The Gong Show is an American amateur talent contest game show. It was broadcast on NBC’s daytime schedule from June 14, 1976, through July 21, 1978, and in first-run syndication from 1976 to 1980 and 1988 to 1989, and was revived in 2017 for broadcast on ABC. The show was created and originally produced by Chuck Barris, who also served as host for the NBC run and from 1977 to 1980 in syndication. Its most recent version was executive-produced by Will Arnett and hosted by Tommy Maitland, a fictional character performed by Mike Myers (uncredited in Season 1). The Gong Show is known for its absurdist humor and style, with the actual competition secondary to the often outlandish acts presented; a small cash prize has typically been awarded to each show’s winner.
Each show presented a competition of amateur performers of often dubious talent, with a panel of three celebrity judges. The original program’s regular judges included Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan, Arte Johnson, Patty Andrews, Phyllis Diller, Pat McCormick, Anson Williams, Steve Garvey, Rex Reed, and Rip Taylor. Other celebrities occasionally appeared as judges. If any judge considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could force it to stop by striking a large gong, a trope adapted from the durable radio show Major Bowes Amateur Hour. Barris would then ask the judge(s) in question why they had gonged the act.
Any act that survived without being gonged was given a score by each of the three judges on a scale of 0 to 10, for a maximum possible score of 30. On the NBC series, the contestant who achieved the highest combined score won the grand prize: a check for $516.32 (a “highly unusual amount”, in Barris’s words; reportedly the Screen Actors Guild’s minimum pay for a day’s work at the time) and a “Golden Gong” trophy. The syndicated series’ top prize was originally $712.05 (the first episode was $996.83) and later increased to $716.32. In the event of a tie, three different tiebreakers were used at various times during the show’s run. Originally the studio audience determined the winner by applause, but this was later changed to a decision by the producers, and later by the celebrity judges. On rare occasions, both acts would each receive a check and a trophy. No prize was awarded if all of the acts on a particular episode were gonged, which occurred at least twice. Runners-up received various prizes; Maureen Orth, on her February 24, 1977, appearance, reported receiving an iron valued at $33.95 for her second-place finish.
When Barris announced the final score, little person Jerry Maren (a former Munchkin) ran onstage, throwing confetti while balloons dropped from overhead.
The daily Gong Show also gave out a “Worst Act of the Week” award (later changed to the “Most Outrageous Act of the Week”), selected by the producers and each week’s judges. The winner of this award was announced following the trophy presentation on Friday’s show, and the performer received a dirty tube sock and a check for $516.32.