Notes On America’s Funniest Home Videos

America's Funniest Home Videos

This may very well be the strangest post ever entered onto The Fox Is Black, but I wanted to take some time to speak about a show which I regard as the best show on television: America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: it’s cheesy, it’s very nineties, it’s incredibly crass, and is as low brow as it gets. I recently caught a few episodes this past weekend and was glued to the television for an hour before going to bed. The show is an easy, early reality show formula: viewers send in their caught-on-tape funnies to Bob Saget (later John Fugelsang and Daisy Fuentes and, currently, Tom Bergeron), viewers watch strung together videos, and the top three are awarded (small) amounts of cash. The show has been on the air since 1989 and just ended its 21st season three weeks ago.

What makes this show so impressive to me is that it was–and still is–proto-YouTube. Based off of a lot of caught-on-tape formats, AFV is one of the only shows to capitalize on the five second to five minute user generated video with incredible success. Like YouTube, the funniest videos aren’t the staged ones but rather the ones that celebrate schadenfreude or things that are silly-cute. Things like “David After Dentist” or “Keyboard Cat” would have been huge hits on AFV, but–instead–have found great lives on the Internet. One would think that YouTube would have already killed off AFV, yet the show seems to still be kicking it and reinventing the wheel (although the wheel is very, very cheesy).

Last year, AFV named the Funniest Video In America, which ended up being a very popular video of a Chihuahua peeing and walking at the same time. Gawker posted about this, deeming the show irrelevant and viral videos being funnier; however, I think they failed to give credit where credit is due. Even though AFV is somewhat “off” on the comedic five second to five minute video, it does have one thing going for it: it may have originated the mainstreaming of the five second to five minute video.

Even though I don’t have any conclusive evidence to this, I would suspect that one of the influences of YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, etc., etc., etc. were all the videos from sites like eBaum’s World and the like, who hosted videos that were popularized by AFV years before. Similarly, many videos from the show are finding new life on these websites from people making megamixes of the show (and its international spin-offs) that millions watch. Yes, there is no way to prove this at all and I know I’m likely 85% wrong; but, I have definitely been entertaining the thought that the reason why our phones and other technological devices are linked so directly to YouTube and movie making is to be able to watch and create our own funny five second to five minute videos to share, a la Our Own Private AFV.

This is, of course, is not the case and is a ridiculous hypothesis since the point is communication. Yet, because AFV–and COPS, to a certain degree–has been on the air during the past twenty plus years film technology and computer technology have grown, I don’t think it’s entirely silly to discount the ties between camera phones and Bob Saget.

Moreover, why isn’t the show dead? Why hasn’t it been cancelled? The same for COPS: why are these two archaic television items not off the air and out of our lives? I would assume it is because they are indeed the Viral Video’s Grandfather. Like Disney has done, my peers and some kids today have grown up with these shows in our lives as safe, fun, entertaining family television. At this point, at this age, we can share our collective memories of AFV with friends and young people and older people in any social standing or economic status because it has been sewn into the world’s cultural fabric. Why else was the Spanish version of the show playing on Telemundo at the same time I was watching AFV? Coincidence, I suppose.

It is also extremely important to note that the show and all of its spin-off’s failure to adapt to the online world is a gigantic metaphor for why the film and television entertainment industries are nearing their own death: if you have such a brilliant idea such as AFV, why didn’t the producers, people at ABC, or anyone else involved with the show think about launching an online platform for the show BEFORE something like YouTube was birthed? I get the Internet was maturing as the show was, but YouTube wasn’t created until 2005 which means that AFV had sixteen years on YouTube to create something similar.

As someone who has worked in television for years now, production companies and channels are now desperately trying to marry the bridge between the television or film experience with the online experience. Besides posting videos online and creating websites, not very many TV shows or movies have been able to adapt its idea to something online. For Christ’s sake, the movie and television industry still uses Betamax, VHS, DVDs, and the like rather than only sending things exclusively online.

Yes, piracy is a huge issue, but there has to be a way for these people to make it work without issue and stop wasting countless DVDs and other materials. Thus, the DVD/CD-driveless Macbook Air will never catch on with television producers because they are ages behind on how technology works. If AFV is a Grandfather, the producers and network heads in television are artless centenarians.

Regardless of if AFV has had any influence on modern technology, it still is an incredibly funny mindless show that people love. It may not have exploded or translated onto the web like the new media it has inspired, but it should definitely be considered the silly, used-to-be-kind-of-funny Grandfather to the Viral Video and all other like technology.


June 7, 2011