As a producer, he created the path that led to today's reality television. But now, Barris, who got his start as a page at NBC, questions the boundaries of reality TV in his new novel, "The Big Question."
"Well, this is my commentary against the avarice and greed of networks and syndicators and cable companies and the audiences who will watch almost anything in droves," Barris told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "It's the ultimate — the ultimate game show."
The book is set in 2012 and on the very first page, a poor, crippled old man attacks a retired television producer trying to pitch him this outrageous idea for a game show, which we find out is called "The Death Game." The final winner of the show gets asked "The Big Question" and if she answers correctly, she wins $100 million. If she is wrong, she is executed on live television.
"They get to drink some poison and we, the audience, sit home and in the studio, get to watch her die," Barris said. "There's a new president, there's new laws in the land. You can do anything you want with your body. You can commit suicide. You can assist somebody committing suicide."
When he was involved in television with programs like "The Gong Show" Barris said TV was fun. Today it is more mean-spirited — so much so, that he doesn't think "The Death Game" is that far out of the realm of possibility.
"You know, they did a poll at MSNBC and they said, 'Who would watch an execution on television?' Forty-five percent of those that they polled said they would," Barris said. "I don't believe in this show. I wouldn't want to do it in a million years. This is not where I want to go. But this is where I think television is heading."
Barris also wrote the memoir "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," about his double life as a CIA assassin.
"Somebody checked (with) the head of the CIA and the head of the CIA said that I must have been standing too close to the gong," he said.
To read an excerpt of "The Big Question," click here.
"The Big Question" is published by Simon & Schuster, which is owned by the CBS Corporation, as is CBSNews.com.