A typical New York career woman — late 20s, attractive, dressed chicly in gray and black — crosses the intersection of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. A typical New York cop — late 30s, not as attractive, dressed less chicly in blue — stops her at the curb and writes her a ticket for jaywalking. The officer orders the woman to remove her heels, put on a pair of clown shoes, and take a seat on the sidewalk — ”to think about what you’ve done,” he says.
”You must be f—ing joking,” sneers the woman. ”You must be out of your f—ing mind.” Then, with a typically New York-friendly gesture, she tells the cop precisely what to do with his clown shoes.
Chill out, lady, you’re on Candid Camera — the 1991 edition.
Since last summer, hidden TV crews have been taping in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, and a dozen other cities — for an updated, syndicated version of the long-running TV classic that premiered in September on more than 100 stations across the country. Ratings have been modest so far. Like the old Candid Camera, the new one (produced by King World, syndicator of The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune) uses concealed cameras to snoop on unsuspecting citizens as they grapple with such puckish pranks as vending machines that talk back, restaurants that serve microscopic portions, lipstick that really makes lips stick, and faux cops wielding clown shoes.
The new show does feature a few updated twists: The segments are much shorter (maximum length: three minutes, compared with nine minutes on the original show), the pranks are much more high tech (using state-of-the-art communications gear to track the show’s victims), and the host is much, well, bigger. Allen Funt, Camera‘s 77-year-old creator, is on the sidelines (he’s listed in the credits as ”creative consultant”), replaced by the energetic Dom DeLuise.
”You know why I did this show?” asks the 58-year-old comedian (who has a starring role in Steven Spielberg’s new movie, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, as the voice of Tiger). ”Because I loved it when I was a kid and I love it now. It’s about human nature. It’s about how people really behave. And it’s so nice — never mean-spirited. We did this one segment with a nun holding a priest on a leash — it was the sweetest thing you ever saw.”
That ”sweetness” may be the secret of the show’s incredible longevity. It premiered in August 1948 on ABC. Since then, it has also appeared on both CBS and NBC, been produced as a syndicated show in the mid-1970s, and shown in reruns (it’s currently airing nationally on cable’s Comedy Central). ”I think the reason we’ve hung around so long is that we like people,” offers Funt. ”We showed their frailties and eccentricities, but we never made anyone look like an ass. Everybody who was on it felt good about the experience after we showed them the camera — no matter how mad they seemed to be getting.”
Example: The businesswoman caught jaywalking in Manhattan, who’s now sitting on a chair on 59th Street, wearing a pair of clown shoes and arguing with the cop who took away her heels (Candid Camera actor Bob Perlow). Finally, when she seems ready to bolt, he cracks a smile, hands the woman her shoes, and points to the camera hidden inside a Dodge van parked 15 feet away.
”Candid Camera!” the woman laughs. ”I knew it!”