‘AFV’ 600th Episode: Family-Friendly Appeal Keeps ABC Stalwart Humming

AFV 600th Episode
Courtesy of ABC

Our world is awash in video. Anyone toting a smartphone or a tablet can capture the momentous and the mundane with the swipe of a finger. And nowadays, it only takes a second swipe to broadcast it all in real time via social media.

Yet in a landscape of infinite choices, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” endures as a primetime institution that will celebrate its landmark 600th episode on Jan. 15.

By all rights, ABC’s hourlong smorgasbord of user-generated video should be outmoded in an era in which 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. But therein lies the rub. Who can possibly sort through such volume?

That’s where “AFV” exec producers Vin Di Bona and Michele Nasraway and their commando team of clip-screeners and producers come in. They do the heavy sifting through 3,500 to 5,000 clips uploaded weekly to the AFV website. All we have to do is tune at 7 p.m. on Sundays (or digitally on our own timetables) to enjoy the finest selection of groin shots, projectiles gone awry, trampoline disasters, cute kids, and pesky pets that this country has to offer.

“It’s all about curation,” says Di Bona. The veteran producer has been at the helm of “AFV” since its inception as a special in 1989 adapted from a Japanese TV format. “We create this show every week to give a family audience the sense of security in watching the show. We know how hard it is for parents to control the media and television influences on young children. There are a multitude of categories of clips you run across when you’re on YouTube or Facebook, and a lot of them are not funny. That’s where the big appreciation for our show comes from.”

In its 27th season, the ABC stalwart joins “Gunsmoke” and “The Simpsons” on the short list of primetime entertainment shows that have racked up 600-plus episodes. But no show survives half as long as “AFV” has without reinventing itself from time to time.

” ‘AFV’ is a multi-generational entertainment destination that showcased viral videos before social media existed, said Rob Mills, ABC’s senior VP of alternative series, specials and late-night programming. “On Sunday nights, families everywhere, including my own, have a tradition of gathering around their television sets to escape for a hearty laugh.”

“AFV” boasts the highest percentage of co-viewing — kids and adults watching together — of any broadcast network program, with 26.3% of its audience composed of adults in the 18-49 demo watching with a kid or teenager.

“AFV” has embraced the sophistication of today’s DIY video tools. Di Bona marvels at the quality of the slow-motion video feature on the latest-model smartphones. The proliferation of goofy photo-filtering technology offered via Snapchat and numerous apps has also inspired “AFV” segments.

“The slow-mo is capturing some of the most wonderful moments that the naked eye would never see — the jowls of a dog’s mouth undulating as it leaps and misses the Frisbee. It is so hilarious and so unique,” Di Bona says. “The creativity we see from people with face-swapping and lip-synching [apps] is just amazing.”

Moreover, social media has become “AFV’s” single- biggest platform. The show this season is averaging about 5.6 million viewers a week in Nielsen’s live-plus-7 TV ratings. “AFV’s” highest-rated season came in 1991-92, when it ranked No. 8 in primetime with an average of 25.5 million viewers. But online, its vast archive of clips regularly draws 1 billion-plus hits a month. The “AFV” Facebook page alone has 13.4 million followers.

Instead of putting “AFV” out of business, the proliferation of clips online has reinforced the primacy of the show’s brand in the world of wholesome, Hey-Martha-you-gotta-see-this snippets of real life.

“It’s all new and invigorating,” Di Bona says of the social media explosion. “It’s opened up so many new avenues for us. We try to adapt to all of it as quickly as possible, as long as it fits with our first rule: keep it funny.”

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