Candid Camera, the first and longest running reality-based comedy program, premiered on ABC 10 August 1948 under its original radio title Candid Microphone. The format of the program featured footage taken by a hidden camera of everyday people caught in hoaxes devised by the show's host Allen Funt. In the world of Candid Camera mailboxes talked to passers by, cars rolled along effortlessly without engines, little boys used x-ray glasses, and secretaries were chained to their desks--all to provoke a reaction from unsuspecting mechanics, clerks, customers and passers by. In a 1985 Psychology Today article, Funt explained his move to television by saying that he "wanted to go beyond what people merely said, to record what they did--their gestures, facial expressions, confusions and delights.
The program ultimately changed its name to Candid Camera when it moved to NBC in 1949 but did not gain a permanent time slot until it finally moved to CBS in 1960 under the guidance of Bob Banner Associates. For the next seven years it was consistently rated as one of television's top ten shows before it was abruptly canceled. Funt was frequently joined by guest hosts such as Arthur Godfrey, Durward Kirby and Bess Meyerson. A syndicated version of the program containing old and new material aired from 1974-78. Aided by his son Peter, Funt continued to create special theme episodes (e.g.: "Smile, You're on Vacation," "Candid Camera goes to the Doctor," etc.) for CBS until 1990 when The New Candid Camera, advised by Funt and hosted by Dom DeLuise went into syndication. Low ratings finally prevented King Productions from renewing the show for the 1992-93 season.
The scenarios designed and recorded by Funt and his crew were unique glimpses into the quirks and foibles of human nature never before deliberately captured on film. The average scenario lasted approximately five minutes and was based on one of five strategies. These "ideas" included reversing normal or anticipated procedures, exposing basic human weaknesses such as ignorance or vanity, fulfilling fantasies, using the element of surprise or placing something in a bizarre or inappropriate setting. As Funt noted: "You have to make lots of adjustments to create viewer believability and really involve the subject. You need the right setting, one in which the whole scenario will fit and make sense to the audience even when it doesn't to the actor." Finding the right setting, and the right people for Candid Camera stunts was not always an easy task.
Early attempts to film Candid Camera were hampered by technical, logistical and censorship difficulties. While they appeared simple, the staged scenes took many hours to prepare and success was far from guaranteed. Approximately fifty recorded sequences were filmed for every four to five aired on the program. Funt and his crew had to contend with burdensome equipment that was difficult to conceal. The cameras were often hidden behind a screen, but the lights needed for them had to be left out in the open. Would-be victims were told that the lights were part of "renovations." Microphones were concealed in boxes, under tables and, in a number of episodes, in a cast worn by Funt himself. In his book Eavesdropping at Large (1952), Funt also described his battles with network censors and sponsors who had never before confronted this type of programming and were often fickle in their decisions about what was and was not acceptable material for television at the time. Funt himself destroyed any material that was off color, or reached too deeply into people's private lives. A hotel gag designed to fool guests placed a "men's room" sign on a closet door. The funniest, but ultimately unaired reaction, came from a gentleman who ignored the obvious lack of accommodations and "used" the closet anyway.
Candid Camera's unique approach to documenting unexpected elements of human behavior was inspired in part by Funt's background as a research assistant at Cornell University. Here Funt aided psychologist Kurt Lewin in experiments on the behaviors of mothers and children. He also drew on his experiences in the Army Signal Corps where he was responsible for recording soldier's letters home. Candid Camera was different from other programming because of its focus on the everyday--on the extraordinary things that happen in ordinary, everyday contexts. "Generations have been educated to accept the characterizations of the stage and screen" Funt noted in his chronicle of the program's history. "Our audiences have to unlearn much of this to accept candid studies, although anyone can verify our findings just by looking around and listening."
Candid Camera spawned a new genre of "reality programming" in the late eighties including such shows as America's Funniest Home Videos and Totally Hidden Video. Television audiences were forced to become reflexive about their own role in the production of comedy and in thinking about the practices of everyday life. "We used the medium of TV well," Funt commented, "There were close ups of people in action. The audience saw ordinary people like themselves and the reality of events as they were unfolding. Each piece was brief, self-contained and the simple humor of the situation could be quickly understood by virtually anyone in our audience." Conceived in a less complex era free of camcorder technology, Candid Camera brought insight and humor into understanding both the potential of television and the role of the TV audience.
Arthur Godfrey (1960-61)
Durward Kirby (1961-66)
Bess Myerson (1966-67)
Peter Funt (1990)
August 1948-September 1948 Sunday 8:00-8:30
October 1948 Sunday 8:30-8:45
November 1948-December 1948 Friday 8:00-8:30
May 1949-July 1949 Sunday 7:30-8:00
July 1949-August 1949 Thursday 9:00-9:30
September 1949-September 1950 Monday 9:00-9:30
June 1953 Tuesday 9:30-10:00
July 1953 Wednesday 10:00-10:30
October 1960-September 1967 Sunday 10:00-10:30
July 1990-August 1990 Friday 8:30-9:00
Brooks, T. & E. Marsh. The Complete Directory To Prime Time TV Shows 1946-present. New York: Ballentine, 1992.
Carey, P. "Catching Up with Candid Camera," Saturday Evening Post (Indianapolis, Indiana), 1992.
Funt, A. Eavesdropping at Large: Adventures in Human Nature with Candid Mike and Candid Camera. New York: Vanguard Press, 1952.
Zimbardo, P. "Laugh Where We Must, Be Candid Where We Can," Psychology Today (New York), 1985.