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The TV That Time Forgot: Candid Camera

“Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Every Baby Boomer can remember that catchphrase. You probably even said it once or twice yourself.

Here’s the true story behind America’s original reality TV show.

The premise of Candid Camera was simple: film ordinary people in unusual situations without their being aware that they are being filmed.

Alan Funt was the mastermind behind the show. He began the show during the waning days of network radio as Candid Microphone. What most of us don’t remember is that he made several attempts to bring the show to TV before it finally caught on.

The first television version aired on ABC in 1948. It moved to NBC for 1949. Then they tried to syndicate the show, with mixed results. In 1958, Candid Camera became a segment on The Jack Parr Show. In 1959, it was part of The Gary Moore Show.

Finally, in 1960 CBS tried it out as its own half-hour series again. This time it clicked and in a big way.

Candid Camera landed in the Top 10 TV shows in the U.S. in each of its first 4 seasons, peaking at # 2 in 1962-63. This version of the show lasted until 1967. It then went into syndication, but because most of the seasons had been shot in black & white, its commercial viability waned as color came to dominate TV Land.

During its 1960’s, Funt’s co-hosts included Arthur Godfrey, Durwood Kirby and Bess Myerson. A then-unknown Woody Allen was one of the show’s writers, who would also appear in some of the show's stunts.

Funt next brought his Candid Camera technique to the movies with a “naughty” version of his hidden camera stunts called What Do You Say to a Naked Lady (1970).

With the rise of cable there have been many attempts to revive the show, both in “naughty” and the more familiar family-friendly versions. The most recent revivals have been produced and hosted by Funt’s son, Peter.

Of course, Candid Camera is also the inspiration for many of the practical joke shows that pop up on television these days, especially Aston Kutcher’s Punked series.

Regardless of what the future holds, you would be wise to be on your guard. Someday, somewhere, someone may come up to you and say, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”

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