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.
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.