"Candid Camera" debuted 67 years ago this August, and though the show is no longer on the air, it lives on in an avalanche of copycats, having created a winning template that's still used to this day. Producers create scenarios, and hidden cameras capture reactions to those absurd situations from unsuspecting people. Later, the cameras are revealed to the marks, often by revealing the show's title or tagline — though often you can see people thinking something like, I have never heard of that show in my life.
What follows is an overview of the the reality format that keeps finding new life —or new lows — on various networks and with various twists. But it all shares the same DNA.
1948 - "Candid Camera" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGkMhGqbJhY
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The show began as "Candid Microphone," an 1947 radio show that came to ABC in August 1948. It became "Candid Camera" when it moved to NBC a year later, and changed television. Allen Funt's show even occasionally pranked celebrities, a model that would be later used most famously by MTV's "Punk'd."
It's remarkable how well these early episodes hold up; though they're representative of their time, from the black and white footage to dated social conventions, there's something universal and timeless about the pranks and the reactions.
1989 - "Totally Hidden Video" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvgyb5I ... e=youtu.be
An early show on Fox was the beginning of the copycat series that came to broadcast and network television in the United States. It was not without controversy, starting with a lawsuit filed by Allen Funt because of the show's similarity to "Candid Camera." He also accused the show of staging scenes and using actors, which a producer later admitted to, forcing Fox to edit the pilot episode before air. Although it wasn't totally hidden after all, it lasted until 1996.
1995 - "Taxicab Confessions"
More of a documentary than a prank show, the series hid cameras in cabs to capture the passengers' conversations with their drivers. Because it aired on HBO, the conversation -- and the behavior of the passengers -- was often graphic and raw, and sometimes included sex in the cab. The drivers encouraged the confessions, asking pointed questions. But it was also revealing and interesting as people (who later signed waivers to appear on TV, as is the case with most all of these shows) talked openly and honestly.
2002 - "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment"
The actor Jamie Kennedy hosted this hidden camera show, and also took part in the pranks, disguising himself. It was a hybrid hidden camera/sketch show, and frequently returned to the same gags, such as a faux judge show on which Kennedy played an old, confused, sometimes filthy-mouthed TV judge who litigated cases.
1998 - "You're On" - Nickelodeon
This short-lived show, filmed in Orlando when Universal Orlando was functioning as an actual studio instead of just a backdrop for "Sharknado 3," used hidden cameras to watch as pairs of kids tried to convince strangers to perform tasks. If they were successful, they won prizes; if not, they got slimed.
2001 - "Spy TV" - NBC
The initial twist on "Candid Camera" for this two-season NBC series was that people used the show to teach their friends a lesson of some kind or get revenge. Michael Ian Black and Ali Landry each hosted a season, offering commentary on what was happening. Ultimately, it was just kind of mean and pointlessly cruel, and as you can see in this clip, the participants didn't seem all that thrilled to be the butt of a not-very-funny joke.
2002 - "Crank Yankers" - Comedy Central
The pranks on this show were conducted over the phone, so the TV show isn't technically a hidden camera show. Instead, puppets act out the scenes so we can have visuals for the audio. Show creators Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel led a cast of comedians including Sarah Silverman and Tracy Morgan, who created characters that would make calls to unsuspecting people. It was sophomoric, offensive, and often completely hilarious.
2003 - "Punk'd" - MTV
The Ashton Kutcher-hosted series pranked celebrities and captured the results with hidden cameras. There was something delightful about seeing celebrities in moments of panic, starting with episode-one's unwitting star, Justin Timberlake. He had faux federal agents seizing his home and valuables, including his dogs, leaving him distraught--until Ashton Kutcher showed up and Timberlake started laughing. The show worked because these were big pranks that really freaked out the celebrities, but they also seemed thrilled when the reveal came. That may explain why BET is reviving the show.
2003 - "The Joe Schmo Show" - Spike
While "The Joe Schmo Show" was not, technically, a hidden camera show and belongs in a separate category of prank shows, it's noteworthy for being so ambitious and so truly outstanding. Instead of a five-minute prank, this was a 10-episode prank with a single mark. What was hidden from the mark was that everything around him was fake. A group of actors--including Kristen Wiig--pretended to be contestants on a pretend competition reality series called "Lap of Luxury."
Spike resurrected it in 2013, and the result was almost as good as the original. What worked then -- and what works in hidden camera shows -- is the reaction of the mark, and Spike truly had a star in Matt Kennedy Gould, whose priceless reactions and good nature made the show a must-watch.
2002 - "Girls Behaving Badly" - Oxygen
People were pranked by an all-female cast, including Chelsea Handler, in one of her early TV roles — though she'd previous appeared on "Spy TV" earlier.
2003 - "Scare Tactics" - SyFy
The goal of "Scare Tactics" wasn't to get its unwitting stars to laugh, it was to scare the crap out of them. Basically, it was a horror movie come to life, orchestrated by the victims' friends. The acting and the set-ups were pretty low-budget sometimes, but it was also easy to see how someone could be terrified in that situation.
2004 - Boiling Points - MTV
The marks on this series were in competition for cash, but "they don't even know it," as the host said in the intro. The scenarios they were put in by producers and actors were designed to get them angry and mad, and if they didn't react, then they'd win $100. The host also called it "the most annoying show on TV," and it's hard to disagree. It was just TV producers being jerks to people and disguising it as entertainment.
2005 - "Fire Me Please" - CBS
Contestants on this hidden camera show were competing to try to get fired from their jobs by a certain time; the winner received $25,000. Their supervisors weren't in on the joke. The series was based on a UK show called "Sack Race," and thankfully only four episodes aired on CBS.
2009 - "What would You Do?" - ABC
This ABC News hidden camera series is perhaps the most self-important hidden camera show ever. It has actors in public places treat each other badly in order to see if people will intervene to defend others. The scenarios tend to address issues of social consciousness, from race to sexual orientation, and often features its actor participants judging or discriminating against other actors.
The intent and the message may be positive, but it sometimes comes across as a lecture. And since the scenarios are all fake, with actors and scripts, it loses some of its credibility; it's hard to believe some of these things would happen in real life because they're so over-the-top. Still, at its best, it captures unsuspecting people doing the right thing, and can be feel-good TV.
2012 - "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" - NBC
Hosted by Betty White, the show aired on NBC for two seasons and Lifetime for one. The twist is that old people pranked younger people, acting obnoxiously and using their age as a shield for their bad behavior. Would people react negatively, or give their elders a free pass?
2014 - "The Carbonaro Effect" - TRU TV
"The Carbonaro Effect" replaces pranks with magic. As a result, it's far more feel-good than other shows, including truTV's 2011 series "Impractical Jokers." Magician Michael Carbonaro is filmed by hidden cameras, often as he pretends to work at various retail stores, and performs magic with ordinary objects. For example, he once replaced a customer's eggs with a live chicks. Of course, he never says he's doing magic, nor do people know they're being filmed. The show dispensed with the reveal, so the focus remains on the joy and laughter people get from the trick.
2015 - "Fameless" - TRU TV
From the mischievous mind of comedian and actor David Spade comes Fameless, a genre-busting prank show about how far real people will go for a moment in the spotlight. Each week, the series features a group of unsuspecting desperate-to-be-famous individuals who believe they've been cast on a reality show. However, unbeknownst to them, they are really filming a parody with improv actors creating over-the-top scenarios that steadily increase the absurdity and ridiculousness of each situation - testing the patience of everyone NOT in on the joke. TV-14
Questions about Hidden Camera Pranks.
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