How Does America's Funniest Videos Survive In 2016?

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
When I was younger, there were two things I always wished for. The first was to break my arm (I desperately wanted a lime green cast for friends to write messages on). The second: to someday make it into a clip on America's Funniest Videos.

As a kid, I was convinced that my family — and, specifically, the "me" part of it — were funny enough to make it onto the Sunday night series' reel. I remember combing through my own personal memory bank while watching AFV, thinking about what might happen if any Baila bloopers were featured: Would everyone laugh? Would I win a prize? Would I become famous?

Alas, who knows what would have happened if my wish had come to fruition. But years later, I still think about how AFV gave the world a wholesome yet voyeuristic view into the embarrassing moments of other people's lives. Though I now wonder how — in a world where funny viral content is part of our daily newsfeeds and timelines — the show manages to survive on TV today.

In 2016, if I want to watch a clip of a dog stealing his human's sandwich, I literally have an app for that. There's Vine and YouTube. There's and Snapchat, plus Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It seems like a new video spreads like wildfire across the internet every single day, and content creators don't need a middle man to produce or distribute their work. So how can AFV — a show that plays at a static time once a week — compete with that?

We do not view Vine as competition. We do not view YouTube as competition.

Lisa Black, America's Funniest Video Exec
I posed that question to Lisa Black, the executive president of content for AFV. "We were kind of the YouTube before Youtube," she says. YouTube launched more than a decade ago, back in 2005; but AFV was already cornering the funny video market back in 1989. It became a regular weekly series the following year. That longevity has given AFV a leg-up in the modern tech landscape.

"AFV is the top television account on Vine," says Black. "We do not view Vine as competition. We do not view YouTube as competition. We view them as platforms that we can reach a different audience and demographic. We also view them as platforms where folks can experience our brand in a different way." To put it another way: The AFV execs don't care how viewers are watching their content, just whether or not they're watching it in the first place.

But Black is also intentional about differentiating the sort of clips you might see on other video curation platforms — like Tosh.O or Ridiculousness, for example —and what you get on AFV. Vine, she explains, is "a little bit more self-deprecating." Where AFV is wholesome, Vine is abrasive. AFV's sweet spot is candid families; Vine's is scripted teens and rising social media stars. Furthermore, part of the television show's appeal is a host who can guide audiences through the videos themselves, like a gag reel expert: Bob Saget was the original, and stayed on for nearly a decade; he was then (briefly) followed by John Fugelsang and Daisy Fuentes, before Tom Bergeron took over through 2015.

Now, the baton has been passed once more: This time to Alfonso Ribeiro — a.k.a Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air — who is 45, and will appeal to a younger demographic according to Black. Did they ever consider an even younger host? Black laughed when I posed that question, and said that, contextually speaking, Ribeiro meets that ask. When Bergeron made his exit last year, he was 61. And so here's how AFV kicked off season 28 in a way meant to appeal to youths on October 2: A whole segment was dedicated to Snapchat's Faceswap feature.
Though the hosts and content itself may have changed, one thing has stayed the same on AFV since its inception, Black explains: its commitment to a specific kind of quality. "Family friendly" is a rule of law for which video are selected for use. Even that has its own grey area, because what does "family friendly" really mean these days? Black-ish and Modern Family are both family friendly shows that aren't always in family friendly plot territory. "Family" is also a more inclusive word than it was nearly three decades ago, when AFV premiered. That's a good thing.

Apart from family friendliness though, the number one thing that producers are looking for? Humor that appeals to a wide cross section. Which sounds simple, right? Make as many people as possible laugh, and they'll tune in for more. People who have lost it while Faceswapping with a friend will get a giggle out of seeing it happen to someone else on the small screen, so the theory goes.

Up until now, that's worked out fine: AFV, Black told me, airs in 193 territories. There are 35 local versions of the show; at any time of day, a version of AFV is playing on a channel somewhere in the world. Seen through a certain lens, you could say that it's a lot like viral videos all over the internet in that way.

America's Funniest Videos airs Sundays on ABC at 7 p.m.

More from Entertainment