Thirty years is a long time. Back in 1976 there was a televised talent program hosted by the creator of "The Newlywed Game" and "The Dating Game", Chuck Barris. It was called "The Gong Show." Presently we have a different show called "American Idol", hosted by the multi-talented Ryan Seacrest, if one is allowed to subdivide the talent of "TV host" and "Children's TV host". In my fourth grade teacher's head, I began to compare and contrast.
Both programs are most certainly cultural touchstones of their time. In the middle of the 1970's as punk rock pulled in one direction and disco the other, "The Gong Show" was guilt-free junk food for the Me Generation. Just as "American Idol" has given us the iconic trio of Simon, Paula and Randy, "The Gong Show" had Jamie Farr, Rip Taylor and Jaye P. Morgan. "American Idol" is a slick machine that churns out superstars that can be signed to recording agreements that the corporation maintains with a major record company and benefit from the record sales of contestants and winners who are exposed to the worldwide marketplace through the TV shows. Idols get careers. Winners on the Chuck Barris' show were awarded with the princely sum of $516.32. Back in 1976, that was about what you'd expect to get for imitating a number of electronic sounds, on your way to stardom in the "Police Academy" movies (as Michael Winslow did).
And yes, they are as different as night and day, just like the decades that gave birth to them. The seventies gave us "The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo", Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), and RuPaul. Today we have such lasting luminaries as Clay Aiken, Justin Guarini and Frenchie Davis. Mister Seacrest is the foil for Simon and his cruel jests, where Chuck Barris was the addled ringmaster of a videotaped freak show. America chooses their Idol, but a trio of drunken B-list celebrities decided who was gonged - and isn't that the way it really ought to be?