As much as audiences love a carefully crafted illusion, it seems they appreciate a peek at what goes on behind the curtain just as much. A writer and producer named Kermit Schafer was among the first to stumble onto this concept, popularizing “bloopers” from radio in the 40’s and 50’s. The concept of bloopers soon became popular as a filler item on TV talk shows and occasionally under the credits of the shows the bloopers came from.
These silly flubs and bungled lines took center stage as a stand-alone attraction in May of 1981 when NBC began to air a series of specials entitled TV’s Censored Bloopers. Watching professional actors and newspeople dropping in a frustrated swear word or breaking down into laughing fits (as well as a naked birthday surprise for kids’ show host Soupy Sales) was apparently just what TV land was looking for, so the network expanded the specials into the weekly series TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.
The weekly version was hosted by Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, each of whom had separately hosted the Censored Bloopers specials. Of course, each show featured plenty of bloopers from film and television, but other elements were also included to give the show variety. Classic television commercials from yesteryear were featured, as well as humor-tinged interviews of children and people on the street. “Moron Movies,” very short one-joke films from Len Cella, were another regular feature (later titled “Len Cella’s Silly Cinema”), and animated doodles from Mad magazine’s Sergio Aragones were used as transitions.
But the biggest non-blooper element of the show was the other half of the title: practical jokes. Most jokes had a familiar celebrity as the target (though some had so-called “friends and family” pulling the wool over some poor non-famous schlub’s eyes), and hidden cameras took in all the action. Sample gags included Christopher Atkins’ being pulled over by a bogus policeman who suspected he was driving a stolen car and Connie Sellecca’s being asked to sign for a delivery of several pigs. Each episode would (appropriately) end with a tribute to Kermit Schafer, the inventor of the ‘blooper’ phenomenon.
The show’s original run lasted for two seasons, but summer reruns in 1988 proved that bloopers still held plenty of giggle power. A new incarnation, Super Bloopers and New Practical Jokes, was telecast as a short-run series in various time slots between January and May of 1991. Various other specials have come and gone in the years since, and still, whenever tongues are tied, floors are slippery, or animals go wacky during news reports from the zoo, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes will be there to take the embarrassing footage.
USA / NBC – Dick Clark Enterprises – Carson Productions / x50 minute episodes / Broadcast 9 January 1984 – 24 February 1986 and 20 May – 2 September 1988
Len Cella (1984-88)
Julie McWhirter (1984)
Thom Sharp (1984-88)
Wil Shriner (1985-86)