A quarter of a century ago today, ABC debuted a pre-reality series that featured a man getting hit in the balls by his kid, and the world has never been the same.
America’s Funniest Home Videos–now known as AFV, because what is a home video–is a show I loved and watched back in the Bob Saget years, back when people were invited to mail in VHS tapes. (If you don’t know what that is, enjoy your youth.) I haven’t really watched it in the Tom Bergeron years, which now span the majority of its life, as he’s hosted since 2001, though he’ll stop after this year.
Today is the 25th anniversary of its debut as a series, which means it aired in an era before The Real World and just about six months after COPS. In an era of YouTube, it’s kind of incredible that the show has survived, though perhaps it’s more necessary than ever to have something that filters through all the uploads.
It was television that proved real people in unfiltered moments were incredibly entertaining. America’s Funniest Home Videos probably also predicted the rise of staged reality television, with far too many ball-kicks feeling a little less than authentic. That was also the badly acted surprise from the three families whose clips were finalists for the prize at the end of the episode, like we were supposed to believe that everyone featured in the episode was in the audience and these three were just learning that they’d been chosen.
But I digress, because in those early years, oh, the joy of watching someone else’s misfortune! My family and I would watch and laugh and laugh. I remember talking about what videos of our own we should send in, though we never did. (I think the leading contender was one where my dad and sister locked the still-filming camcorder in the trunk, which was probably funnier to us than it would ever be to a national audience.)
I found this first episode on YouTube, though I’m not sure if it’s the special that aired in Nov. 1989 or the first weekly episode that debuted 25 years ago today. The fourth video is a dad getting hit in the testicles by his kid, and a few segments later, there are the cat videos. The rest is ball-kick history.
It’s amazing how it established pretty much everything in that first episode. There are the cheesy sound effects. The genuine, surprised laughter from the studio audience. The $5,000 prize–five grand! (That’s gone up; AFV says that, in its 25 years, it has “given away almost $14 million in prize money and evaluated more than a million video submissions.”) The way the clips fly through the air, leaving a trail behind them. And the 1980s hair and shoulder pads–oh!
We were young then.