TV Draft Round 6 – Pick 8 – Max Selects – The Gong Show

Drinking out of a garden hose, learning math and grammar from Schoolhouse Rock, playing pong, walking on the shag carpet in our bare feet, wearing mood rings, walking through beads instead of doors, and watching the Gong Show. That is what a lot of us were up to in the 1970s as kids and adults. 

I watched this show and Dialing for Dollars on our local NBC affiliate when I was around 10 years old. Only in the seventies could this show happen. It was like amateur hour at a high school with celebrities judging the event for laughs. This show was so bad it was good. That is the heart of the show…so bad it’s good… If an act was bad…which many were the judges would bang a gong to show their dislike.

The winner would win $516.32… union scale at the time. It wasn’t about winning…it was about being in front of millions of viewers. The show ran from 1976 to 1978 and was in syndication for years and years. The show had a total of 501 episodes. 

Chuck Barris was the emcee of this grand extravaganza. Some of the acts were bad and they knew it, some really thought they were good but were bad and a very few were actually good.

A few talented people appeared on the show at different times. Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman), Steve Martin, Cheryl Lynn, Oingo Boingo, Michael Winslow, The Unknown Comic,  and more. It’s fun spotting a future star in reruns. 

The judges included  Jamie Farr, Jaye P Morgan, Arte Johnson, Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller, and Anson Williams. Jaye P. Morgan was fired off the show near the end of the show’s run. She often attempted to strip on the show, and usually got stopped. Except for one time, when she unbuttoned her shirt and flashed everyone while the camera was on her. 

My favorite part of the show for some reason was a stagehand who would dance named Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. I also remember the popsicle twins. How the censors let the Popsicle Twins get through I don’t know… they were shown on the east coast but their segment never made it to the west coast. 

The Gong Show was finally canceled because NBC warned Barris to tone down the racy elements of the show…he never did. The popsicle twins and Jaye P Morgan’s flashing didn’t help.

In the last show, Barris played in a country band called the “Hollywood Cowboys” and sang a modified Johnny Paycheck song “Take this job and shove it” and gave NBC the finger…which they blocked out of course. 

Barris had his hand in a lot of shows. In 1965, he launched “The Dating Game,” which revolutionized TV game shows. Next came “The Newlywed Game,” “The Game Game” and a Mama Cass special, among others.

Chuck Barris, in his book, Confessions of a Dangerous MindAn Unauthorized Biography, claimed to have been an assassin for the CIA. His wife said:  “After I met Chuck, I read the book and I didn’t really place any judgment on it one way or the other. Chuck and I never talk about whether he really did it.” He would never answer when asked if it was true or not. In 2002 George Clooney directed a movie about the book.

Maxene Fabe wrote in TV Game Shows, that Barris was “the first man in America to realize how desperately ‘ordinary’ people want to be on television.” Hmmm…sounds like it holds true today with all of the reality shows that are on. 

In 1980 “The Gong Show Movie” was released and it was written, directed, and starred Chuck Barris. The TV show was revived in 2017 and 2018 for twenty episodes with Mike Myers as host.

Chuck Barris passed away in 2017 at the age of 87. 

When you think back on shows you watched when you were younger and you get a chance to watch them now…it’s usually different than you remembered…not this one. This one is exactly how I remembered.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

52 thoughts on “TV Draft Round 6 – Pick 8 – Max Selects – The Gong Show”

  1. Oh ya, I remember that from my childhood. It was silly fun, although I guess it also was the forerunner of Tik Tok Society 40 years later. Couldn’t hear any audio on the Popsicle Girls clip, but I don’t think they were there for the music anyway!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh geez… when I get home I’ll switch the videos out… yea no sound is really needed lol.

      You are right… the show was ahead of the curve!

      Like

  2. The sad irony was that Gene Patton (“Gene Gene The Dancing Machine”) lost both his legs to diabetes.

    He worked as a light man on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. One night they did him up as a blaxploitation star named Moses Hathaway, complete with muttonchop sideburns, thick mustache, aviator glasses, double-breasted suit etc. and got a picture of him, then took the picture out to Westwood Village and were walking up to people, showing them his picture and telling them they were trying to get him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They made up all kinds of phony movie names (e.g. “Kung-Fu Fighters In Africa”), and people would say, “oh, I remember that one!” At the end, some sharp-eyed guy says, “hey, isn’t that Gene Gene The Dancing Machine?” At which point they had him do his dance, and the crowd loved it.

    He was the first Black member of the IATSE, Local 33. He was quite a guy.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks John! I knew that about the diabetes but I didn’t know about the rest. That is hilarious! That is funny that one guy finally recognized him.

      That show was so much fun….it was like a tv version of Ed Wood movies…so bad it was good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful surprise to see the Gong Show in the draft!! What a classic! “So bad it’s good” is exactly true!

    This is where I first got to know Arte Johnson! I remember it was one of the shows (along with Match Game and Hollywood Squares) that my brother and I would watch when my dad was doing band practice.

    When I think of the show, I always remember Chuck’s many hats, the Unknown Comic, and the great Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sorry, there was something creepy/off about Barris that I did not like at all. I remember seeing some of the episodes but at some point he was unwatchable for me. I *know* I never saw those popsicle twins. Shocking it was able to get onto the air when they were so particular about other things.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Barris was different no doubt…I had no clue he helped or he created the Newlywed Game.

      Yea I don’t see how the twins did it. Barris was kind of scuzzy…if that is a word lol.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. LOL…speaking of scuzzy….Oh you know one show that I wish someone would do? TPB… The Trailer Park Boys!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cool!!!! Those characters are wonderful and I’ve known all of them at some point in my life. It was the first time I realized…hey….rednecks are not just from the south lol

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t know how people in TN view those who live in Trailer Parks, but in MI they are looked down on, even though the trailer parks of today can be really luxuriant! I actually love the people in TPB. Looking forward to writing about this crew. I think they are still making new episodes on netflix but not sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh I love the characters…I wonder how much they improvise? Yes there are many here and I was friends with many in school. Back then it wasn’t looked down as much as today…hey everyone needs a home and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. You know, Max, I think those huge mansions that keep sprouting up are much worse than any trailer or trailer park. Nobody needs these monstrous homes yet nobody seems to want to stop them from clear-cutting forests to build them.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yea when they have to clear an unGodly amount of land it’s crazy….but just looking at them…they are souless looking. Cold and uninviting. That is probably what they want.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes…I think coke was heavily involved in that show. I’ve read where judge Jaye P Morgan had her share also…of course it was the 70s.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m putting my comment here, because personally, I had the same thoughts as Lisa. I watched a few episodes in the early seasons, but only because there was nothing else on at the time. I didn’t ever want to think ‘mean’ was funny. I saw Barris and the ‘judges’ as using cruelty for laughs. When American Idol and the other shows of that genre came along, I immediately thought of the Gong Show, and vowed not to watch. To this day I still refuse to watch any of the talent/reality shows, except for one on sewing that strives to not be mean. American Idol and that genre do owe their origins and massive success to Barris and the Gong Show, I’m sure of it. And Barris was indeed masterful at creating shows the public would watch and participate in. A popular weekly show with not much in the way of high-paid actors, and no scripts to write each week, and nothing to rehearse. That must have been like printing money. So yea, the Gong Show belongs in the draft, imo. Definitely a worthy pick.

      The mention of Dialing for Dollars made me laugh. I’d forgotten that one. And we had a local show called ‘Bowling for Dollars’. I watched that one faithfully. 😀

      Liked by 4 people

      1. That made me die a little inside when you said The Gong Show was responsible for American Idol and the others…but…you are right. I can’t stand those shows…I refuse to watch them. I don’t like reality shows in general.

        When I was a kid and watched this…I thought the acts were trying to be bad…some were I’m sure but there were others who really tried.

        Barris…I never thought much about him until he wrote that book…I thought no….this guy is troubled…as a 10 year old…he was just a funny guy. But…on the other hand he was business smart.

        We had Bowling for Dollars also!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wondered if Bowling for Dollars was a franchise. It was a local host and alley, so I didn’t know if other towns had it to. Now, that was a fun way to see people’s personalities come out, when a bowling contestant would be introduced and interviewed. 🙂

        I didn’t mean to be that harsh about the Gong Show. I’m so hesitant to make negative comments because of who it might be insensitive to. But it does sound like you and I have a similar disdain for the reality contest TV format. I agree, many of the Gong Show acts were trying to be ridiculous, not seriously trying to be discovered for their talent. Did you ever see the ‘Mama’s Family’ episode where Carol Burnett as ‘Eunice’ went on the Gong Show and got gonged? I thought it was a powerful criticism of the show.

        Barris absolutely knew his business, though. He had a gift for it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You don’t ever have to be cautious here. Everyone has an opinion and I would rather hear the unvarnished one. If I couldn’t take people disagreeing… I shouldn’t be blogging lol. But I do agree with you on this. I never connected the dots really but I hate what it the show led to. I think reality tv shows ruined tv for a while. Now the Netflix and others are actually writing shows again… like them or not… they are scripted.

        I watched Mamas Family but I don’t remember that one. I’ll have to look that up. I’m a Vickie Lawrence and Carol Burnett fan.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Diane, I think you articulate well what it was that “sold” people on the show, the idea that mean = funny. Doesn’t say much about human nature does it. You’re right too about, “A popular weekly show with not much in the way of high-paid actors, and no scripts to write each week, and nothing to rehearse. That must have been like printing money.” About the …for Dollars, do you remember the movie, “Running Man” had “Climbing for Dollars” and the dobermans were underneath the people? lol

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Thanks, Lisa. Your initial comment really aligned with my feelings about the show. I have not seen Running Man. Yikes, that would take the fun out of the ‘… for Dollars’ concept for me!

        Liked by 2 people

      6. You’re welcome. Do you remember Richard Dawson from “Family Feud” and how he was always kissing the women? YUK. He was the main villain in “Running Man” and Arnold Scharz…. was the hero.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Haha, Richard WAS cringey on Family Feud with the kissing. He was a fun host except for that. I didn’t get what was entertaining about that at all. What a duo, him and Arnold.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. I liked him on Match Game too. And I did like him on Family Feud. I just could have done without the kissing. I was a kid then, and not interested in that kind of humor. It probably went over a lot better with the adult viewers.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Heh, heh, heh…crazy ass show. I didn’t remember the early ones where Barris wasn’t wearing a hat. I always remembered the ones where he had a hat on, tilted to cover his eyes.

    I didn’t remember the popsicle twins but, I remember Jaye P. Morgan’s antics, as well as Arte & Jaime.

    I also remember being shocked, once, by a duo of musicians. They played like Loggins & Messina or Seals & Crofts but, sang something that, at the time, I knew (recognized), like an America song or The Outlaws…something. They were so good…I mean, legit talent.

    I was just reading over others that were real talent…Cheryl Lynn, Michael Winslow, Oingo Boingo and Mare Winningham. Hell, even Tookie Williams was on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They did have real talent once in a while… Steve Martin surprised me. I also read where hookers would get on the show because they would make more than they would in 2 weeks of their work.

      There had to be a lot of coke going on in that show…well not just that show but many at that time. The Match Game it as drinking…hard.

      It was a pretty cool show though…so bad it was good.

      Like

  6. Who didn’t love Gene Gene the Dancing Machine? He was definitely my favorite. As far as drinking out the garden hose a friend of mine learned the hard way to always run the hose a bit first. I always did to let the water cool off. This dummy would point it right at his face and turn the water on. One day instead of water the first thing he got in his face was a spider!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh yea… Gene was cool and the show was so bad it was good.
      I would have loved to have seen his face when the spider hit!

      Like

  7. That show was fantastic! Imagine giving a fun-loving lunatic his own television show. Cultish stuff. Everyone I knew watched the program, even my Priest, who looked a bit like Barris. JP Morgan, what a swinging 60s chick. The Unknown Comic would have won America’s Got Talent if the show would have been around. He made a lunch bag chic. Great post Max.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. One of the 800 jobs I’ve had in my life was in a hospital. One of the hospital chaplains was a Catholic priest known as “Father Gene.” In an homage to the Gong Show, we used to call him “Gene Gene They Praying Machine.” If only he could have worked “One O’Clock Jump” into his mass…

    Liked by 2 people

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