In the history of television, during which thousands of network entertainment programs have come and gone, only one show has produced new episodes in each of the last eight decades: “Candid Camera.” What a remarkable feat.
With the Emmys having been handed out Monday night, and with my father’s birthday anniversary the day before, I’m reminded how unfair it is that the Television Academy has snubbed Allen Funt. He not only created a hit show, he invented a genre. And although he might not have personally enjoyed all the derivative shows, he is the father of “Reality TV.”
Much as I loved my dad, admired his work, and followed in his footsteps, I’m reluctant to use this forum - a coveted spot in your newspaper or on its website - to discuss my family’s TV business. But indulge me just this once because it’s a story worth telling.
It was 70 years ago, in August 1948, that “Candid Camera” had its premiere as the very first show ever telecast by ABC. The network has never acknowledged that fact in its own written history, although I can’t imagine why.
After runs on NBC and in syndication, my dad’s show joined the powerhouse Sunday lineup on CBS in the 1960s, along with “Ed Sullivan” and “What’s My Line?” “Candid Camera” was a smash hit, but when it came time for the Emmys there was no category to accommodate it.
In 1961 the show was nominated in a category known as “Humor.” Other nominees were Bob Hope’s comedy series, Andy Griffith’s sitcom, the animated hit “The Flintstones,” and that year’s winner: “The Jack Benny Show.” Nowadays Emmy categories have been expanded to include a raft of reality shows - some of which I guarantee you’ve never heard of, let alone watched.
During his remarkable career, Allen Funt hosted “Candid Camera” on ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO and Playboy. (I’ve hosted the series on CBS, PAX and TV Land.) We’ve had a 25th anniversary special (ABC); a 35th (NBC); a 40th (CBS) and a 50th (CBS). What other show can say that?
Our vast library of hidden-camera sequences is used by colleges and universities around the world for studying psychology. How rare is that for a TV series?
Our non-profit, Laughter Therapy, distributes “Candid Camera” footage at no charge to critically ill people. As first explained by Norman Cousins in his book “Anatomy of an Illness,” our real-life comedy is uniquely useful in providing pain relief and releasing endorphins.
And yet, the snub of my father and his misunderstood creation continues. When the National Comedy Center opened last month in Jamestown, N.Y., hundreds of performers and programs were showcased. Many of the honorees in the $50 million facility are as obscure as the comedian Moms Mabley, who died in 1975. Remember her?
But when I asked an official at the Center why there is no mention whatsoever of Allen Funt or “Candid Camera” he was at a loss for words.
I wrote to the Television Academy a few months back, suggesting that this year’s 70th anniversary of both the Emmys and “Candid Camera” might be an appropriate time to at least acknowledge my father’s contribution. They couldn’t be bothered.
Back in 1947 when the radio show “Candid Microphone” preceded the TV version, my father did a skit in which he spoke to a man who specialized in organizing testimonials. “Who are we honoring?” asked the guy. “Me,” said my dad.
“OK. What are your accomplishments?”
“I really don’t have any.”
“Well, who are the friends and colleagues who will speak about you?”
“None that I can think of.”
“Then why the heck do you want a testimonial?”
“I’d just like to know what it’s like to be honored.”
In real life, however, my dad didn’t covet honors or recognition by his peers.
The payoff for Allen Funt was simply knowing that as a result of his efforts, so many millions of people were able to smile.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.