“Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”
Nowadays, if something bizarrely comic happens to us, something embarrassing and head-scratchingly weird and well-outside-the-realm-of-normal, we pray with all our might that our little episode wasn’t noticed by anyone else…That we can somehow just skulk off and go about our day…That no one saw it, no one heard it, and for heaven’s sake, no one got it on camera and posted it on youtube. We say that silent prayer because Allen Funt’s Candid Camera has made us a little paranoid. This is the man who made public embarrassment a television event, after all, and anyone who watched knew that a hidden camera could be just about anywhere.
Funt got wise to the power of comedic humiliation in the Army, interestingly enough. He was known to secretly tape record his fellow servicemen’s complaints about the state of things and then broadcast the recordings on the Armed Forces Radio. Stunts like those led to his radio show, called Candid Microphone, which debuted in 1948 and peppered radio waves time and again for thirty years. That radio show led to a TV show, which was also called Candid Microphone, but changed to Candid Camera when it moved to NBC in 1949.
The point of the show was to train hidden cameras on unsuspecting folks as they found themselves in the middle of staged oddball scenarios—“caught in the act of being themselves.” Bowlers would wait for their balls to plop out of those dark ball-return tunnels, and then have to confront balls that had no finger holes. An innocent-looking lady (usually Dorothy Collins, a frequent Candid Camera accomplice) would pull over to the side of the road, claim she was having some trouble with her car, and then pop the hood to reveal that her car was entirely devoid of an engine. Roadsters approached the Pennsylvania-Delaware border only to be told by an officious guard that Delaware was closed for the day, and that they’d have to come back later. Basically, if you couldn’t take a joke, you better have never left the house—because Funt would get you in a restaurant, in your car, or when you were just strolling down the street.
Once in a while, the show featured glimpses of regular everyday life—no staging at all. There was the well-loved filming of a traffic cop, set to music whilst he did his elaborate traffic dance; there was the camera lodged in a boys’ bathroom, capturing the ritual and the conversation of the preening kids as they combed their hair. But more often than not, the pre-planned antics were king: vending machines that talked to vendors, diner patrons who were served outrageously small portions as if they were perfectly normal, and actors who read over the shoulders of poor souls just trying to get their current events fix with the newspaper—and not only would the actors read, they would eventually begin to reposition and repossess their victim’s paper.
Once, Funt even took his cameras and his actors to Moscow, and in true Funt fashion, he did it with none of the required permission. He and his crew pulled their favorite street stunts on Russians—the newspaper gag and the luggage gag, in which an actor elicited a passerby’s help with some luggage, but then the good Samaritan was met with a suitcase that was impossibly heavy. During one of the set-ups, a brawny Russian gent just ran off with the leaden luggage, nonchalantly pulling one over on the veteran pullers-over.
In 1974, Funt produced The New Candid Camera, which had new bits and recordings of the old classic bits as well. And in the early 1990’s, two other versions of the new show premiered, one with Funt and his son Peter as hosts, and one that featured Dom DeLuise and Eva LaRue. Later that decade, Peter again took up the humiliation torch his now-deceased father had lit, starring with Suzanne Somers in an all-new version of the classic show. Whatever the version, Candid Camera blazed the trail for reality-based television, both comedic-minded and serious.
Then again the format refused to die with a revival on PAX between 2001-2004 and hosted by Peter Funt and Dina Eastwood. 2014 then saw a TV Land revival hosted by Peter Funt and Mayim Balik.
USA / ABC – NBC – CBS – Syndicated / 1000+ episodes / Broadcast 10 August 1948 – 2014
Full broadcast and network details
8/10/48 – 12/3/48 ABC
5/29/49 – 8/18/49 NBC
9/12/49 – 9/25/50 CBS
8/27/51 – 5/23/52 ABC
6/2/53 – 8/5/53 NBC
10/2/60 – 9/3/67 CBS
1974 – 1978 syndicated (The New Candid Camera)
5/4/90 – 8/31/90 CBS
1991 – 1992 syndicated
1996 – 2001 CBS
2001 – 2004 PAX
2014 TV Land
Allen Funt as Host and producer
Arthur Godfrey as Co-Host (1960-1961)
Durward Kirby as Co-Host (1961-1966)
Bess Myerson as Co-Host (1966-1967)
Peter Funt as Co-Host/Host (1990-2014)
Dom DeLuise as Host (1991-92)
Eva LaRue as Host (1991-92)
Suzanne Somers as Co-Host (1998-2001)
Dina Eastwood as Co-Host (2001-2004)
Mayim Balik as co-Host (2014)