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1976: Chuck Barris Introduces 'The Gong Show'
June 14, 2017  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments
The Gong Show, which debuted today in 1976, is the worst, and therefore arguably the best, of the tasteless game shows produced by Chuck Barris. It came not to praise contestants, but to bury them, and Barris himself, as the talentless host of a largely talentless talent show, led the charge.

In retrospect, The Gong Show gave us an early peek at the type of publicity-hungry, charisma-starved "performers" who would flock to cable's public access channels (not to mention talk shows) in the eighties and nineties. Watching the show, though, was like being behind the wheel of a car and seeing an accident, or an animal carcass, on the side of the road — it was hard not to slow down and look at it, yet you felt ashamed and sickened once you did. The celebrity panelists were as devoid of enviable skills as the contestants, and the show encouraged a level of cruelty not encountered again on a regular TV series until The Morton Downey, Jr. Show.

Historically, Barris gets a smidgeon of credit for excavating and perpetuating the concept of "gonging" contestants — established on radio's Major Bowes and His Original Amateur Hour as an aural equivalent of vaudeville's hook — and for providing a national TV audience with its first glimpse of Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman. But any credit Barris deserves is dwarfed by the blame of creating such a mean-spirited satirical series.

—Excerpted from Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses and Events

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Nah, this review is a bit too harsh on the series. I think it did at times veer into cruelty, but if you watched it regularly you'd know it was more like karaoke -- everyone knew they were bad, and that was half the fun, and the contestants who were the most over the top, bold, and unashamed in their badness often lasted the longest without getting gonged.

You'd also know that Barris wasn't the show's only host. Gary Owens, for example, was the host its first year (76-77), and he tended to be kind to participants.

It was a great show -- a chaotic romp that valued personality over talent.
Jun 14, 2014   |  Reply
Christy Slewinski
Robert: If you have the clip in an easy-to-share format and would like to share, we'd love to feature it on TV Worth Watching. You can reach us at info@tvworthwatching.com.
Jun 18, 2013   |  Reply
Barris actually read my most unkind review of his show on the air one day. When he finished, he titled his head back, spit high into the air, and then caught falling gob in his mouth. Then he smiled and thanked me. What a shameless jerk. And little did we realize then that he was, as you notek, the Ghost of Television Future.
Jun 14, 2013   |  Reply
Noel - while I know I'm in the minorty here, I have been a Barris fan since "The Gong Show" and actually have a clip of him reading your review of his short lived "Rah-Rah" prime-time variety series back in 1978. (btw, I'm also a Rod Serling and Norman Lear fan, so I hope I can redeem myself here a little...:))
Jun 14, 2013
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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