Chuck Barris, the creator of The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game and host of The Gong Show, has died at the age of 87, Variety reports.
Barris, who began his career as an NBC page, became a game show producer in the mid-1960s after being unhappy with the pitches he received as a daytime programmer for ABC.
His shows, particularly The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, pushed the envelope of sexual entendre on network television, while The Gong Show pushed the envelope of absurdity.
In addition to his game show career, Barris was a songwriter; his biggest hit in that field was “Palisades Park,” which Freddy Cannon turned into a #3 hit in 1962. His 1982 autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which Barris claimed to have been a CIA assassin in the 1960s and 1970s, was made into a movie starring Sam Rockwell in 2002. (The CIA denied that he’d ever worked for them.)
Although The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game had longer TV runs, it was 1976’s The Gong Show that cast the longest shadow. A satirical talent show in which the acts were mostly terrible, its comic sensibility seems years ahead of its time. Barris, who hadn’t planned to host, stepped in when John Barbour dropped out; his visible discomfort on camera, nervous clapping, and wacky hats helped define the show’s absurdist tone.
Half the joke—sometimes all of the joke—was that a television network was spending money and airtime on acts like “The Worms,” a group of tuneless men in gym shorts and long underwear, who made multiple appearances demonstrating a new dance craze that involved rolling around on the floor grand mal style.
It’s impossible to imagine, say, David Letterman using network resources to drop things off buildings without The Gong Show (and, in fact, Letterman appeared on the show as a judge).
Barris’ commercial break catchphrase, “We’ll be back with more stuff,” managed to perfectly articulate the promise of television, in all its wonder and horror.
Gong Show Dropped By NBC
The Gong Show was dropped from NBC’s daytime schedule in 1978—at least in part because of too-racy-for-TV acts like the two women whose entire routine was fellating popsicles—but lived on in syndication for two more years. A feature film adaptation, The Gong Show Movie, flopped at the box office and didn’t get a home video release until last summer.
After The Gong Show, Barris revived some of his other game shows: The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game (renamed The New Newlywed Game) both returned to TV in the 1980s, then again in the 1990s, though by then Barris had sold his shares in his production company and moved on.
Besides Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Barris also wrote a sequel in 2004, Bad Grass Never Dies, and in 2010, wrote Della: A Memoir of My Daughter, about his daughter’s struggle with drug addiction and eventual death from an overdose. Barris is survived by his wife, Mary.