Thursday, May 31, 2007


From Wikipedia:

The Gong Show was a television variety show spoof broadcast on NBC's daytime schedule from June 14, 1976 through July 21, 1978 and in first-run syndication in the U.S. from 1976 to 1980. The NBC incarnation and the later years of the syndicated version were emceed by Chuck Barris, who also produced. Gary Owens (of Laugh-In fame) hosted the first syndicated season.


Each show presented a contest between amateur performers of often dubious talent, with a panel of three celebrity judges. The program's frequent judges included Jaye P. Morgan, Arte Johnson, Rip Taylor, Jamie Farr, and Anson Williams. If any one of the judges considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could strike a large gong, thus forcing the performer to stop. Most of the disappointed performers took the gong with sheepish good grace, but there were exceptions.

Originally, panelists had to wait 20 seconds before they could gong an act; this was later extended to 30, and finally 45. Knowing this, some savvy contestants deliberately stopped performing just before the 45-second rule kicked in, but Barris would overrule this gambit and disqualify them. On other occasions, an act would be gonged before its minimum time was up; Barris would overrule the gong, and the hapless act would be obliged to continue with the full knowledge that their doom was sealed. The laughter and anticipation built as the judges patiently waited to deliver the coup de grace: they would stand up slowly and heft their mallets deliberately, like baseball players in the on-deck circle, letting everyone (including the contestant) know what was coming. Sometimes, pantomimed disputes would erupt between judges, as one celebrity would attempt to physically obstruct another celebrity from gonging the act. The camera would cut back and forth between the performers onstage, and the mock struggle over their fate.

If the act survived without being gonged, he/she/they were given a score by each of the three judges on a scale of 1-10, for a maximum score of 30. On the NBC run, the contestant with the highest combined score earned a prize of $516.32 (reportedly the Screen Actors Guild's minimum pay for a day's work). On the subsequent syndicated run, the prize was $712.05. In the event of a tie, three different tiebreakers were used in at various times during the show's run; at first, the studio audience decided the winner by their applause; later, the producers chose the winner; later still, the celebrities chose the winner. When Barris announced the final score, a midget in formal wear (former Munchkin Jerry Maren) would run onstage, throwing confetti.

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So I mentioned a couple of days ago when eulogizing Charles Nelson Reilly that my favorite game show is Match Game. That's not entirely true. My favorite game show of all time is the Gong Show. Of course, the Gong Show was only technically a game show in that performers competed against each other for a day's wages, so I don't really think of it as being part of the same genre. Really, the Gong Show was all about bizarre performance, the weirder the better. Indeed, "bad," instead of "weird," is the word that would have probably been used by most of the audience at the time, but I think that, even though people really liked the show, they didn't quite understand what it was they liked about it. Sure, it was incredibly funny, but, in its best moments, many of these "bad" acts, very much like the Residents who I posted on last Friday, literally challenged the senses, taking viewers into a state of utter surrealism, and provoking the studio audience into frenzies of hissing and boos. You can't call performances that inspire such intense reaction "bad."

Years later, I've come to realize that the Gong Show heavily influenced me, and probably got me a couple of low grades when I was studying television production at the University of Texas. I mean, this isn't such a strange phenomenon: it's the same thing that makes people love Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, long described by serious film reviewers as one of the worst movies of all time. I guess some people still don't get it, but I'm pretty much of the opinion these days that there's great power in "bad" performance. Really, as long as it's interesting it's going to be good--that's clearly why some of the worst episodes of the original Star Trek series are also among the best episodes of the series.

Anyway, here's a Gong Show feast for you.

Two seventeen-year-olds eating Popsicles:

Recurring performer, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine:

Weird singer Judith Anne:

A guy with pies:

An overweight go-go dancer:

A performer that I'm not really sure how to describe:

And finally, singer Miss Peggy Guy:

This show was just brilliant.