America's Funniest Home Videos
America's Funniest Home Videos is one of the longest-running primetime entertainment shows on television, and ABC's longest-running such show, as of the start of the 2008-09 season. Although its hosts and format have changed over the years, the premise of the show has remained constant: Ordinary Americans send in funny (mostly—but not exclusively—serendipitious and unplanned) moments they have captured on home video, and at the end of each episode, the audience votes for the funniest clip, with awards given to the first prize, second prize and third prize winners. (Currently, the awards are $10,000 for first prize, $3,000 for second and $2,000 for third.) In addition, the first prize winners compete against each other at the end of every season for a $100,000 grand prize.
When it first debuted, America's Funniest Home Videos was a smash hit and one of the most popular shows throughout most of the 1990s. The success of this show and its low budget led to a craze of "caught on tape" specials and series throughout the decade. The FOX network, in particular, became notorious for sensationalizing the concept and pushing it to its logical extreme.
At almost the same time as ABC debuted the first America's Funniest Home Videos special, FOX—then just beginning to break out of its overlooked, "other" broadcast network shell to make the "Big Three" (ABC, CBS and NBC) into the "Big Four" of today—premiered another, much different documentary series, COPS. On the surface, except for their low budgets, America's Funniest Home Videos and COPS had almost nothing in common. The former was a variety show with a comedian host (Bob Saget of ABC's Full House), the latter a documentary show in which camera crews followed around real-life cops on the job. However, FOX recognized both shows featured ordinary people—not actors, stuntmen, or even highly-paid journalists—without script writers or cinematographers. Any danger faced by the people seen on-screen—be they police officers or simply people carrying electrical equipment up ladders—was genuine and immediate. In cop dramas, when a police officer was shot at, the actor playing the police officer had to pretend to fear death, although the bullets fired were blanks and any physical activity was handled by stuntmen. In situation comedies, when a man was hit in the groin, the actor playing him had to pretend not to expect it and to writhe in pain, even though the hit was carefully coordinated, and he was probably wearing a cup to protect from real damage. However, on America's Funniest Home Videos, the man hit in the groin really was hit in the groin, and the bullets fired on COPS were real bullets. What's more, America's Funniest Home Videos and COPS provided an appeal which traditional documentaries did not—the possibility that anyone, anywhere could do or film something which ended up on national television. In a sense, it was the final realization of artist Andy Warhol's famous prediction (meant literally, but often incorrectly taken as metaphorical), "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes."
It didn't take FOX long to combine the element of viewer-generated footage from America's Funniest Home Videos with the lurid appeal of crime, physical danger and violence from COPS. The result was a host of specials and series throughout the 1990s—When Animals Attack, Man Vs. Beast, Terror on the Job, Video Justice: Crime Caught on Tape. FOX would even sometimes be so brazen as to make its titles clear nods to America's Funniest Home Videos, as it did with World's Most Shocking Moments. These specials and series were critically reviled but immensely popular. ABC, of course, was none too thrilled with FOX imitating the formula for its success to find even more success, and FOX was criticized for the move. That notwithstanding, well into the 2000s, FOX would receive criticism for stealing and sensationalizing ABC's documentary concepts—thus Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? first became Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and then Joe Millionaire; Wife Swap became Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy; The Bachelor became My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.
Although the concept of combining documentary footage with entertainment programming for TV dated back to Candid Camera, the unique combination would become so prevalent at FOX and in syndication that a new term, "reality," was coined to describe it. Although the genre would take on new forms in the following decade, America's Funniest Home Videos was one of its final progenitors. In addition, its competition-based format would lead to a spate of network primetime game shows in the 2000s—the first real explosion of the format in primetime since the quiz show scandal of the 1960s. It would also predict the rise of such people-in-danger shows as Jackass and such viewer-generated Internet sites as YouTube.
The America's Funniest Home Videos star faded a bit shortly before Saget left in 1997, but it continues to garner solid ratings and significant sponsorship. This is due to its broad, mainstream appeal, but its continued success is also ensured by the fact that it is, far and away, one of the lowest budget shows on network primetime in America. As most of its content is produced and filmed by the contestants themselves, its writing and filming crews are kept to a minimum. Even its cash prizes, which number in the hundreds of thousands in most seasons (the highest prize awarded to date was $250,000), are negligible compared to the millions of dollars winnable or potentially winnable in seasons of most of its reality and game show grandchildren. As a result, in all likelihood, America's Funniest Home Videos will remain on the air for many years to come.
|Season One||January 26, 1990||May 20, 1990||15 + 1|
|Season Two||September 16, 1990||May 12, 1991||25|
|Season Three||September 22, 1991||May 17, 1992||25|
|Season Four||September 20, 1992||May 16, 1993||25|
|Season Five||September 19, 1993||May 22, 1994||22|
|Season Six||September 18, 1994||May 21, 1995||19|
|Season Seven||September 17, 1995||May 19, 1996||21|
|Season Eight||September 22, 1996||May 18, 1997||21|
|Season Nine||January 9, 1998||1998||—|
|Season Eleven||July 20, 2001||December 2001||—|
|Season Twelve||January 4, 2002||—||—|
|Season Thirteen||September 27, 2002||May 9, 2003||24 + 1|
|Season Fourteen||September 28, 2003||May 23, 2004||22|
|Season Fifteen||September 26, 2004||April 29, 2005||21 + 2|
|Season Sixteen||October 2, 2005||May 19, 2006||23|
|Season Seventeen||October 1, 2006||May 18, 2007||25|
|Season Eighteen||October 7, 2007||May 16, 2008||22|
|Season Nineteen||October 5, 2008||May 15, 2009||24|
|Season Twenty||October 4, 2009||May 16, 2010||24|
|Season Twenty-One||September 26, 2010||May 15, 2011||24|
|Season Twenty-Two||October 2, 2011||May 20, 2012||22 + 1|
|Season Twenty-Three||October 7, 2012||May 19, 2013||22|
|Season Twenty-Four||October 13, 2013||—||—|
- At a Glance: Additional information about the series
|'Best Of' Collections|
|Animal Antics||October 12, 1999||1||purchase|
|Deluxe Uncensored||October 12, 1999||1||purchase|
|Family Follies||October 12, 1999||1||purchase|
|Home for the Holidays||October 4, 2005||1||purchase|
|The Best of Kids & Animals||December 27, 2005||3||purchase|
|Nincompoops and Boneheads||June 13, 2006||1||purchase|
|Athletic Supporters||August 1, 2006||1||purchase|
|Salute to Romance||January 1, 2007||1||purchase|
|Volume 1||July 26, 2005||4||purchase|