In the mid-seventies, the game show genre was suddenly enjoying a popular revival, thanks to the success of 'The Price Is Right', Match Game' and others from Goodman/Todman Productions.
Networks unveiled new game concepts at a frantic pace for daytime and syndication. Producer Chuck Barris and variety show writer/producer Chris Bearde ('The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour') were producing The Bobby Vinton Show for syndication when they sold ABC on the idea of a daily talent / game show. The acts featured would be both the best and worst they could find, with an emphasis on the bad. Think daily American Idol auditions.
Chuck Barris was responsible for some of the most popular programs of the Sixties, primetime and daytime hits like 'The Dating Game' and 'The Newlywed Game'. These pseudo-game shows fed off of an individual's willingness to do anything to be on television, 'The Gong Show' would take that premise a step further. ABC bought the show for nighttime syndication, to debut in the fall of 1976. Filmed at KGO-TV in San Francisco, the audience reaction was enormous.
'The Gong Show' had a simple premise: If an act didn't get the gong from one of the three celebrity panelists (usually featuring the lovely Jaye P. Morgan), they would be scored on a 1-10 scale. The contestant with the highest score wins the 'grand' prize.
The prize amount low ($516.32) to keep it from being too important to anyone and professionals weren't allowed to compete for the grand prize. Instead they were paid the actor's union scale for their performance - $516.32. ($712.05 was the take on the syndicated nighttime version, later an even thousand).
This is the most infamous episode of The Gong Show with the Popsicle Twins - when you see what these provocatively dressed girls do with their frozen treats you'll know why NBC hit the roof!
Host Gary Owens was an old friend from 'Laugh-in'," Chris Bearde said at the time, "So were most of the panelists - Arte Johnson, Joanne Worley, Dick Dawson and Adrienne Barbeau. People were literally rolling in the aisles, really out of control."
The reaction to the first filmed episode was so strong Barris was able to sell NBC on a daytime version of 'The Gong Show'. Bearde would produce the nighttime version and Barris the daytime show. NBC was having a lot of trouble finding an audience for their lame game show offerings in 1976, they wanted a different host for their daytime version. Chuck Barris tried out different people before settling on John Barbour (later of 'Real People'). Frustrated with the results, Barris fired Barbour and took over hosting duties himself because taping day for the first week was too close to hire anyone else.
The NBC version actually beat the syndicated version on the air by several months, an instant hit. Chuck Barris eventually took over the nighttime hosting duties on 'The Gong Show' as well, firing Gary Owens and buying out Chris Bearde. Gary Owens was upset by his ousting: "You were working at a disadvantage, doing a show the producer wanted to do himself."
The show was a true phenomenon with T-shirts, a best-selling book and even a major motion picture release. It made 70's icons out of 'The Unknown Comic' and 'Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine'.
Ten shows were taped over the weekend, with snacks and drinks (including alcohol) between tapings. Some of the celebrities would get pretty drunk as the day wore on. During one infamous filming, Jaye P. Morman ripped open her top and exposed her boobs - but then, she had a reputation for being a wild woman.
Chuck Barris was philosophical about the success of the Gong Show; "All I want to do is make the bread, put it in the bank and live happily ever after." Here's a plea . . . Chuckie baby, come back, all is forgiven!!!