Producer Fired For Fake Skits On Tv Show

Posted: July 12, 1989

The mariachi band was real, but the man who sat forever at his restaurant table while the band hounded him with strums and trills was an actor following a script, and now Totally Hidden Video co-producer Larry Hovis is out of a job.

Hovis was fired after Fox Broadcasting Co. officials determined that three of the segments planned for the first broadcast of its Candid Camera copycat, which premiered Sunday, were bogus. His biggest mistake may have been hiring actor Steve North, a friend of Candid Camera creator-producer Allen Funt's son, as the man forced to endure endless mariachi music.

Funt, angered by what he saw as an outright theft of his time-tested concept, filed a suit Thursday charging Fox and the show's producer with unfair business practices and other misconduct. He also sought to keep Totally Hidden Video off the air Sunday, but his request for a temporary injunction was denied.

Hovis (he was Carter on Hogan's Heroes, and a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and the quiz show Liar's Club) was dismissed on Saturday. Fox officials replaced three of the four scheduled segments, removed Hovis' name

from the credits and ran the show from 8:30 to 9 p.m.

It scored Fox's highest-ever finish in the weekly Nielsen ratings, tied for 21st among 79 shows for the week ending Sunday. With its 10.8 rating, it was seen nationwide in 9.76 million homes by a 21 percent share of the viewing audience. It beat the offerings from ABC and NBC in its time period.

One of the two other falsified stunts featured Phyllis Diller conducting an ersatz supermarket chili test. In the third, what turned out to be a not-so- unsuspecting wedding guest was accused of sleeping with the bride-to-be.

A Fox spokesman said Hovis acknowledged using actors from an obscure L.A. comedy troupe in the three segments. Barry Diller, Fox's chief executive officer, said, "You have to trust people, but, unfortunately, this sort of thing is going to happen every once in a while. In a way, we should thank Allen Funt, because he brought this situation to our attention before we put it on the air."

A statement from the show's production company, Quantum Media, read, in part, "Quantum Media has dismissed a producer from the staff of Totally Hidden Video after discovering he was not following company policy. . . . The producer failed to follow the show's guidelines, requiring that all targeted individuals were to be totally unaware that the camera was present and have no prior knowledge of the set-ups.

"The episode originally scheduled for series premiere was replaced with a new show to guarantee that all segments complied with our standards."

Fox said it was satisfied that all the segments aired Sunday were authentic. Jamie Kellner, Fox's president and chief operating officer, said, ''This is now the most investigated half-hour of TV that has ever been on the air."

Hovis, who produced the show with Gary Bernstein, was unavailable for comment.

Funt's lawsuit seeks damages from Fox and Quantum. In addition to unfair business practices, it charges them with making false statements and infringing on Funt's concept.

Said Funt yesterday: "I'm going to be 75 years old next month, so who knows how much longer I'll be around? But I want to set a precedent with this suit so that people who try to rip off Candid Camera in the future will not be able to do it. It hurts me to see somebody try this kind of thing, and, besides, they made their show look so much like Candid Camera, and it's such a turkey, that it reflects badly on me."

According to his attorney, Arthur Barens, Funt sees the show as an attempt to capitalize on the success and reputation of his uncopyrighted format, thereby damaging the Candid Camera name itself.

"Allen Funt has been so careful for 41 years to maintain the integrity and believability of the Candid Camera genre," said Barens, "and Totally Hidden Video brings the entire format under negative scrutiny. Once you impugn the nature of Candid Camera as a theatrical production, it's very hard to restore public confidence."

Funt, with his son Peter, continues to produce annual Candid Camera specials under a contract with CBS.

The lawsuit also says that Totally Hidden Video is knowingly stealing gags done by Candid Camera over the years. Barens pointed out that a segment that aired Sunday, featuring a talking parrot squealing company secrets to job interviewees, matched one done by Candid Camera in the '60s. A Sunday segment that featured a self-serve ice cream machine that wouldn't shut off also had been done by Funt, he said.

"The bogus mariachi and chili test segments that didn't air were also taken from Candid Camera," added Barens. "The only difference was that Allen Funt featured a strolling violinist instead of a mariachi band, and a coffee taste test rather than one with chili.

"Allen Funt spent many years developing and refining his material, and to have it so blatantly copied is something he won't stand for."

A hearing on the case is set in Los Angeles Superior Court for Aug. 10, when Funt also will seek a preliminary injunction to keep Fox from further broadcasting the show.

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