‘The Gong Show’ is back!

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Will Arnett looks for laughs with updated variety show

By Kellie Freeze

We like the sound of TV’s most outrageous series making a return. Will Arnett serves as executive producer and reveals that The Gong Show (premiering Thursday, June 22) isn’t looking for superstars — they’re looking for laughs. “I thought it was very important that we do something that’s just pure entertainment, something that’s purely fun,” he says. “We’re not a talent show; we’re a variety show.”

The original version of The Gong Show aired from 1976-80 and was a rambunctious, barely controlled circus of chaos, hosted by ringleader and emcee Chuck Barris. In developing this new incarnation, Arnett wasn’t trying to improve on the series, saying, “If anything, we’re trying to pay homage to it and make sure that we do right by that legacy.” And “doing right” includes making improvements to the format, reveals Arnett, while keeping some of the wonderful weirdness of the original. “It’s a little bit, probably quicker and snappier than the old show, while hoping to retain a lot of its original tone.”

And some of that tone comes from each week’s trio of judges, pulled from a vibrant cavalcade of celebs including Arnett, Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, Andy Samberg, Elizabeth Banks, Dana Carvey, Will Forte, Jack Black and Anthony Anderson.

Acts hoping to impress the judges include contortionists, singers, magicians, dancers, comedians, painters and “people putting sort of insects and things like that in their mouths while performing musical acts,” shares Arnett. “We are the home of the unusual, and I think that a lot of these acts are things that are not gonna blow people away in the sense of, like, ‘Wow, how did they do that?’ They’re gonna blow people away in the sense that, ‘Wow, how did they even think to do that?’”

The show’s legendary gong may be the series’ biggest star, and deciding if an act is bad enough to be “gonged” is something Arnett takes quasi-seriously. “Whenever I was kind of trying to decide the age-old question ‘To gong or not to gong?’ it would really come down to ‘Am I entertained?’” he says. Acts that Arnett and his fellow judges find entertaining get scored, and at the end of each show, the winning performer or act with the highest judges’ scores will receive a fabulous trophy and a check for the unusual amount of $2,000 and 17 cents.

British entertainer Tommy Maitland hosts the melee — while his name may not ring a bell, he looks remarkably like comedian Mike Myers — and the cheeky emcee’s spirit perfectly encapsulates the levity and laughter of The Gong Show. “At the top of every show,” shares Arnett, “he welcomes everybody and he says, ‘Turn on your TV, turn off your brain. This one’s just for funsies.’ That really sums up Tommy’s attitude, which is ‘Let’s have a good time.’ We’re all on this fun adventure together.”

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