Before prankster hidden camera shows like “Punk’d,” “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” “Practical Jokers” and even “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” there was the grandpappy of them all: “Candid Camera.”
Created and hosted by the late Allen Funt, the then-revolutionary hidden camera concept first hit televisions in 1948, and the series continued in several iterations over the course of 50-plus years, with Funt’s son, Peter, eventually stepping in to carry on the gags. He now hosts the newly rebooted series on TV Land, along with Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory.” Like its famed predecessor, the Tuesday night show captures unsuspecting individuals forced into bizarre and baffling scenarios that most people are immensely relieved to find out are not real.
We caught up with Funt:
Q. Did you watch “Candid Camera” as a child?
A. Of course! It was required viewing in our house. During my father’s heyday in the early ’60s, Sunday was a great night on CBS, starting with “Lassie” and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and finishing with “Candid Camera” and “What’s My Line?” Dad was on the couch; I was on the floor. You know, he could fall asleep during any TV program ever made — except “Candid Camera.”
Q. Were you always into pranks being that your father was who he was?
A. People assume we had whoopee cushions and dribble glasses at our house, but the fact is Dad was not much of a practical joker. He fancied himself a student of human nature — and the pranks were really just a means toward an end so he could study people.
Q. Do you remember a time when cameras weren’t omnipresent? How different is “CC” now?
A. I’m convinced that people are easier to fool than in my dad’s day. Nowadays we’re all multitasking and thinking of so many things. It’s easy to distract people; in fact they pretty much distract themselves. It’s true that cameras are everywhere now, and that worries me. I may be into “Candid Camera” as a TV show, but I’m not into government snooping.
Q. How influential do you think “CC” has been with the influx of hidden-camera shows?
A. Our influence is curbed somewhat by the fractionalization of the TV audience. In my father’s era there were three main networks and no such thing as cable. Today we have hundreds of viewing options. But it’s amazing, really, how people still recognize our famous tag line and react joyfully when told, “Smile, you’re on ‘Candid Camera.’”
Q. What are three of your all time favorite pranks?
A. From my old CBS show, I’d have to say the “Sideways Elevator.” It didn’t take people up or down, it took them 32 feet from side to side. From the current show, I love the gags we did with drones — dropping packages and mail at people’s houses in place of a mailman. And on one episode I deliver trash bins to New Yorkers’ homes and explain that they now have to separate their garbage eight different ways. That was funny.
Q. What do you want those who never saw the original to know about your show?
A. That not all hidden camera shows are alike. We’re not out to show people are idiots. We love people. Candid Camera is a tribute to the fact that people are wonderful. Sure, we apply a bit of stress, but it always ends with a smile.
Q. What is it like working with Mayim?
A. I’ve never seen “Blossom” and, until a few weeks ago, I had never seen “Big Bang Theory.” That said, I’m one of Mayim’s biggest fans. She’s the perfect blend of funny and smart for our show. She’s my new BFF.