While working on a post for a national magazine recently, I needed to find out more info about one of my favorite shows of all time, America’s Funniest Videos (AFV). Who better to go to then straight to the source, founder and executive producer of the show, Vin Di Bona. A few phone calls and e-mails later, I’m on the phone with the man himself. After a cordial introduction, I mentioned how honored I was to be speaking with such an iconic Hollywood producer. His reply: “Icon? Well, you’re gonna be waiting a while if you want to talk to that guy…”
Di Bona is very personable, which makes it easy to understand why AFV has been so successful. He presents an unassuming air and loves to laugh. We talked about the history of AFV, which draws its’ roots from a show called Fun TV with Ken- and Kato-chen, which aired on the Tokyo Broadcasting System in 1986. Di Bona says that Fun TV featured a segment where the hosts would commentate over a total of six home movies, sent in by viewers. At the end of the show, audience members would vote for their favorites.
Di Bona saw promise for an American spinoff, thus, America’s Funniest Home Videos was created as a one-time, hour-long network special, which aired Sunday, November 26, 1989. With host Bob Saget delivering punchline after punchline, the viewership quickly grew. Thanks to blizzards in the northeast and midwest regions of the country, AFV had a captive audience in some of the biggest DMA markets in the country.
“People were watching the first half-hour and must have started calling their family and friends,” Di Bona recalled. “The ratings for the second half hour of the show were tremendous.” The next day, Di Bona said, networks executives invited him in to discuss creating 10 more episodes…by January. “I told them, ‘We can do that…’,” Di Bona said. “I walked out of the meeting thinking I was a dead man. How was I going to get enough clips for 10 shows in two months when it took me 3.5 months to collect enough clips for one show?”
Immediately after inking the deal, Di Bona’s team started received video tapes from all around the world. At its’ peak, AFV was taking in more than 2,000 tapes a day. With two shifts of producers working around the clock, AFV made it to air January 14, 1990. This fall, AFV will be celebrating it’s 22nd season.
The faces on air have changed over time – AFV is now hosted by Tom Bergeron, entering his 11th season – but the family behind the scenes have been together since day one. “It really does feel like a family here,” Di Bona said. “We know our audience – families – and we feel that’s the most important part.”
What makes a good clip, in Di Bona’s opinion? “They gotta be inherently funny. We can add voice over and sound effects. But if it’s unique, funny and makes our bellies laugh, that takes it over the top.”
When asked what his favorite clip of all time is, he agreed with his colleague, co-executive producer Michelle Nasraway. “Crying Camera Kid”.
Come this fall, as networks jockey for position of boasting the best new show, Di Bona stands ready to ask his team of 25 staffers the same question he’s been asking for more than two decades: “Are we funny this year?” Count me in as one who’ll tune in to find out.