Chuck Barris (1976-1978, daytime; 1977-1980 syndicated)
|Sivi Aberg (1976-1978)|
|Little Man/Confetti Thrower|
|Jerry Maren (1976-1978)|
Chuck Barris/Chris Bearde Productions (1976-1978)
|Firestone Program Syndication Co. (1976-1980)|
Barris Program Sales (1988-1989)
The Gong Show is the talent game show with mostly the worst acts imaginable, and a panel of three celebrity judges lets them know by giving them the "gong".
Dr. Joyce Brothers
Harry Wayne Casey
Gary Mule Deer
Jaye P. Morgan
Gene Patton aka Gene Gene the Dancing Machine
Tracee Ellis Ross
The Unknown Comic
Mamie Van Doren
Jo Anne Worley
Contestants come on The Gong Show to perform in many ways imaginable. They could sing, dance, do stand-up comedy, make magic, perform a movie scene, you name it, they do it. On each act, if one, two or all three celebrity judges think if the current act is not worthy of continuing any longer, all they had to do was hit the Gong behind them, thus eliminating that act from competition. For each act that did not get gonged, the judges each gave a score to those acts on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the best, zero being the worst) for a maximum total of 30 (which happened on many occasions). The act with the highest score won a Gong Show trophy, and a check with a ridiculously low amount. In case of a tie, the audience chose the winner by applause. Later, it was the producers' decision and (later) the judges'.
Different forms of ScoringEdit
- Extreme Gong - In this version, call-in votes replaced celebrity judge scoring. Callers were brought in to decide the acts' fate. If the callers love the acts, an on-screen gong started to turned green, but if they hated the acts, the on-screen gong started turning red. If more than 50% of the callers voted to gong 'em, the act was gonged; otherwise, the act stayed on in hopes to win the small grand prize. In the second season, the act saw lights above the audience. Should more than 50% of the callers vote to gong, a female hostess (dubbed the "Babe of the Day") hit an on-stage gong to the left of the stage.
- The Gong Show with Dave Atell - In this version of The Gong Show, celebrity judges were revived, but instead of scoring 0-10, they scored 0-500 for a maximum total of 1,500.
The amount varied from version to version:
- 1976-1980 – $516.32 in the daytime; $712.05 (later $716.32) at night ($996.83 in the first episode)
- 1988-1989 – $701
- 1998-2000 – $317.69 (except in the special Tournament of Talent in which the winner received $10,000 (won by Brian Rudo of Baltimore, Maryland))
- 2008 – $600 (paid in cash), plus the trophy was replaced by a Championship Belt
- 2017-present – $2,000.17
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 was Gene Patton, 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's 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. 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. In the NBC finale, Patton portrayed an older version of Fenwick Gotterer who was the subject of Chuckie's Fable about how The Gong Show was created.
- 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.
- The Villain, played by the show's writer Larry Spencer, 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.
- Giancarlo Giannini - The Italian Movie Star, played by handsome Joseph Leduc, a stagehand on staff at NBC. Chuck would ask Joe assorted questions, to which Joe would repeatedly answer, in an Italian accent, "Bazeaballa". Apparently, that was the only English word the "Italian movie star" knew.
- Another character would come on to interrupt Chuck, as he was going to commercial. That's because he wanted to sing a song. But when he sings as Chuck gives in, he'd usually sing something naughty. Chuck stops him and then goes to commercial.
The show's air of spontaneity was abetted by various comic appearances by supporting staff members.
The Gong Show was infamous for a few acts that, by contemporary 1970s standards, were controversial. The most notorious was an act called "Have You Got a Nickel?" (also known as "The Popsicle Twins"), which consisted of two 17-year-old girls in cutoff shorts, sitting crosslegged on stage and provocatively sucking and licking Popsicles, all without musical accompaniment. The non-act divided the judges; Phyllis Diller gave the act a zero and Jamie Farr gave the act a two, but Jaye P. Morgan awarded the pair a perfect 10, quipping, "You know that that's the way I started." (The Gong Show Movie includes 10 seconds of footage from the Popsicle Twins; the segment is also seen in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.)
Years later, Barris told an interviewer that the censors would regularly reject acts that he thought were safe enough to air. So, he made it a point to submit acts to the censors that were totally over the line, in the hope that some of the less questionable ones would slip through. The Popsicle Twins' act was, in Barris's mind, far too suggestive, and he'd submitted it as a stalking horse. Correcting the commonly-held belief that the women were merely portraying minors, Barris revealed that the girls were just 17 years old at the time. He said that the usually diligent censors were asleep at the wheel during pre-screening and the act was allowed to go on in the Eastern and Central time zones before they realized what was going on, but the network did censor the telecast for the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
Another impromptu moment came in early 1978, when Jaye P. Morgan unbuttoned her blouse and exposed her breasts during a female contestant's performance. While this was not Morgan's first "flashing" incident, it was the last straw for NBC, who promptly dropped her from the show for the remainder of its daytime run (though she would continue to appear as a regular on the nighttime syndicated version). Morgan often inserted risqué material into the programs, such as during a performance by Chuck D'Imperio, "The Shower Singer". D'Imperio sang "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" while naked in a shower, inspiring judges Morgan, Jamie Farr and Arte Johnson to do a rousing dance around the shower stall at center stage. Jaye P. poked her head inside the shower, and later commented, "I didn't care too much for his singing, but I'll give him a big 10 for what I saw in the shower!"
Extreme Gong was also infamous for two impromptu incidents, including one with a talking dog named Cody who tried to say things like "I love you" and "ice cream" but did not succeed in saying these, and another featuring "The Village Little People" that performed a cover of "YMCA".
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; actress Mare Winningham, comics Paul Reubens (best known for the Pee Wee Herman character); Joey D'Auria ("Professor Flamo", later WGN'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 & 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.
Trade Ad (70s version)Edit
Trade Ad (GSN Version)Edit
A board game based on the show was made by American Publishing Corp. in 1977.
A book based on the show was authored by Jerry G. Bowles, published by Grosset & Dunlap and distributed by Ace Books in 1977.
A set of Trading Cards based on the original 70's version was released by Fleer in 1977.
A Chuck Barris Gong Show costume was released by TV Comics in 1978.
Countries that have aired their versions of The Gong Show includes:
- United Kingdom (1985 Pilot)
Milton Delugg and the Band with a Thug (1976-1980)
Joey Carbone and the Gong Show Guys (1988-1989)
Wilder Zoby and the Gong Show Orchestra (2017)
- Jaleel Bunton, Cochemea Gastelum, Torbitt Schwartz, Dave 'Smoota' Smith & Jeremy Wilms
Chuck Barris & Chris Bearde
NBC Studios, Burbank, California (1976-1980)
CBS Television City, Hollywood, California (1988-1999)
The original Gong Show was later made into a movie (appropriately titled The Gong Show Movie) in 1980. The film bombed and was never released on home media until March 29, 2016, though it has been shown on television.
In 2003, the E! Network did an hour-long documentary on The Gong Show as one of their True Hollywood Stories.
ABC has recently revived The Gong Show with Will Arnett as the producer and "Tommy Maitland" (actually Mike Myers in makeup) as the host. The show will premiere on ABC on Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 10:00PM EST.