Monday, June 14, 2010

My Morning with Chuck Barris: No Gongs!

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chuck Barris for an entire morning, as we conducted an interview about the TV game show impresario's life and career for the Archive of American Television.

In the interview, which will be available for viewing online sometime in the months ahead, the amiable Barris talked about his creation of three shows which changed the nature of the entire genre: The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show -- among others.

That last one, along with the $1.98 Beauty Show, was one of my earliest -- and trippiest -- TV memories. I hadn't known that Barris ended up hosting The Gong Show after its original host, Real People's John Barbour, left (he wanted the show to be more of a genuine talent show, rather than showcasing deliberately bad "talent.")

And yes, I did bring up Barris' claim, from his 1982 memoir Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, that at the same time as he was working on game shows, he was also traveling the world as a secret CIA assassin. And as for the veracity of the claim: I still don't know. Whatever Barris knows, he's not telling. Which either makes him my most eccentric interviewee yet -- which is saying something, compared to a few of the others! -- or a pretty good CIA guy, good at keeping quiet.

The interview, at New York's Parker Meridien hotel, went right up to the present day, including his 7th book, just released June 1 by Simon & Schuster: Della: a Memoir of My Daughter. Barris' only child Della died in 1998 at age 36, of a drug overdose. I haven't read the book yet, but from the very frank and moving things Barris had to say about his beloved daughter during our time together, I can imagine it's very moving.

The interviews work chronologically, and so this new book was the last project we discussed. In a way, it was a tough way to end our time together, which had included a lot of laughs as Chuck looked back at some of the wackiest moments from his shows -- yes, we discussed the "In the butt, Bob" Newlywed moment.

But heck, I was just happy I didn't get the Gong!

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