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I recently had occasion to explain The Gong Show to a younger colleague and I got to thinking about it.  It really was a beautiful thing in ways that aren’t readily apparent from the many clips on Youtube. And there’s some great stuff on Youtube:

But the real delight of the Gong Show can’t be captured on Youtube.  Cool as it is, Youtube is a place where you go looking for weirdness.  The Gong Show just sort of wandered in and was weird.   It was completely out of context in a TV time full of game shows and soap operas.  Those shows took foolish things seriously;  the Gong Show was foolish, but consciously so, and never, never pretended to be anything but a goofy waste of time.  It was surprisingly sensible in its way.

Still, the contrast was jarring.  You’d be bopping around the wasteland of noontime TV looking for something to watch while you gulped down some snack and there it was.  In fact, you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention; it was camouflaged as a game show, and a hokey one at that.  But eventually you’d notice something off – what was that prize total? did that judge take her top off? – and realize that there was something seriously, delightfully wrong with these people.

Not only was the show bizarre, but it had it’s own set of off-kilter in-jokes.  Why was there a rack full of hats there?  What’re they throwing at that Gene guy?  Nothing was ever explained, it just was.  It was easily as confusing as the real world, but a ton more fun.  Finding it was like finding the Phantom Tollbooth.

I first saw it because my friend LJ described it to me and I didn’t believe such a show could exist.  Later I had the pleasure of showing it to others.  It was the kind of thing that you wanted to share, partially to be sure it wasn’t a mirage.  If they see it too, maybe it’s really there.

It’s not there anymore, of course.  But I still meet people who were on that same highway with me.

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