Chuck Barris, the creator and host of one of my favorite childhood shows, The Gong Show, passed away a couple of weeks ago. The Gong Show was unlike anything else on TV back then, and I loved the complete wackiness of the entire thing. It was like a sideshow version of America’s Got Talent. Amateurs would perform all sorts of weird vaudeville-style acts (or “stuff” as Chuck would call it), and three celebrity judges (a roster that included Jaye P. Morgan, Rex Reed, Rip Taylor, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson and David Letterman) could either hit a giant gong to end the awfulness, or give the acts a score if they liked them.
Chuck didn’t fit the mold of a classic game show host – he wore wacky hats, cracked up instead of staying in character, brought out stagehands to dance… he was in on the joke and brought us along for the ride.
Barris’ original idea had been to create a show that featured fine performers, but in his search for talent, he frequently encountered awful acts. “I came back and said, ‘Let’s change the show, have all bad acts and one or two good ones, and people can make a judgment,’ ” he said in a 2010 interview with The Archive of American Television.
“Everybody could relate to somebody wearing a lampshade and dancing around,” Barris said. “Bad acts are inherent in everyone.”
[from this obit in The Hollywood Reporter – well worth a read]
Chuck also boosted the careers of folks like composer Danny Elfman (as part of Oingo Boingo), Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and The Unknown Comic.
Chuck seemed a bit crazy, and he probably was (later he wrote a book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind where he claimed to be a CIA assassin). But he was crazy like a fox. He wrote a hit song in 1962, “Palisades Park” (a now-defunct amusement park that was close to my birthplace of Jersey City, NJ).
He was the creator of two other classic game shows, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He wrote two bestselling books, and was a pioneer of first-run syndication, selling The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game to TV stations after ABC cancelled them. In 1986 he sold his shares in Chuck Barris Productions for a cool $86 million. So he was dancing all the way to the bank.
So long, Chuck, and thanks for all the great stuff!