RIP Chuck Barris
Chuck Barris, the legendary TV producer behind such daytime hits as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, died this past Monday. He was 87 years old.
Barris got his start in television early, landing a job as an NBC page out of college and even working for Dick Clark on American Bandstand. Despite what he called just drawing on a pad of paper while working for Dick Clark, he was named the director of West Coast daytime programming for ABC in 1959.
Nevertheless, he was more interested in creating his own programming, and in the late 1960's he created The Dating Game, a groundbreaking program where a bachelorette or bachelor would choose a date from among three unseen members of the opposite sex after asking them questions. This would be followed up by The Newlywed Game, where young recently-married couples would spill out personal secrets in a chence to win prizes. Both shows were considered controversial at the time but were precursors to the reality TV explosion that brought us The Bachelor, Temptation Island, and the various dating shows on VH1.
But his hallmark show was launched in June, 1976. The Gong Show, which he hosted himself, was a talent show where people would perform various talents in order to win $516.32, which was the miminum pay scale amount paid to members of the Screen Actors Guild at the time. The show featured three guest judges, usually B-list actors, who would watch the performances, and in the event one of them thought it was too terrible to proceed, would hit a gong to end the performance early. Those who managed to get through their performances would be rated on a scale from 1 to 10, and the performer with the highest score would win the "big" prize. The show became an instant success, and it also became a cultural touchstone, with phrases like "Gong Show reject" becoming huge in pop culture. While most of the performers were amateurs whose big fame moment peaked during the show, it did launch the careers of Cheryl Lynn, Rhonda Shear, and Danny Elfman, who performed as one of the members of The Mystical Kinghts of the Oingo Boingo, which would later become the new wave band Oingo Boingo. Elfman would later enjoy much bigger success on his own as a Hollywood movie music composer, composing many hit movie and TV theme songs including the theme for The Simpsons.
After The Gong Show ended would go on to write what he claimed to be his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, where he not only talked about his career but also claimed to be a CIA operative. Though the CIA never claimed that Chuck Barris worked in any capacity for them whatsoever, his book was turned into a movie by George Clooney, who produced and directed the film and co-starred as a CIA operative who briefed Barris on his sceret missions. It also featured Julia Roberts as a double agent for the Russians.