We’re blindsided by the concept, but the truth is that Bob Saget may have foretold the future of entertainment, and it has nothing to do with the Olson twins. But it does have to do with America’s Funniest Home Videos.
The television hit, which debuted in 1989, introduced Americans to two formats that have all but dominated entertainment in the two decades since: reality television and, perhaps most importantly, user-generated content. The reality TV distinction is a murky one, as several different shows have contributed to the TV genre. But Saget’s AFV were one of the first. More important, however, is the case for the show as a harbinger for the user-generated pipeline that is media today.
Decades before viewers took a greater interest in independent sketches and vlogs on YouTube than in mainstream programming, America’s Funniest Home Videos showed the country that viewers could ultimately control content. With television executives now looking to online user-generated content to fill their programming slate, we’ve officially reached the point where any person can produce their own content and distribute it to the world, all without the inconvenience of taking a baseball to the groin.
AFV hasn’t just helped establish the current face of media, but integrated into it nicely. While Saget hasn’t been on the show in more than a decade, it remains on the air after 20 years, becoming one of television’s longest-running series. While the original series required contestants to send their videos through the mail, the site now allows all viewers to simply upload videos through their web site, which boasts an impressive collection of home videos in an age when YouTube has become a cultural phenomenon by offering the exact same content.
Even if some people aren’t willing to acknowledge AFV’s contribution to the world, the Smithsonian certainly is. This past month, the show’s creator, Vin Di Bona, was part of a ceremony in which the TV producer donated artifacts from the show to the Smithsonian. These included the camera that recorded the first grand-prize-winning video in 1989, a framed ticket to the show’s first taping, and an audience voting machine. It’s hard to imagine that this kind of pre-internet program could have predicted the future of media, but at the very least it has cemented its legacy as a part of American cultural history.