Jaye P. Morgan! note 
  • Half Hour Comedy
  • Hold Up Your Score
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: During the 1976-80 run, signs would occasionally hang at the back of the stage.
    • "It Takes An 'E' Ticket To Get In"
    • "Go For It"
    • "Free The Gong Show Three"
    • "Nobody's From Argentina"
    • "It's Joyce Haber Day!"
    • "Gong Power"
    • "The "Feelings" Episode" (not on a sign, but a 1976 daytime show where all the acts sang "Feelings")
    • "P.U."
    • "You Can't Say That!"
    • "Westpoint Needs Humor"
    • "It's Not Lin Bolen Day!"
    • "It's Kaye Sommersby Morgan Day!"
    • "Sonny Fox Day"
    • "Funny Socks Day" (the very next episode)
    • "Evel Knievel Is A Crashing Bore!"
    • "STUFF" (the one most frequently used in lieu of any silly title)
    • "Della: A Chuck Barris Production" (not seen on-camera, but rather on a blown-up photo of Chuck and his daughter that had it on the sign)
    • "It's Doolies Day"
    • "Onward Through The Fog"
    • "It's Marvin Gaye Day!"
    • "Why Not?"
    • "Dontcha Just Love It?"
    • "Ain't That A Bugger"
    • "Kids In General Should Lighten Up"
    • "It's Chino State Day"
    • "Play Your Hunch -Quasimoto"
    • "400!" (the 400th daytime episode)
    • "The Land Of Ferb And Fenwick Gotterer" (the NBC Grand Finale)
  • Incessant Music Madness: In a famous (or perhaps infamous) episode, every single act that came out on stage sang Morris Albert's "Feelings", Hilarity Ensued leading two of the judges to walk out on one act and actually attack another act with their chairs.
  • Inept Talent Show Contestant: The entire premise.
  • Media Watchdog: Attracted them like a picnic attracts wasps.
  • The Movie: The Gong Show Movie, released in 1980, offers a quasi-documentary look at Barris and the show he created.
  • Opening Narration:
    • First week or so of the 1976-80 version: "From Hollywood, it's The Gong Show! Yes, it's The Gong Show! And here's the star of The Gong Show, [John Barbour/Chuck Barris]!"
    • Remainder of 1976-80 version: "From Hollywood, almost live, it's The Gong Show!" [A female assistant then introduced either Chuck Barris or Gary Owens.]
  • Produce Pelting: People would always throw things at Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine.
  • Running Gag: Whenever Barris nervously clapped his hands, so would the audience; Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine; The Unknown Comic; the signs hanging at the back of the stage area. In the 1989 version, "ventriloquist" Oscar and Bernie performed three times and got humiliatingly gonged each time.
  • Spin-Off: Two are notable, both produced by Chris Bearde (who also did Gong) — The $1.98 Beauty Show (1978-80) which spoofed Miss America pageants, and The Cheap Show (1978-79) which mocked No Budget games.
  • Stylistic Suck: One gets the feeling that many of the worse acts were booked on purpose, for the sake of comedy.
  • Take That:
    • The aforementioned "It's Not Lin Bolen Day!"
    • Barris sang "Take This Job and Shove It" on the NBC finale — and flipped the bird to the camera.
    • Extreme Gong took several pot-shots at alt.tv.game-shows (ATGS), a then-popular game show newsgroup that had been criticizing it for being inferior in pretty much every aspect to the original 1976-80 series and 1988-89 revival. See the YMMV tab for more.
  • Talent Show: The show had one foot in this, and the other in its subversion. The line itself was very thin, and right up between the show's legs.
  • Timed Mission: Initially, acts had a minimum of 15 seconds before they could be gonged. This was upped for the first Barris week to 20 seconds, then 30 by the third week and 45 a few months in. Since Gong was a legit competition, these timers were strictly enforced.

Drew Carey's Improv-A-GanzaCreator/GSNMystery Science Theater 3000
The Golden ShotGame ShowEl gran juego de la oca
Give-N-TakeThe SeventiesHappy Days
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.American SeriesGood Eats

alternative title(s): Extreme Gong; The Gong Show
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