Mouser's View

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R.I.P., Chuck Barris

[A rerun from Oct. 26 to remember Chuck Barris, who passed away March 21 at the age of 87.]

ABC, which apparently can’t think up new things to try on its air, is bringing back “The Gong Show.” It will join the alphabet network’s stable of semi-successful reboots, which includes “$100,000 Pyramid,” “Match Game,” “Celebrity Family Feud” and “To Tell The Truth,” all renewed for another season.

Sony Pictures TV now owns the rights to “The Gong Show,” which supposedly will be the much same as the daytime original that aired on NBC briefly in the 1970s and in various syndicated incarnations. Three celebrities will judge various oddball acts; a bang of the gong by any of the three ends the performance prematurely. (For the youngsters: It’s like “America’s Got Talent,” only many of the acts won’t.)

Minor celebrities who can bang a gong are a dime a dozen, but finding an engaging host will be tougher. I suggest searching for a woman, because she’ll be able to say sly things the PC police might flag a man for. Also, no male host could measure up to the original, Chuck Barris. How he became an accidental cult figure requires a history lesson.

Chuck got his first break in TV in his hometown, Philadelphia, joining “American Bandstand” for ABC as the rep from the standards and practices department. In other words, he snooped around Dick Clark’s shop looking for evidence of payola. But the music industry roped him in, and he eventually wrote the smash hit “Palisades Park.”

Then it was on to the West Coast to create two unconventional 1960s game shows, “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” also for ABC. After that, success was scarce until NBC took a flyer on “The Gong Show,” to air at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. (Odd, yes, but this was the same network that originally gave David Letterman a morning show.)

The first host hired didn’t seem to understand the show was not a reincarnation of “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.” With disaster looming, NBC suggested Chuck host the show himself. A shy type, he was an unpolished performer. He wore hats so he would only see cue cards and not the live audience. Even when given a line to say, he often went to commercials saying, “We’ll be back with more … stuff.”

Fans ate it up. The show’s biggest base, baby boomer college students, ensured that Chuck would be a cult figure long after his retirement to France, where he wrote books, including an autobiography in which he claimed to be a hit man for the CIA with a perfect cover — TV producer. George Clooney directed the 2002 movie based on “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” with Sam Rockwell playing the lead.

Chuck is still with us, now 87. A spokesman for the CIA called his assertions “ridiculous” and said he never worked for the agency. I think I believe that. Probably. Maybe. Then again, what else would they say?

Is Hollywood just jealous?

Tonight is Oscar Night. Nobody knows anything about the candidates for best picture, but everybody is 100% sure there will be plenty of bashing of the 45th President of the United States. Sorry ABC, I’ll take a pass on this crapfest. But I will stay loyal, watching reruns of “The Untouchables” (a hit on that network from 1959 to 1963) stored on the DVR.

Winners of individual Oscars won’t be noticed. As Piers Morgan points out in London’s Daily Mail, the only actor or actress who will remembered is The Biggest Trump Basher. As he put it:

“This is the big one for all those hysterical Hollywood liberal snowflakes who’ve been frothing at the mouth since Donald Trump became president. They’ve got live TV, a billion or more people watching around the world, and a room full of 3,500 largely like-minded souls all waiting to roar on every Trump-bashing speech from the podium.”

Mr. Morgan, who sounds more reasonable these days that he did when he hosted the 9 p.m. hour on CNN and bashed the Second Amendment nightly, thinks Hollywood jumped the shark on hatred because President Trump is more famous than anybody in showbiz. Indeed, probably more famous than all of those Tinseltown twits combined. He goes on:

“The New York Times drew this conclusion after reporting evidence from data firm mediaQuant, which counts all mentions of a particular brand or personality in just about every outlet from mainstream media to blogs and Twitter, and then estimates what those mentions would cost if someone were to pay for them. In January, Trump broke mediaQuant’s records, receiving $817 million in coverage.

“This was more than the next 1,000 of the world’s best-known figures – including Hillary Clinton, Kim Kardashian, Vladimir Putin and Tom Brady – COMBINED. (Their total came to $721 million.)

“Given the fact there are now [more] people on the planet than ever before, and most of us now have access to the Internet and social media, the Times declared that Donald Trump is now the most famous and talked-about person in history.

“So when Hollywood, the most fame-hungry, egotistical place on Planet Earth, rises to denounce him on Sunday night, just bear in mind that their fury might not be entirely unconnected to this one simple fact. Trump, until recently a mere reality TV host, is now getting all their A-list celebrity oxygen and the only way La La Land can get a piece of the action is to attack him.”

The jackals are losing badly

Law professor and superstar blogger Glenn Reynolds of explains why dim-bulb White House reporters attacking Trump are doomed to failure:

“Trump knows that the press isn’t trusted very much, and that the less it’s trusted, the less it can hurt him. So he’s prodding reporters to do things that will make them less trusted, and they’re constantly taking the bait. They’re taking the bait because they think he’s dumb, and impulsive, and lacking self-control — but he’s the one causing them to act in ways that are dumb and impulsive, and demonstrate lack of self-control.

“As Richard Fernandez writes on Facebook, they think he’s dumb because they think he has lousy taste, but there are a lot of scarily competent guys out there in the world who like white and gold furniture. And, I should note, Trump has more media experience than probably 99% of the people covering him. …

“The counter-move for the press isn’t to double down on anti-Trump messaging. The counter-move to bolster its own trustworthiness is by acting more neutral and sober, and by being more trustworthy. If the news media actually focused on reporting facts accurately and straightforwardly, on leaving opinion to the pundits, and on giving Trump a clearly fair shake, then Trump’s tactics wouldn’t work, and any actual dirt they found on him would do actual damage. He’s betting on the press being insufficiently mature and self-controlled to manage that. So far, his bet is paying off.”

Some would argue that President Trump and his staff eventually will overplay their hand. But even that won’t sway public opinion because the jackal pack has shown itself incapable of any objectivity. It takes time for credibility to erode and even more time to rebuild it. Major news outlets will be tarnished for a generation or longer. Whether they will survive in their present form is a subject for another day.

I hold no romanticized view of the Fourth Estate and in fact will be entertained as they gnaw at limbs after blundering into trap after trap set by Trump’s people. As Professor Reynolds concludes: “If we had a better press, we’d be much better off as a nation. But we don’t.”

A final note: Professor Reynolds expanded his thoughts into a USA Today column:

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