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Robert Thompson, a pop culture and television professor at Syracuse University, said Barris’s “fingerprints” are all over more current shows like The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire and the Idol franchise.
The show launched in 1965 to great success. It wasn’t the first game to try and get people together without them seeing each other (the U.S. version of Blind Date started in 1949) but Thompson said Barris brought the concept into the “hip new era of the 1960s.”
Thompson thinks the show was Barris’s “most enduring legacy.”
Soon after, in 1966, Barris launched a show pitting married couples against each other with pretty funny results. It’s where host Bob Eubanks coined the phrase “making whoopie,” a slang term for having sex which let the show skirt the censors.
John Brunton of Insight Productions, a producer who helmed reality shows like The Amazing Race Canada, Canadian Idol and Canada’s Got Talent, said The Newlywed Game proved that Barris had a knack for mining people for entertainment.
“I think that it was tapping into the comedy of couples,” he said.
“He turned the cameras back on real people.”
In this format, Brunton said Barris was one of the original people to create “really compelling television and comedy out of bad talent.”
It’s become a staple of reality television today — from the nightmare performances that get the X on the Got Talent franchise to the terrible singers who show up in the early audition stage of the Idol series.
“He changed the definition of comedy in a way, and it wasn’t written comedy,” Brunton said. “It was found comedy.”
“If we want to realize what a brilliant artist Chuck Barris was, we have to totally rethink the criteria we use in evaluating what exactly is art.”