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A grossly overweight man tap-dances to music from “Swan Lake”; later his equally obese wife squeezes into a tiny tutu and, after fitting her head in a teacup, spins around while playing “Old Folks at Home” on the mandolin. • An Elvis impersonator sings “Hound Dog,” but his voice is a monotone. Who didn’t live for acts such as those on The Gong Show, the classic parody of ameteur talent contests?
Chuck Barris was the straight man (yeah, right) to a panel of three celebrity judges – usually singer Jaye P. Morgan, comedian Arte Johnson (of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In) and Jamie Farr (of M*A*S*H*); plus one or more guests – each assigned the task of enduring and judging the ameteur acts that performed, either solo or in groups. Yes, some of the acts that performed had legitimate talent and did very well, although all of good acts were ameteurs because of Barris’ strict rule against allowing professionals as contestants.
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However, the real fun came in watching those hilariously awful acts. Just a short list of acts might include: • The mustached-magician trying to get his “talented” pigeons to dance. • The teen-aged girls in pastel-colored prom dresses singing “People Who Need People” while dancing in a conga line. • The young comic who did impressions of modern-day actors performing Shakespeare. • An older woman whose dog had the knack for imitating other barnyard animals.
• A man who broke eggs over his head while making faces in a sheet of Plexiglas. • “Professor Flamo” – a man who sang out in pain while lowering various body parts onto burning candles.
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Joey D’Auria was “Professor Flamo” and would later become Bozo the Clown on WGN (1984-2001). • An entire episode dedicated to contestants singing their rendition of “Feelings.” … and countless other acts that were wild and outrageous.
Do those acts sound bad? Of course they did, and any one of the celebrity judges had the right to terminate the act by striking his/her mallet against an oversized “gong” (often, two or all three did, and several times, they fought to get to the gong first). The act had to immeidately cease and were out of the running for the grand prize. Early in the run, some acts were “gonged” just seconds into the act, prompting Barris to implement a mandatory 45-second wait (though judging by the frequent reactions of the celebs, that was often way too long). Acts that did reach their conclusion (the longest performances were usually two-and-a-half minutes) were scored by the panelists on a scale of 0 to 10, with a high score of 30 possible. The highest-scoring act of the day won the grand prize – $516.32 on the daytime show, $712.05 (later $1,000) on the syndicated version; however, a grand-prize winner was not necessarily guaranteed, particularly if all of the acts were gonged.
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The 1976 syndicated version, which debuted months after the NBC version began, was identical to the daytime version, except that Gary Owens hosted (until 1978, when Barris took over that job). Acts on The Gong Show became more and more risqué during the final months of the daytime version. The final straw came during a 1978 daytime telecast, when many viewers declared a certain act obscene (The Popsicle Twins) (that act would fit in quite nicely with Game Show Network’s overtly sex-littered 1998 revival, called Extreme Gong); NBC apparently agreed and – whether on its own accord or bowing to pressure from viewers and advertisers – cancelled The Gong Show. Not to worry for original Gong Show fans; the fun continued unabated in syndication until 1980. Running gags featuring the show’s regular cast were also popular.
Some included: • An inept musician (Larry Spencer) who announces his intention to “play” a certain musical instrument “right now” (with the instrument failing on cue) • Barris reading a children’s story with alternate endings (and enacted by the show’s cast). • Brief skits from the “Unknown Comic” (comedian Murray Langston) and “Gene Gene the Dancing Machine” (Gene Patton). There was also Scarlett Rhett where every joke was a dirty one that constantly required the “OOPS!” sign to flash! Also, guest performers – former winning contestants with legit talent and real celebrities, including Alice Cooper – were invited to perform in non-scoring, non-gongable segments.
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John Barbour (later of Real People) was supposed to be the host, but his straight-man style didn’t work out and Barris let him go before the first aired episode taped. Barris took over the job himself and the rest was history. The Gong Show quickly became a part of American popular culture, with local versions staged as fundraisers by college, high school and civic groups.
There were two unsuccessful attempts to revive The Gong Show. A 1988 revival, hosted by Don Bleu didn’t catch on with viewers and was cancelled after less than 26 weeks. Critics panned the aforementioned Extreme Gong (a revival to play off the popularity of reruns of the original series), thanks in large part to the risqué content; hosted by comedian George Gray, the celebrity panel was replaced by a 1-900 number for viewers to judge the acts. moreless is to correctly guess the retail prices of items, without going over, to either win the items themselves or other prizes. At the beginning of each show, the announcer calls out the names of four contestants, imploring each to “come on down!” A prize is announced for which each contestant (one at a time) makes a bid (called the One Bid). After the host announces the actual retail price, the contestant who bid closest without going over is invited on stage to play a pricing game for a larger prize. If a contestant’s bid is exactly correct, he/she wins a $500 bonus (on the Armed Forces and $1,000,000 Spectacular Specials, the bonus for an exact bid is $1000). Frequently, during Barker’s tenure as host, an animal would be brought out on stage by one of the models during the One Bid prize plugs. Barker would then comment that the pet was available for adoption at an area animal shelter.
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He also encouraged viewers to visit their local humane society. Pricing game prizes often include cars, trips, rooms of furniture, cash, and various other items. Furs were also given away during the early years, but this practice was dropped per Barker’s wishes due to his involvement with animal-rights issues.
The episodes that offer furs as prizes will likely never be seen again as Barker continues to fight against their re-airing. There were over 100 total individual pricing games with 72 in the current rotation.
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Some games involved pricing grocery or small, everyday items. Others involved chance, deduction, skill and/or patience. Many games quickly became very popular.
Contestants chomp at the bit to play such entries as Plinko, Ten Chances, Cliff Hangers, Any Number, Grocery Game, Range Game, Race Game, and many others. While each of the pricing games uses only one player, there was one game (known by fans as Bullseye 2) which used two players.
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This game, which was retired during the first season, had the players alternating bids on a car or boat, and the first to guess the price exactly won. The second contestant was determined by immediately playing another One Bid. Some pricing games have been retired. The reasons include frequent mechanical malfunctions, complicated rules, low odds of winning, and negative responses from viewers.
Pictures, audio files, and videos of most of the retired pricing games can be seen on various fan pages on the World Wide Web. After each pricing game is played (except for the final game of the day), one more contestant is called from the audience to “come on down,” and another One Bid item is shown for another chance to play a pricing game. Until the fourth season, the two contestants with the highest winnings after all three pricing games had been played went to the Showcase round. Two showcases (prize packages worth several thousand dollars) are shown, one at a time. After the first showcase is revealed, the top winning contestant has the choice to bid on the showcase or pass it to his/her opponent and force him/her to bid. The contestant coming closest to the actual retail price of his/her own showcase without going over wins their showcase. Originally, the contestant could win only his/her showcase.
Early in the show’s run, a stipulation was added stating that if a contestant’s bid came within $100 of his/her showcase’s actual retail price, they’d win everything in both showcases. In 1998, the stipulation was modified, and, now, winning contestants who are $250 or less away from the actual retail price of their showcase win both showcases.
For the week of November 3-7, 1975 the show expanded from 30 to 60 minutes, following a successful week of experimental hour-long shows the week of September 8-12. A new round called the Showcase Showdown was added. After three contestants have played their pricing games, each has the chance to spin a large wheel called “The Big Wheel.” The order of spinning is determined by each contestant’s winnings with the player having won the least going first and the player having won the most going last. The Big Wheel contains 20 spaces with numbers in increments of five cents (not in order). Each contestant gets up to two spins in an attempt to get as close to $1.00 without going over. If he/she does not have $1.00 after the first spin, the contestant can choose to spin again to get closer to $1.00 or stop at their current score with the hope tha
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