Last night, I attended a nice panel event at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrating the upcoming 25th season of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I’ve long admired the show, as there’s very little in the way of family programming that really has something for everyone of every age, and it’s succeeded on every possible level.
When it came time to discuss host Tom Bergeron’s departure and the search for a replacement, Executive Producer Vin Di Bona shared a few things that defined, for him, what made Bergeron such an ideal fit for the show for the last 14 years, really nailing the reason for Bergeron’s specific success with AFV and crystallizing my own thoughts on selecting the right hosts for different types of shows.
My impression has always been that a host (be it in magazine shows, reality shows, or any other corner of the TV universe) is there to facilitate rather than call attention to himself or herself, which is why you seldom see big personalities hosting shows unless they’re participants in the action as judges or adventurers. Chris Harrison’s a great host for The Bachelor because he doesn’t project a lot of himself into the proceedings and is adept at keeping things moving. You wouldn’t expect to see him hosting Dirty Jobs (which was reliant on Mike Rowe’s personality and participation) or No Reservations (which was defined by Anthony Bourdain’s unique voice and perspective), but he’s perfect for a show that’s about other people, interrupted only by the occasional interview or setup. Last night’s panel moderator, Mario Lopez, succeeds as a host on Extra because you know you like him, but the stories are the focus of whatever he’s sharing.
With America’s Funniest Home Videos, I feel like Bergeron hits a sweet spot between hosting and performing, in that he’s performing (delivering jokes) but in a way that’s shifting the focus away from himself to the action. The payoff isn’t for his benefit, it’s for the benefit of the then-enhanced clip content. He’s taking a funny thing and making it funnier without making it about himself… which is exactly what Rowe and Bourdain are masters at, but he differs from a Harrison or a Probst in that being relatable as a human being and getting his personality across is critical to his success.
When you watch shows like “World’s Dumbest Criminals,” you see a bunch of comedians commenting on each clip as it’s run over and over. What’s happening there is that the joke about the clip becomes the focus of the comic, not the clip itself. The comic is trying to top the action, and on shows with many comics, it starts to feel like a contest after a while. Bergeron sets up a clip to maximize the impact of the content, then trails away with a fun piece of commentary. That’s it. Yes, it’s largely the effort of the writers that makes this work, but Bergeron… he’s just exactly the right guy for the job. He’s not a comic, he’s a funny guy who’s there to support the content instead of himself.
This, I think, explains why Tom always balked at the cutesy alliterative copy I sometimes gave him on Dancing With the Stars in the early seasons. “Tantalizing tangos” and “quintessential quicksteps” were turns of phrase, an idiot writer/producer’s version of showing off (hey, I was only five years into my career and not so nuanced yet) instead of supporting the host’s persona and in turn, enriching the material. I finally got it in season three, but man, did I get schooled by overhearing him reading my copy in a booth one fateful afternoon. The man knows what works and what doesn’t, which is why you’ll always hear him referring to himself as a broadcaster… he’s no mere word-repeating puppet, and isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and give you his two cents.
Check the VIDEO around the 8:05 remaining mark (the player counts backwards) to find out what Vin has to say. Tom’s comment about being the Martin to the video clips’ Lewis a few seconds later is a gem, too.