Television game show pioneer Chuck Barris died Tuesday at age 87 in his Palisades, N.Y., home, leaving behind his third wife, Mary, and a legacy that includes classics such as The Gong Show, The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and other notable entries into the game-show canon.
A Philadelphia native, Barris grew up in Bala Cynwyd and graduated from Lower Merion High School and Drexel University. He would go on to get his start in entertainment at NBC in New York before moving back to Philadelphia to tail Dick Clark at American Bandstand as a standards-and-practices man at ABC.
Barris would also later claim that his life of espionage went further than that, writing in his 1984 autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, that he was an assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency. A CIA rep later called Barris’ assertion “absurd.”
Whether he killed people in the name of the U.S. government or not, Mr. Barris is certainly responsible for an outrageous form of television that led the TV man to dub himself “The King of Daytime Television.” Critics, however, were less kind, referring to Barris in his heyday as “The King of Schlock” and “The Baron of Bad Taste.”
So, with that legacy in mind, we have rounded up some of the weirdest, most outrageous TV moments made possible by Barris. Because, despite what the man himself said in a 2003 interview with the A.V. Club, TV likely wouldn’t have been the same without him.
"I think anything would have been possible without my shows," Barris told the A.V. Club in a 2003 interview. "I think The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game began the momentum for what eventually became Fear Factor, The Jerry Springer Show, Joe Millionaire, and so on. But if I wasn't there, somebody else would have been."
What’s your favorite wild Barris TV moment? Let us known in the comments.
A pre-Pee-wee Paul Reubens on ‘The Gong Show’
These days, we know Paul Reubens as the inimitable Pee-Wee Herman. But back in 1977, he was just coming up as a comedic performer with the Groundlings. As the Notable Names Data Base reports, Reubens was a huge Gong Show fan, and would appear on the show 15 times throughout its run. In this clip, a pre-Pee-wee Reubens performs alongside John Paragon (Jambi the Genie and Pterri the Pterodactyl on Pee-wee’s Playhouse) as “Suave & Debonair.”
Serial killer Rodney Alcala appears on ‘The Dating Game’
Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death in 1980 for the murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, but is suspected of killing between a dozen and 130 women by some accounts. Currently, Alcala is in prison in California. But two years before the conviction that got him there, Alcala appeared on The Dating Game as Bachelor Number One despite being convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl in 1972. He won his appearance on the show, with competitors years later recalling Alcala “kind of a creepy guy.”
The real-life Bunkers appear on ‘The Newlywed Game’
While Edith and Archie Bunker were never real people, the universe came close with Charlie and Pat, a couple that bears a striking resemblance to the All in the Family couple. The pair appeared on The Newlywed Game in 1979, and while they appear a little gruff and indifferent to one another, they actually go on to win the game and share an overwhelming kiss on-air. They took home a piano and a couple of mopeds for their trouble, but the real prize is the clip above.
The Popsicle Twins tease ‘The Gong Show’
Barris liked to test television censors with borderline risqué acts, and in 1978 may have went over the top with Have You Got a Nickel. The group would later become known as the Popsicle Twins due to their act, which entailed two women eating popsicles in a sexually suggestive way. TV censors let the act through for the airing on the show in the Eastern time zone, but pulled the clip from subsequent Pacific, Central, and Mountain time airings. NBC canceled Gong in July 1978.
Andy Kaufman pranks ‘The Dating Game’
Andy Kaufman was already a well-known comedian by the time he appeared on — in 1978. So, naturally, he decided to pull out a character. This time, it was an as-yet-unknown character who would go on to become Taxi’s Latka Gravas, with that show launching in September 1978. Kaufman, however, played the character as “Baji Kimran,” and confused staff members of the show and contestants alike.
Woman’s shocking ‘Newlywed Game’ answer
One of Bob Eubanks’ favorite questions to ask contestants was the strangest or most off-beat places the couples ever wanted to “make whoopee.” That questions resulted in a couple of notorious TV moments, including the above 1977 clip in which a woman, Olga, tells Eubanks that the strangest place she ever wanted to have sex wasn’t in a car or outside, but “in the [expletive].” As Eubanks said of the clip later, it never actually made it to air, but still became one of the most infamous clips in game-show history.