[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?