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Choice Reruns

‘The Gong Show’

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Falling on the TV-freak show time line between The Ed Sullivan Show and Oddville, MTV, The Gong Show (Game Show Network, weeknights, 10-10:30 p.m.) made a big noise with its 1976 debut. The contestants, among them belly dancers, animal trainers, and tone-deaf crooners, competed for the random sum of $516.32. Of course, they had to complete their acts without getting ”gonged” by a panel of semi-celebrity judges, which included potty-mouthed Jaye P. Morgan, confetti-tossing Rip Taylor, and an embarrassed-looking David Letterman. With his unruly salt-and-pepper curls and squinty grin, cocreator/emcee Chuck Barris was the antithesis of an average game-show host. The Gong Show also featured ”The Unknown Comic,” a stand-up whose shtick stank so badly he had to wear a paper bag over his head, and ”Gene, Gene, The Dancing Machine,” a burly hoofer whose every appearance provoked unbridled joy. And watch for a pre-Pee-wee Paul Reubens, doing sound effects as one half of ”Betty and Eddie.” He received a perfect score of 30, and judge Arte Johnson presciently declared we’d see more of him in the future. If only he knew how much.

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