Chuck Barris Dead: 'Gong Show' Host Dies at 87

The idea for The Gong Show came to Barris when he realized that he was trying to make TV shows, but that he didn't have any good talent to work with. There would be no William Hung without The Gong Show first coming along to pop the bubble of formality and "classiness" in which so much of unscripted TV lived in at the time. The media mocked him as "the king of schlock" and accused him of exploiting his contestants.

A few performers, such as country singer Boxcar Willie, launched careers on "The Gong Show", but most were unceremoniously ushered offstage at the sound of a gong. "And the critics blame me for cracking culture?" Not to mention, Barris also claimed to have beena Central Intelligence Agency assassin in his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. "'Love Connection" was 'Dating Game.' 'American Idol" is part 'Gong Show.' I guess this is what they call a tribute". The book was made into a movie directed by George Clooney.

Barris doesn't always get mentioned in discussions about the rise of modern reality TV, in part because he stopped making new TV shows around the time Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, becoming something of a recluse (or was he really just back at work spying for the Central Intelligence Agency?). His greatest songwriting success was the 1962 hit "Palisades Park", which Freddy Cannon recorded.

His game shows were often derided by critics as trashy and sexist, and Barris himself - dressed with ultrawide lapels on his jacket and shirt unbuttoned to roughly his navel - was loud and veered wildly between amusing and obnoxious.

Click through the gallery below to see more classic game show hosts then and now.

"The Dating Game" would become a wildly popular show that was recreated time and time again. The highlight of every episode was when the couples were asked about "making whoopee" - the euphemism the show used for sex to mollify censors.

The Newlywed Game, The Parent Game, The Family Game and even The Game Game were all spawned by his creation. The show featured amateur talent acts, often atrocious, who tried to avoid the gong of celebrity judges. If an act were bad, the celebrity judges - a rotating panel of three that included 1970s notables like Jamie Farr, Phyllis Diller, and Jaye P. Morgan - would rush to hit a gong, signaling the act's end. Contestants who passed the test could win $516.32, which was the union payscale minimum.

Barris's first marriage, to Lynn Levy, ended in divorce.

Barris, whose company was broadcasting 27 half-hour shows weekly at his peak, was considered a television revolutionary for creating program formats that lasted for decades and sowing the seeds of reality television by showing everyday Americans on primetime TV.

  • Larry Hoffman