Candid Camera Has Been on the Air Way Longer Than the Simpsons
Ask folks which TV series is the longest running of all time and they will always say “The Simpsons.” It’s true, the Simpson’s have long uninterrupted run, but “Candid Camera” started long before Homer Simpson’s affection for doughnuts.
It was August 10, 1944, when Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera” launched ABC into the prime time spotlight. Who could have imagined that seven decades later the “Candid Camera” brand would still be relevant?
The formula created by Allen Fund for “Candid Camera,” originally “Candid Microphone,” established the standard operating procedures for prank shows. To this day, it is one of the most borrowed forms of comedy, but none carries more prestige than the original brand.
The first version of the show was on the radio. That was June 28, 1947. It ran until September 23rd the same year. For a brief period in 1950, CBS revived the radio format with Philip Morris as a sponsor, but it did not last.
Funt made a series of film shorts, and a year after “Candid Microphone,” he moved it to television. The concept and the name remained the same.
Funt would put unsuspecting, unwitting participants in awkward situations, then let comedy ensue as they wrestle with the internal conflict of awkwardness, until such time that he would have to reveal the gag.
Sometimes he would put them in jump scare, where something would spring out to scare the participant. Other times they would find themselves questioned by authorities about some innocuous event.
Smile, You’re On Candid Camera
With cameras rolling, Funt could capture a much more visually stimulating comic relief. When faced with awkward scenarios, people’s faces tell so much of the story, an aspect lost in radio.
To set the scenes, Funt would position hidden cameras in view of the action. The unwitting participant would enter his trap, recorded by the cameras as the tension would escalate.
Oftentimes there were layers to the skits, where the participants would feel compelled to follow along, not knowing someone was manipulating them. A famous one was where a celebrity participant, Ann Jillian, made a donation to a charity.
In the bit, police approached Jillian to inform her the organizer was a fraud. They convinced her to donate more so they could really nail the con. She complied.
When they arrested the con, it turned out he was legit. This forced Jillian to act as though she intended to donate so much.
Before she could lose her mind, the host broke the tension, announcing the catchphrase, Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.
The success of the TV show on “Candid Camera” pushed it to a bigger network a year later, NBC, but that was only the beginning of many moves.
Two years later, in 1951, it moved to syndication where it stayed for three years. After that, “Candid Camera” moved back to NBC in 1958 as a comedy segment on “The Tonight Show.”
The year after that it showed up as a segment on another show, this time on CBS, “The Garry Moore Show.”
In 1960, the CBS network restored “Candid Camera” as a full show at 10 pm. For seven years, audiences could watch regular folks and celebrities walk straight into Funt’s act over and over before bed.
Woody Allen, who was nobody at the time, worked as a writer on the show during the 1960s. In fact, over the years, many celebrity hosts and participants kept the show a lively place for comedy, until it went off the air again in 1970.
In 1974, ABC, revived it for the 25th anniversary. The ABC network ran it for five years in syndication.
Then, in 1983, NBC celebrated the 35th anniversary, bringing Allen Funt’s son Peter into the family. Peter would eventually take over the brand when his father passed in 1999.
Cable TV and the internet have created an infinite home for the show, which has enjoyed Australian, British, and even German versions.
Mayim Bialik, the actress who played Blossom on the TV show by the same name, recently joined Peter Funt as a cohort on the TV Land cable channel version.
The network did not revise that version, but if history is any indication, audiences have not witnessed the end of Funt’s madcap creation.