No-‘Gong’ zone: Classic TV game shows seek love connection with fans

No-'Gong' zone: Classic TV game shows seek love connection with fans
Host 'Tommy Maitland,' right, appears with a contestant on ABC's 'The Gong Show.'

For classic game shows, it’s a case of gonged but definitely not forgotten. And look who’s hosting.

Summer brings a passel of prime time games, including revivals of The Gong Show, which premiered Thursday on ABC, with Mike Myers (in prosthetics as British comedian “Tommy Maitland”); Fox’s Love Connection featuring Bravo’s Andy Cohen, and music-centric Beat Shazam, with Jamie Foxx heading a spiritual descendant of Name That Tune. Snoop Dogg also tries his hand as game-show host in a revival of The Joker’s Wild this fall on TBS.

They follow other past daytime regulars that have recently jumped to prime time with big-name hosts, including ABC’s Celebrity Family Feud (Steve Harvey), Match Game (Alec Baldwin), To Tell the Truth (Anthony Anderson) and The $100,000 Pyramid (Michael Strahan).

Will Arnett, an executive producer and judge on Gong, will be joined by such guests as Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black and Elizabeth Banks. Though he won’t confirm Maitland’s true identity — ABC’s press release describes him as a “cheeky monkey” M.C., A favored phrase of Myers’ Simon character — Arnett revels in the attention.

“I love that people are saying that,” Arnett says. “I say to those people: Come meet Tommy Maitland. He’s an amusing guy.”.

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Arnett loved the ’70s original, hosted by creator Chuck Barris, which featured absurd entertainment acts that could be “gonged” off the stage for outright badness, a tactic now employed by buzzers on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. The new Gong shoots for its predecessor’s zany factor with acts that include a couple who shoot banana pieces into each other’s mouths and a woman dressed as Little Bo Peep who puts her pet tarantula in her mouth while playing the harmonica.

“I think it was the first show that understood that TV didn’t need to take itself so seriously. It challenged the idea of a variety show,” Arnett says. “This is kind of a perfect show for now, given that everything is so up in the air politically and socially. We need something fun and funny.”.

Well-known titles cut through the TV clutter, allowing fans to instantly recognize familiar formats and embrace the nostalgia, says Sony Pictures Television executive VP Holly Jacobs, who oversees new versions of Gong, Joker’s Wild and Pyramid. (Sony also produces top-rated syndication stalwarts Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!).

“The reason why some of these shows went on for years and years is because they were great formats. These are classics for a reason,” she says.

Lower-cost game shows are appealing during the summer because viewers “don’t have to be tied to a storyline through multiple episodes. You can drop in and out,” says Stacey Schulman, executive VP at ad firm Katz Media Group. As old shows live on in so many delivery platforms, “people are discovering (or) rediscovering old series” and may have interest in a newer version.

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Modern technology frames the shows. Love Connection, which features a contestant, or “single,” going on three blind dates and picking one partner for a romantic getaway, includes video confessionals shot by the contestants.

But its blind-date format, a throwback in the Tinder era, has an enduring allure, says Cohen, who “loves asking personal questions, awkward questions” to prompt post-date analysis.

“It’s the he-said/she-said about dating, hearing the two sides talk about first dates,” he says.

The updated version reflects the times with more diversity in sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, including interracial couples.

Would Cohen look for a Connection? Absolutely not, he says, though he admires singles willing to put themselves out there. “It’s kind of brave of people to reveal you’re lonely and looking for someone. It gets to the core of your vulnerability.”.