Another Great Halloween in the Hood

Halloween is one of the nights that makes our neighborhood special.

The streets are filled with kids going from door to door, with the parents of the younger ones hanging back just far enough to give the kids some independence. The houses are decorated for the occasion, and one of our neighbors is playing spooky music loud enough for the whole street.

It is quite a festive atmosphere; by the time the night is over, we typically have had 100-150 trick or treaters come to our door, their faces filled with excitement.

I think I enjoy handing out candy almost as much as the kids enjoy getting it. Not only is it a chance to see some clever outfits, it also gives me the opportunity to observe human behavior.

This year we had the “little” candy bars, and some kids would simply come up and grab as many as they could fit in their hand, while others would just take one. Other kids would ask first, and I would tell them that they could take a couple. I did have a handful of kids ask me what I meant by “a couple”…

But what I like to look for most is the kids who say “thank you”.

I didn’t bother counting, but my sense was that maybe half or slightly more of the trick or treaters said thank you. And it didn’t seem to be biased towards gender or age. I remember a couple of three year olds saying thank you (without being prompted by their parents), and I had some teenagers who seemed intent on acting as if getting the candy was a smash and grab operation. At the same time, there were several teens who did say thank you.

I simply observe these behaviors; I don’t say anything if someone grabbed 10 pieces of candy or if they forget to say thank you.

But I do tell the kids who took just one piece of candy that they could take another one, and I make sure to say “you’re welcome” to those who said thanks.

I doubt if any of the trick or treaters picked up on anything like that, and why would they.

Tonight was about walking around your neighborhood with your friends and family dressed like a superhero, going from house to house for some free candy.

Life doesn’t get much better than that.

To Apologize, or Not To Apologize, That Is The Question. Actually There Is No Question; Apologize.

“I’ve always considered the willingness to admit you’ve made a mistake and to apologize for doing so one of the best attributes a person can have.”

That was a line from one of my previous posts, one where I had written about how impressed I was when Dear Abby offered the following apology to her readers:

Of course you are right. The woman’s question wasn’t about etiquette. It was about child safety. A large number of readers besides you agreed my perspective was off. I have heard all of you loud and clear, and I apologize.

The reason for bringing this up again is that I just read a post by Daniel Coyle, bestselling author of The Talent Code. Coyle’s post is titled, “The Most Important Four Words a Leader Can Say“, and suggests that those four words are “‘I screwed that up.’

Those words are actually the words of Dave Cooper, the SEALs master chief who trained the team that captured Osama bin Laden. Cooper constantly went out of his way to show his fallibility to his team, to admit error.

Coyle also shares an exchange he had with Ed Catmull, president and co-founder of Pixar. The first time they met Catmull showed Coyle around Pixar’s relatively new studio building, named Brooklyn. As they walked, Coyle made an offhand remark — something like, “Wow, this building is amazing.” Catmull then stopped and said, “In fact, this building was a mistake.” Catmull then went on to note the many design flaws in the building that came to the Pixar design too late to change.

According to Coyle “… strong culture can only happen when its members feel safe enough to tell each other the truth. That starts with moments when the leaders show their fallibility. It’s called a vulnerability loop . . . Person No. 1 [is] vulnerable, and admits a mistake or a shortcoming. This allows Person No. 2 to do the same, creating high-candor exchanges that drive performance and build trust. Vulnerability loops determine whether a group is going to be about merely appearing strong, or about actually facing hard truths and learning together.

I couldn’t agree more about the importance of leaders showing their fallibility, their willingness to admit they were wrong, and their willingness to take responsibility for their mistakes.

I also believe that a key part of this process is apologizing, so I decided to see if there has been anything written about the benefits of apologizing. A quick Google search, as you might have guessed, returned millions of responses. Here are some of the thing I learned:

An honest and sincere apology has the potential to restore dignity and diminish fear of retaliation or even desire for vengeance on the receiving end. On the giving end it can be a powerful tool to reconcile a working relationship and to initiate the restoration of trust. Accordingly, an apology can show strength of character, demonstrate emotional competence and reaffirm that both parties share values in their relationship they want to commit to. (The Power of Apologies)

Scientific studies are validating the health-promoting benefits that can result from apologizing. One study showed that showed that subjects displayed faster blood pressure recovery when they received a genuine apology.  And when giving an apology, remorse is a highly effective teacher because it points us in the direction of positive, internal change and personal growth. (The Power of I’m Sorry)

Deborah Tannen, a best-selling author and sociolinguist at Georgetown University writes, “APOLOGIES are powerful. They resolve conflicts without violence, repair schisms between nations, allow governments to acknowledge the suffering of their citizens, and restore equilibrium to personal relationships.” (Apologizing—A Key to Making Peace)

So there is a lot to be said for apologizing, whether it is in a personal relationship, at work, or in politics. There are benefits to both the receiver and the sender, a win-win.

There is also a good deal written about the importance of the sincerity of the apology, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

I don’t want to have to apologize for making my posts too long; there’s value in getting your point across in as few words as possible.

In fact, I could cut Daniel Coyle’s suggestion concerning the most important four words a leader can say in half, by simply using the phrase “I’m sorry.”

Key Lessons from the Longest Study on Human Development

For the past 70 years, scientists in Britain have been studying thousands of children through their lives to find out why some end up happy and healthy while others struggle. It’s the longest-running study of human development in the world, and it’s produced some of the best-studied people on the planet while changing the way we live, learn and parent.

In a recent TED talk, science journalist Helen Pearson shared some important findings and simple truths about life and good parenting based on the data collected as part of this project.

The good news is that parenting does matter; the disappointing, but perhaps not surprising news, is that the results support the notion of the ovarian lottery, that is, the enormous role that luck of birth plays in life outcomes.

The study reveals that children born into poverty or into disadvantage are far more likely to walk a difficult path in life. Many children in this study were born into poor families or into working-class families that had cramped homes or other problems, and it’s clear now that those disadvantaged children have been more likely to struggle on almost every score. They’ve been more likely to do worse at school, to end up with worse jobs and to earn less money.  Children who had a tough start in life are also more likely to end up unhealthy as adults. They’re more likely to be overweight, to have high blood pressure, and then decades down the line, more likely to have a failing memory, poor health and even to die earlier.

That is quite discouraging, to know that something that is completely outside of your control has such a profoundly negative impact on your future.

Some of these differences emerge at quite a young age. In one study, children who were growing up in poverty were almost a year behind the richer children on educational tests, and that was by the age of just three.

There were some optimistic findings in the study, showing that not everyone who has a disadvantaged start ends up in difficult circumstances.

And that’s where parents come in. Children who had engaged, interested parents, ones who had ambition for their future, were more likely to escape from a difficult start. It seems that parents and what they do are really, really important, especially in the first few years of life.

Here are some things parents can do that can have a positive impact:

  • Talking and listening to a child and responding to them warmly
  • Teaching them their letters and numbers
  • Taking them on trips and visits
  • Reading to children every day seems to be really important, too. In one study, children whose parents were reading to them daily when they were five and then showing an interest in their education at the age of 10, were significantly less likely to be in poverty at the age of 30 than those whose parents weren’t doing those things.
  • Having a regular bedtime. Data showed that those children who were going to bed at different times were more likely to have behavioral problems, and then those that switched to having regular bedtimes often showed an improvement in behavior.
  • The data also showed that children who were reading for pleasure at the ages of five and 10 were more likely to go on in school better, on average, on school tests later in their lives. And not just tests of reading, but tests of spelling and math as well.

So yes, parenting matters. But is it enough to overcome the problem of being born into poverty or disadvantage?

Well, one study looked at children growing up in persistent poverty and how well they were doing at school. The data showed that even when their parents were doing everything right — putting them to bed on time and reading to them every day and everything else — that only got those children so far. Good parenting only reduced the educational gap between the rich and poor children by about 50 percent. Now that means that poverty leaves a really lasting scar, and it means that if we really want to ensure the success and well-being of the next generation, then tackling child poverty is an incredibly important thing to do.

So to me that is the biggest issue we face as a nation and around the world – how to reduce the poverty gap so that we no longer have children born into poverty and all the future problems that creates for those individuals and our country.

And we also need to change our attitude; we can’t look at people who are struggling financially, socially, emotionally, or physically and assume it is their own fault.

As the data from this study shows, that’s certainly not the case.

What we need is a kinder, gentler set of policies, and a kinder, gentler attitude from all of us, to all of us.

Here is the TED talk if you would like to watch it (12 minutes):


The Real Benefits of Having a Pet

A Wall Street Journal story today by Dr. John Bradshaw took a closer look at the real benefits of owning a pet.

Some researchers have proposed that having a pet bestows a dazzling array of health benefits: lower cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, combatting stress, relieving depression, enhancing self-esteem, and making children more empathetic.

However, most of these healthy benefits can be attributed to other characteristics of the pet owners, such as being white, married, and a homeowner.

Other benefits, such as improved mood and a calming effect, may be real, but are only temporary.

And even if some of the benefits above were real, there is the stress associated with owning a pet, which could negate some of the aforementioned benefits.

Despite these explanations, there are still benefits to owning a pet.

The pet effect may be a social one:

  • Research has confirmed that this is a real effect, applying to men and women alike. In a 2015 study published in the journal Anthrozoös, a young man walking around a shopping precinct with a friendly Labrador retriever by his side was able to persuade one woman in three to part with their phone numbers, compared with less than one in 10 when he was on his own. (My college roommate and I had a dog for a short time while in college, and this seemed to work quite well for him. When I walked the dog, he’s all that the girls noticed…)
  • A 2015 study found that pet owners were more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than those without pets.

Bradshaw concludes, “Pets make people happy, and bring people together. Does it really matter if they don’t have the power to prolong our lifespans?”

I can certainly attest to the social benefit of having a dog (well at least my wife can):

  • First, most dogs force you to get out of the house every day; you’ll never meet your neighbors if you sit inside all day.
  • Second, dogs provide a reason to stop and say hello to your neighbors. The neighbor may want to pet the dog, or they may have a dog themselves that wants to befriend your dog. In other words, dogs are nice icebreakers.
  • Third, along the lines of the previous benefit, dogs give you something to talk about when you see a neighbor, with opening lines such as, “What kind of dog is that?”, or “Is your dog friendly?”, or “How old is your dog?”
  • Finally, the occasional stray dog gives the neighbors something to rally behind, to unite in a common endeavor.

So I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad that we have a dog, despite her attraction to pink, and a desire to go outside every five minutes.






More Eye Catching Ads

Thanks to the Marketing Birds Twitter account, I’ve come across some great ads. I first wrote about Marketing Birds back in March, and I thought I’d update that post with some intriguing ads that have been created since then.

I think this is why I go to the gym:


a little bit of Philly attytood coming through (from tax-free Delaware):


quite clever, but it seems like the ad has a natural expiration date, once the tree gets big enough:


even if I knew it was fake, I still would have trouble eating anything inside such a lunch bag:


poking fun at Ikea:


another ad taking advantage of its natural surroundings:



now here’s a clever design! I wonder how sturdy it is…

Thank you Marketing Birds for making me aware of these great ads.

You Can Take the Boy Out of Pennsylvania, but You Can’t Take the Snacks Out of the Boy

I’ve often said that a big part of who you are is determined by when and where you where born. Well who knew it applied to my weakness for potato chips and pretzels.

I try to eat healthy, but I have to admit that I find it quite difficult to walk past our kitchen cabinets without opening them up and grabbing a handful of chips or pretzels. It doesn’t matter if it’s 8 in the morning, or if I’m heading upstairs for bed at night; I just can’t resist them. (That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this blog from my upstairs bedroom; otherwise I’d be having some chips after every paragraph.)

Well apparently, Pennsylvania is the snack capital of the world, especially when it comes to chips and pretzels; there is an unusually high concentration of snack-food producers in the state.

Hanover, PA, and a few counties surrounding it, is the biggest producer of America’s favorite guilty pleasures. More potato chips (and pretzels, candy, ice cream, and chocolate) are produced over these few counties than anywhere else on Earth.

An Atlas Obscura article offers some valid reasons as to why these snacks are so popular in Pennsylvania:

  • Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of German-Americans in the US, so isn’t it just logical that the pretzel, a German import, would take root there?
  • Chocolate, well, Philadelphia was a key port in the slave trade, taking on sugar from the Caribbean and manufacturing it a bit west of the city during its booming economic decades.
  • Dairy was and remains a huge industry in Pennsylvania, and the summers are brutally hot, so, sure, ice cream.
  • Pennsylvania’s soil, slightly acidic, combines with an intensely humid climate to create ideal growing conditions for potatoes.

Today, the potato chip scene in Pennsylvania is not like other places. A survey of the state’s supermarkets found that Frito-Lay, the nation’s biggest chip maker, led in display quantity fewer than one in 10 times. In its place are several PA based chip companies. Three of these PA-based companies have gone national – Herr’s, Wise, and Utz.

I also learned that I’ve got to be more discerning when choosing my potato chips, since some of them are made with animal lard – a big no-no as a vegan. (I know, I know, there’s no health benefits to chips whatsoever, but I still have my standards…)

I’m also going to be on the lookout for darker chips; those aren’t burnt chips, they just come from a potato with more sugar content, which caramelized and darkened in the hot oil. That sounds quite appealing, and may explain why I’ve always been a fan of Wise potato chips, since they always seemed to be a little well done.

(It’s embarrassing to admit, but a couple of hours ago, after reading the Atlas Obscura article, I started searching online where to buy Wise chips, since they are not as widely distributed as other national brands. Fortunately, it looks like the local Target sells them – I may be making a visit in the next couple of days  hours.)

As to the other snacks PA is famous for, the state produces 80 percent of the country’s pretzels, and is home to brands like Snyder’s of Hanover and Auntie Anne’s. The hard pretzel was invented in central Pennsylvania.


Ice cream has a long history in Pennsylvania, too: Breyer’s, Mister Softee, the Choco Taco, and Bassetts, which bills itself as the oldest ice creamery in the country, are all Pennsylvanian companies.


As for chocolate, what more needs to be said than Hershey, PA?


As for other snacks, if you’ve never had Tastykake, you don’t know what you are missing.


And birch beer is a Pennsylvania product as well.


So we’ve got your snacking needs covered.

I’m sure this doesn’t make us the healthiest state in the country, but sometimes you just need a burnt potato chip or a powdered mini-donut, especially if you’re from Pennsylvania.

P.S. This video was just on Ellen’s show today; this girl must be from Pennsylvania:

Realizing Once Again That Not Everyone Thinks Like Me

The Wall Street Journal had a story last week about the risks corporate CEO face when they try to be a “socially responsible” business.

From the story:

Many corporate chieftains argue that companies shouldn’t only seek to be money-making enterprises; they should also be good corporate citizens. From Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz to Unilever PLC Chief Executive Paul Polman, leaders variously promote efforts to reduce their company’s carbon footprints, work with sustainable suppliers and produce healthier or more eco-friendly products—both as a marketing tool and business model.

But a new study shows that socially responsible initiatives can be a double-edged sword for CEOs, helping to shield them from being ousted during more prosperous times but increasing the likelihood they would be fired in bad times.

While it is natural to expect that CEOs will be fired when their company does not do well and that they will remain in their position when the company does well, the research shows that social responsibility increases the likelihood of each outcome.

I’m a proponent of businesses focusing on more than just profits, that companies do have a social responsibility. I realize there are diferent perspectives on this issue, and it is a topic we discuss in my Intro to Business course.

I have my students read Milton Friedman’s famous “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1970. Friedman is a Nobel Prize winning economist, and so his opinion carries a lot of weight. However, I couldn’t disagree more with his opinion on the issue.

Friedman believed that the only responsibility of a business is to increase profits on behalf of the stockholders. Any form of social responsibility is viewed as harmful to the shareholders, and thus should be avoided.

I also have my students read an interesting 2005 debate between Friedman and John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) on this topic.  Friedman still argues against social responsibility, whereas Mackey (in my opinion), offers a more enlightened perspective on what the responsibilities of companies should be. Macey refers to this as “conscious capitalism”.

Others have espoused ideas similar to Mackey. For example, Bill Gates talks about the notion of “creative capitalism“, while Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff refers to “compassionate capitalism” and investor Paul Tudor Jones uses the phrase “just capital“.

To me, the arguments in favor of a “socially responsible” approach to running a business are so much more convincing than the arguments Friedman makes. (I also realize that there could be some confirmation bias going on here; that I’m just looking for support for my opinion, and ignoring anything that may go against my beliefs, but hey, we’re all human…)

While I want my students to be aware of what the arguments are in favor of each side of the issue, I let them know where I stand on the issue. I also encourage them to form their own opinion on the issue, reminding them that Friedman was  Nobel prize wining economist, so you can’t just completely discount what he has to say on the topic.

My sense, from having this discussion with my students for several years, is that the students are overwhelmingly in support of companies taking on social responsibilities.

So given my beliefs, and the apparent belief of most of mys students, I guess I got complacent and jstu thought that’s how most people thought.

Well once again, I found out that there are people who think dramtically different than I do. This came out, like it usually does, in the comments to the WSJ article refereced above.

Here are some of those comments:

  • Companies are supposed to be running BUSINESSES.  They are supposed to generate profits they use to pay their employees and shareholders who then go out in the world and do good. Companies that they think they are supposed to be in the social engineering business are taking their eye off the ball.
  • Personally, I believe that the only social cause that falls under the purview of a public company is remaining sustainable so that some people can have work, while others can obtain what they need or want.
  • It is always easy to spend someone else’s money.  When a CEO expends corporate funds to “do good”, whatever that means at the exact time he does the action, he is spending the shareholder’s money.  If he feels so strongly, he should spend his own money and allow the shareholders to spend the larger dividends as they see fit.
  • In other words: “It’s a shame to have stewardship over other people’s assets and not use them to make myself feel good.”
  • Always good to know when a CEO cares more about his “personal mission” than doing his actual job.
  • By law, as an officer (and usually director too), a CEO’s job is to deliver shareholder value within the framework of law and regulation and ethical behavior.  I believe boards should look critically at any CEO who tries to use their company as a platform for their own social biases.
  • So called “social justice” shares an extremely thin line with leftist politics.
  • Let them spend their own money on “doing good” which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

In fact, of the 25 plus comments posted after the article, I could only find one that really came out in support of corporate responsibility; the vast majority, as indicated by the comments above, were much more in line with Friedman’s beliefs.

So reading those comments really threw me for a loop. As I mentioned, given y experience in the classroom, I just assumed that the vast majority of people believed what I did, that corporate social responsibility is a good thing. But then when I read such comments I realized that is not the case, and in fact I may be in the minority with my beliefs.

But I’m comfortable with my opinion.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway for me from all of this is the power of reading. In particular the value of reading material that may not share your opinion on a topic. It’s always good to know why someone feels differently than you do, since that can only help you have a more informed opinion. It doesn’t mean that you will necessarily change your mind on an issue, but it does make you think more intelligently about your beliefs and assumptions.

And that’s a good thing.


I’ve Got to Stop Making Snap Judgements

My son and I were at the mall today, and as part of our late morning/early afternoon visit, we walked past an indoor playground.

There was the usual mix of young kids, parents, and possibly grandparents, but one person stood out to me.

It was a young woman sitting on a bench with a cup of Starbucks coffee beside her,  talking on her cell phone with her laptop open, and what looked to be some type of notebook or day planner.

My immediate thought was “Shouldn’t you be paying attention to your kid?”

We continued walking past the playground, and about five minutes later I started to have second thoughts about my initial impression.

I had only caught a glimpse of a situation, yet I was quick to make a judgement, that this woman was neglecting her child.

I had no idea what this woman’s life was like, what kind of relationship she had with her child/children, what she was doing on the phone or to whom she was talking, what she was doing on her laptop, how long she had been there, or a thousand other things.

And despite all of that not knowing, I still felt compelled to form an opinion about the young woman.

I’d like to say it’s the first time I’ve done something like that, but I know it’s not.

I also started to wonder if I would have had the same initial reaction if it had been a young man I saw in such a situation. Was my reaction just providing support for the results of the implicit bias test I had taken last week, which revealed that “your data suggest a strong automatic association for Male with Career and Female with Family.”

All I can say in my defense is that I recognized the fact that I had made a snap judgement, and that doing so was less than admirable behavior.

Hopefully awareness of the problem is the first step in fixing the problem.

In the meantime, were any of you wondering what I was doing at a mall, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week?

All I can say is, don’t judge me…

Will Accountants Go the Way of Switchboard Operators and Bowling Alley Pinsetters?

Over the years, many jobs that used to be done by humans are now done by machines and computers. Besides the ones noted above, think film projectionists, elevator operators, and bridge toll collectors.

While there may still be some people doing those jobs, they are a dying breed. I’d be surprised if there were still people doing such jobs in 10 years.

When you look at the those jobs with, perfect hindsight, you may not be surprised of such a development. You may think of the jobs of being low skilled, and easily automated.

But are there any jobs that are immune from the relentless march of technology?

Your first thought might be that white-collar jobs are safer than most, and what’s more white collar than an accountant?

Well the Wall Street Journal had a story today about how some firms are beginning to use robots for some of the more mundane, repetitive type tasks that are performed by finance professionals. Here are some of the highlights:

  • One of Statoil AS STO A’s newest employees, Roberta, spends her days in the energy firm’s treasury department searching for missing payment information and sending out reminders. Roberta doesn’t have a last name, a face, or arms. She is the first piece of robotic software to work in the Norwegian company’s treasury department.
  • Two thirds of large global companies expect to automate some or most of their finance-department tasks over the next two to three years.
  • These new technologies are designed to cut costs, liberate workers from time-consuming, repetitive tasks, and in many cases reduce finance- and treasury-department employee numbers.
  • Forecasting business performance is one area where humans can be replaced by an algorithm, according to Nokia’s CFO Kristian Pullola. Nokia also plans to use robotics to automate tasks related to its financial-reporting process.
  • Finance executives aren’t turning to robots just for savings; automation can cut error rates by up to 66%,
  • Atos SE is planning to hand over its reporting tasks—for example, collecting and assembling data for monthly and quarterly reports, as well as calculating results—to robots.

The plan, according to these companies, and others, is to use robots to do the repetitive, mundane tasks, and allow people to focus on the “higher-order”, more analytical type work.

I remember hearing that same argument 25 years ago; that computers were going to take over all of the routine, mechanized tasks that accountants do, and accountants could then just focus on more analytical work.

So did that not happen? Why are accountants still ding such tasks? Or are they doing higher order tasks, but now robots have learned to do those as well? If that’s the case, the trend does not bode well for the accounting profession.

Will we again be reading stories in ten years about how robots are replacing the routine tasks being performed by accountants? Shouldn’t such routine tasks have been fully automated by then, especially that was supposed to have been done 25 years ago?

So if accountants aren’t safe from advances in robotics, who is?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, but I’m thinking it doesn’t look too good for those who teach accounting.

Maybe it’s time to brush up on my juggling skills…

Remembering the Gong Show

While driving in the car today a story came on the radio that made a reference to a “Dancing Machine”.

My mind immediately drifted back to the 70s, and the classic TV show, The Gong Show.

For me, it was must-see-TV. I even remember for a while there was a group of us that would go down to the “study” lounge in our dorm and watch the show every day.

If you’re not familiar with the show, or want a trip down memory lane, here’s a description of the show from Wikipedia:

Each show presented a contest between amateur performers of often dubious talent, with a panel of three celebrity judges. If any judge considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could force it to stop by striking a large gong. Most of the performers took the gong with sheepish good grace, but there were exceptions. Chuck Barris, the emcee, would then ask the judge(s) in question why they gonged the act.

Originally, panelists had to wait 20 seconds before they could gong an act; in short order this was extended to 30 seconds and then 45. Some performers deliberately ended their acts before the minimum time had elapsed, but Barris would immediately disqualify them. In other cases, a judge would gong an act before its minimum time was up; Barris would overrule the gong, and the act would be obliged to continue with its fate already sealed.

Any act that survived without being gonged was given a score by each of the three judges on a scale of 0 to 10, for a maximum possible score of 30. On the NBC series, the contestant who achieved the highest combined score won the grand prize: a check for $516.32 (a “highly unusual amount”, in Barris’s words; reportedly the Screen Actors Guild’s minimum pay for a day’s work at the time) and a “Golden Gong” trophy.

While The Gong Show was known for its absurdist humor and style, with the actual competition secondary to the often outlandish acts presented, there were a few acts which went on to achieve success.

Twelve-year old Andrea McArdle appeared on an early show in 1976, shortly before winning the lead role in the hit Broadway musical Annie. Cheryl Lynn was signed to a recording contract as a result of her performance, and recorded the Top 40 disco hit “Got To Be Real”. Pee Wee Herman was also a contestant on the show.

There were a few recurring acts, the two that I remember most were The Unknown Comic and Gene Gene the Dancing Machine (as noted above, hearing this on the radio today is what triggered this blog post).

Here’s descriptions of their acts from Wikipedia:

The Unknown Comic was a stand-up comedian who told intentionally corny jokes while wearing a paper bag over his head. Eventually, Langston would beckon to “Chuckie” and tell insulting jokes at his expense (“Have you ever made love to your wife in the shower?” “No.” “Well, you should, she loves it!”). Barris would then feign anger and eject Langston from the show.

Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was a heavy-set, middle-aged man wearing a warm-up suit and flat hat. Gene-Gene’s arrival would always be treated as though it were a glorious surprise to everyone on the show, especially Barris. Upon hearing the opening notes to his theme music, Barris’s face would light up and he would stop the show, yielding the stage to Gene-Gene. Members of the crew would toss random objects from the wings, littering the stage while Gene-Gene danced on, oblivious to the activity around him. Barris and the panelists would enthusiastically mimic Gene-Gene’s dance moves, which consisted primarily of a slow-footed chug-chug motion, punctuated by an occasional, exultant fist pointed skyward. Typically, the dance break would be interrupted by a commercial or by the show’s promotional announcements.

Here’s a couple of videos of each of their performances:

To me what made the show so great though was Chuck Barris, the emcee. Again, from Wikipedia:

Barris was originally the show’s co-producer but not its host. He was an emergency replacement host for John Barbour, who objected to the show’s satirical concept and tried to steer it towards a traditional amateur-hour format.  Barris resisted the requirement that he wear a tuxedo, only caving when NBC threatened to drop the series altogether. Even then, Barris usually ended an episode with undone bowtie and disheveled tails. In time, mandatory tuxedos gave way to more casual attire; later episodes had Barris in casual clothes very unusual for a television host, such as blue jeans. Also, Barris began wearing a variety of silly-looking hats on stage, which were eventually seen on a rack at stage right. He would frequently change hats during a show.

Barris was ill at ease in front of the camera; he had a nervous habit of clapping his hands together and pointing to the camera while talking. He did this so often that, by the show’s second year, it had become a running gag. Audience members began clapping their hands in unison with Barris whenever they saw him doing it. Barris caught on, and would sometimes pretend to clap, deliberately stopping short to fool the audience.

Before long, Barris was working so loosely that some viewers assumed he was intoxicated from alcohol or other drugs. For example, he sometimes pulled his hat down over his eyes, totally obscuring them and his dialogue was almost never crisp, clear, or professionally apt; even, at times, considered to be unscripted ramblings.

The show was broadcast on NBC’s daytime schedule from June 14, 1976, through July 21, 1978, and in first-run syndication from 1976 to 1980 and 1988 to 1989. The show came back this year, but I have yet to see the new version; I’m sure it can’t match the original.

I vaguely recall that there was the occasional juggling act on the Gong Show, but a quick search only found this one:

They just don’t make shows like they used to…