‘AFV’ at 700 Episodes: Not Even the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Stop the Show

·3-min read

“America’s Funniest Home Videos” has vaulted past “Gunsmoke” and joined the rarefied ranks of “The Simpsons” on the list of primetime entertainment series that have amassed an astounding 700 episodes.

The milestone segment kicks off “AFV’s” 32nd season on ABC on Oct. 3. Getting there over the past year and a half was a heck of a journey for “AFV” veterans, who thought they’d seen it all when it comes to producing the beloved clip show.

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The biggest jolt was the loss of the studio audience. The show’s competition and comedy elements lean heavily on the reaction of the “AFV” studio audience, as executive producers Vin Di Bona and Michele Nasraway explain.

“We did one show without an audience and we said, ‘OK we really need to make a big pivot,’” Di Bona says. “We missed the laughter that is so affirming in our show.” Host Alfonso Ribeiro admits he needed a few episodes to recalibrate.

“Normally I don’t need to worry about my energy because the energy of the room fills me up,” he says. “This became, ‘What does that energy need to feel like when no one’s sitting there?’”

Nasraway says the sudden shift in Season 31 to Zoom-style interviews with finalists and a 96-person virtual studio audience had some silver linings, though.

Related video: Alfonso Ribeiro's epic wipeout that would've been perfect for 'AFV.'

“We are very surprised by how wonderfully the finalists react and are much more comfortable sitting at home in their own living room,” she says. “It can be much more amusing and the reactions are more real.”

At the same time, they’ve also had the problem of random members of the audience falling asleep on camera.

America’s enduring love for “AFV” was demonstrated early on in the pandemic. The volume of clip submissions to the show shot up to about 5,000 per week, from about 3,500 per week before the pandemic. With millions of families hunkered together at home last year, it’s no surprise that smartphones were capturing more moments suitable for “AFV.” Those include more pranks played on home-bound family members and more clips using the array of video editing tools available on most smartphones.

“We’ve been seeing people build a lot of Rube Goldberg-devices, a lot of [elaborate] dominoes set-ups, a lot of lip-syncing challenges and TikTok-style family dancing,” Nasraway says.

Di Bona credits the rise of TikTok for giving “AFV” its latest boost with a younger post-millennial demo that was not even a distant thought on Nov. 26, 1989, when “AFV” debuted as an ABC special that was instantly ordered to series.

Today Vin Di Bona Productions employs 30 people in its social-media department who adapt and curate “AFV” content for specific online platforms ranging from YouTube to Snapchat to TikTok.

“Each platform has a team that really maximizes what we can do on each platform,” Di Bona says.

Thanks to revenue sharing arrangements with platforms, “AFV’s” billions of annual impressions “have become a real business for us,” he notes.

“AFV” remains one of the very few current primetime network series to spur parents and kids and other generations to watch together. As such, the “AFV” team knew it was important to ensure that the show’s reliable stream of clips of groin shots, adorable pet antics, trampoline fails and doomed backyard pools would continue uninterrupted despite the COVID pandemic.

Ribeiro, who is in his seventh season as host, has gained respect for the significance of the show’s sheer longevity and marathon run that shows no signs of slowing.

“I feel very lucky to be part of this show,” Ribeiro says. “I get to be a constant part of pop culture in its silliest form.”

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