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By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

12 Fun Facts About The Gong Show

By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Gong Show, which premiered on June 14, 1976, was an irreverent response to years of strait-laced variety talent shows from the likes of Ed Sullivan and Lawrence Welk. The singular Chuck Barris hosted most of the episodes of both the daytime and primetime versions of the show, where contestants had 45 seconds to impress celebrity judges before being in danger of getting "gonged" off the stage. Long before American Idol made the talentless popular, The Gong Show was giving unequivocally terrible and at times tasteless amateur acts their 15 minutes of fame.

1. THE CONCEPT CAME FROM A CANADIAN SONGWRITER.

The idea for The Gong Show came after Tommy Hunter, "Canada's Country Gentleman," told producer Chris Bearde about a guy who had auditioned for his show. The idea clicked with Bearde, who then pitched the concept as a series to the CBC.

"Hunter was telling me about these guys that juggle and throw bowling pins up and they bang them on the head and they never catch them," Bearde recalled. "Then they take four bowling pins and they throw them up in the air and they miss every one of them, and then the guy turns to them and says 'Now I would like to do it blindfolded' ... Let's get Hunter and dress him in a nice tuxedo, and after we get him in the tuxedo he'll introduce all these people." When the CBC said no, Bearde joined up with Chuck Barris to create it in the United States.

2. THE GONG MAY HAVE COME FROM THE APOLLO THEATER.

Howard "Sandman" Sims—the Apollo Theater's "exterminator," who ran on stage shooting a cap gun and sounding a siren when a performer got booed—claimed in 1986 that his whole act is "where The Gong Show came from. The idea is, if the kid is not good enough, we have to create some comic scene to get him off the stage without the audience embarrassing him."

3. IT WASN'T A HIT WITH TEST AUDIENCES.

The Gong Show had "the poorest" results out of any daytime show NBC had ever tested at the time. Madeleine David, NBC's then-director of daytime programming, put it on the air anyway because enough people at the network "cared about it and believe in it."

4. THERE WAS A HOST BEFORE CHUCK BARRIS.

Chuck Barris, who also produced the show, originally hired John Barbour to act as host, but—according to Barris—Barbour "just didn't understand the concept." (Barbour would go on to create Real People and write and direct a 1992 documentary on the JFK assassination.) The ratings with Barbour weren't good, and NBC insisted that if Barris didn't host, the show would be canceled.

5. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC AUDITIONED.

"I was in college," Yankovic recalled, "and a friend and I drove down to L.A. for the day, and auditioned for The Gong Show. And we did a song called 'Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung.' And the audience seemed to enjoy it, but we never got called back. So we didn't make the cut for The Gong Show." Only about 10 percent of applicants ever made it to the show.

6. THE SHOW FEATURED SOME TRULY TALENTED PEOPLE.

Steve Martin was an act and later was a guest judge. Andrea McArdle appeared and subsequently won the lead in the Broadway musical Annie. Cheryl Lynn was signed to a recording contract and recorded "Got To Be Real." Mare Winningham won when she sang "Here, There, and Everywhere," under an alias. Danny Elfman and the rest of Oingo Boingo performed. Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman) estimated he was on the show roughly 15 times. He won money, too.

7. THE $516.32 GRAND PRIZE WASN'T AS RANDOM AS IT SOUNDED.

While Barris referred to it as "the highly unusual amount of $516.32,” it was actually the Screen Actors Guild union scale minimum for one day's work.

8. THE POPSICLE TWINS NEVER RAN ON THE WEST COAST.

Chuck Barris would occasionally send up acts he knew the censors wouldn't allow, distracting them from barring other risqué acts he wanted to put on. The Popsicle Twins (officially known as the "Have You Got a Nickel?" act) were one of those sacrificial lambs, but NBC censors let them through. Enough East Coast viewers complained after witnessing two barefoot 17-year-old girls in shorts and T-shirts sucking on orange popsicles to "I'm in the Mood for Love" that NBC pulled the show's feed from the air before the act could be shown to the rest of the country.

9. NBC BANNED PANELIST JAYE P. MORGAN.

Weeks after The Popsicle Twins incident in 1978, panelist Jaye P. Morgan flashed the studio audience. It never made the broadcast, but she was barred from the show by the network. It was one of the final straws for NBC and the daytime version of the series was canceled soon after. The flashing appeared in The Gong Show Movie (1980).

10. CHUCK BARRIS GOT GONGED IN THE SERIES FINALE.

Barris appeared as a contestant singing Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It." He gave the camera the finger.

11. ROBERT DOWNEY SR. WROTE AND DIRECTED THE GONG SHOW MOVIE.

Halfway through production, Barris decided to direct the movie himself (Downey Sr. was okay with this). It made just over $6.6 million.

12. THEY KEPT TRYING TO BRING THE SHOW BACK.

There was the syndicated weekday revival of The Gong Show, hosted by San Francisco DJ Don Bleu, which ran from 1988 to 1989. Each winner won $701 that time. Ten years later, the Game Show Network presented Extreme Gong, where viewers called in to declare whether an act was good or not. The Gong Show with Dave Attell ran for eight weeks in the summer of 2008 on Comedy Central. Winning acts won $600.

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The Jim Henson Company
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The Dark Crystal Is Coming Back to Theaters
The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

In 1982, Jim Henson and Frank Oz dared to venture into somewhat gloomier territory with the release of The Dark Crystal. Though the film, which centers on two Gelflings (a sort of creepy elf-like creature) attempting to save their species and restore peace to the world, wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, it has developed a large cult following in the more than 35 years since its release—even among those kids it scared the hell out of back in the day. Now, as Netflix preps its prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, for release later this year, Nerdist reports that the original film will make its way back into theaters next month.

As part of Fathom Events’s ongoing effort to breathe big-screen life back into classic films with limited releases across the country, The Dark Crystal will be playing in more than 500 theaters nationwide on February 25 and February 28. In addition to the original film, the screenings will also feature a brand-new introduction courtesy of Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter and current president/CEO of The Jim Henson Company, who will talk about the making of the film and how it fit within her father's creative legacy.

To find out whether The Dark Crystal will be coming back to a theater near you, log onto Fathom’s web page for the movie and type in your ZIP code; tickets are on sale now.

[h/t: Nerdist]

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15 Things You Didn't Know About Betty White
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 96th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. HER NAME IS BETTY, NOT ELIZABETH

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. SHE'S A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. HER FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE IS LOST TO HISTORY.

A photo of Betty White
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Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. WHITE'S RISE TO STARDOM WAS DERAILED BY WORLD WAR II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. HER FIRST SITCOM HIT WAS IN THE EARLY 1950S.

A photo of actress Betty White
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Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she's won five times.

6. WHITE LOVES A PARADE.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. SHE HAS BEEN MARRIED THREE TIMES.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. HER MEET-CUTE WITH HUSBAND #3 HAPPENED ON PASSWORD.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. WHITE ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BLANCHE ON THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

A photo of actress Betty White
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Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. IF SHE HADN'T BEEN AN ACTOR, SHE'D HAVE BEEN A ZOOKEEPER.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. SHE DIDN'T DO AS GOOD AS IT GETS BECAUSE OF AN ANIMAL CRUELTY SCENE.

A photo of actress Betty White
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White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN MADE WHITE THE OLDEST SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE HOST EVER.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. SHE IS THE OLDEST PERSON TO EARN AN EMMY NOMINATION.


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In 2014, White earned her 21st Emmy nod—and her third in a row for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program—for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. SHE LOVES JUNK FOOD.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. SHE WANTS ROBERT REDFORD.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
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White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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