Sunday, April 16, 2017

Game Show Royalty Gone

It's taken me a while to get to the subject of this post but I wanted to write about it so here it is. 

On March 21, I awoke to the sad news that game show creator and host, Chuck Barris, had died at age 87. 
Barris leaves this life in relative anonymity to anyone who is under 40 years old. To those baby boomers who grew up watching television, he and his productions were part of their lives.

From the mid 60s to the early 80s he was the creator and producer of several very popular and cutting edge game shows. They are part of the reason I am still a fan of that TV genre to this day. 

While Mark Goodson and Bill Toddman were the kings of the game show hill in that time period, Barris raised the game show bar for a new generation that came of age in the early 70s. 

The Dating Game and Newlywed Game were different than any other game show at the time of their debut. Before they were on the air, contestants only revealed a small portion of their lives in the "tell us about yourself" segments of game shows. 

The two Barris Productions shows put the contestants personal lives and personalities at the center of the game. 

Both the "Dating" and "Newlywed" games have been rebooted several times over the last 4 decades. There will always be one thing I will remember about the original versions. 

The Dating Game provided a the plethora of the appearances of many celebrities before they were stars. They included: Farrah Fawcett, Steve Martin, Arnold Schwartzengger, Andy Kaufman, John Ritter and Kirstie Alley to name a few. 

The Newlywed Game had one of the funniest TV bloopers ever on TV. For the time it first aired in 1977 it was extremely outrageous. It's hilarious because of the fact that one of the show's driving forces, questions with a double entendre, really backfired on them in this case.  Do a YouTube search for "Newlywed game strangest place" and you'll find it. 

However, I submit that the real legacy of these shows is the reality TV genre. The idea of revealing in front of America, people the way they really are has its roots in the creations of Chuck Barris' game shows.

My two favorite Chuck Barris shows were "The New Treasure Hunt" and "The Gong Show". 

"Treasure Hunt" hosted by Geoff Edwards (one of the most underrated game show hosts) was syndicated during the 1970s. If you don't remember it here's a link that tells all about it. Treasure Hunt  You can also see segments of it on YouTube. 

For me it was a show that came on after supper before the prime time shows came on. Much like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are today. I think I liked it so much because it was a game show we watched as a family. As opposed to the daytime game shows which you only got to see on days when you were home from school sick.   

What can I say about "The Gong Show"? It was a hilarious parody of all talent game shows that proceeded it on TV. While many people under 40 may think that American Idol was the first show to feature bad acts as entertainment, I say "Nay Nay". The Gong Show thrived on bad acts. 

The Gong Show gave America a crop novelty acts created just for the show including "Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine" and "The Unknown Comic". 

It also made celebrities out of minor entertainers who appeared as judges. 1950s pop singer,  Jaye P. Morgan and comic, Rip Taylor, for example.

Taylor was my favorite. I just thought he was so hilarious. In my opinion he took a persona that was nothing more than an over the top impersonation of Frank Morgan in the movie "The Wizard of Oz" and turned it into a career. But I thought he was hilarious. 

Chuck Barris, the host, had more fun than anyone on that show. I don't think he ever had one serious moment ever. It's amazing he could talk because his tongue was always so firmly planted in his cheek. I also believe that at one time he declared "war" on the network sensors and made it his goal to see how far he could go. This made for great entertainment for a teenager like me.  

Do yourself a favor and go to YouTube and check out the Gong Show clips. You'll have a great time watching them. 

Chuck Barris' autobiography, "Confessions of A Dangerous Mind" was one of the most entertaining books I've ever read. The plot twist at the end literally made me say "NO WAY!" out loud when I read it. The movie was pretty good too. 

Although Barris eventually did admit that the whole "CIA" connection was made up and a literary daydream, I still really liked the book.    

One of Barris' many talents that not many people are aware of was his ability to write music. He wrote a lot of the theme songs and cues for his game shows. 

Of course his most famous musical achievement was writing Freddie Cannon's 1962 #3 hit "Palasides Park".

Back In February of this year, I wrote a two-part series about the celebrities I have met over the years. I am sorry to say that I never got the chance to meet Chuck Barris. 

What makes this even more regrettable is that I had several opportunities. I can't remember exactly all the whens, wheres, and whys but I do know that back in the 2000s Barris made several public appearances in nearby Bowling Green. If I remember correctly, he even lived there for a time while restoring a house owned by his family.  

I always planned to go meet him, get his autograph and have a picture taken with him. But like I said, I never got the chance. 

So for the 2nd time in the last 3 posts, I am saying "thank you" to a celebrity who was part of my life. I never got to do it in person but I do it here and now. Chuck Barris may have been out of the public light for quite a while but his influence is still being felt in the TV business today. 

When I was growing up, in the game show kingdom, Chuck Barris was royalty. 

RIP "Chuckie Baby" 

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