If new America’s Funniest Home Videos host Alfonso Ribeiro is even a little nervous about inheriting the gig from his pal Tom Bergeron, following Bergeron’s 14-year tenure with the show, well, you’d never know it by looking at him.
Same goes for the show’s proud creator, Vin Di Bona, who is putting his signature series through its most dramatic (don’t worry, moms and dads. It’s not that dramatic) revamp since the show debuted to smash ratings in 1989.
Standing a few feet apart at a summer ABC cocktail reception, both men attributed their serenity to one reassuring notion: America’s Funniest Home Videos — AFV for short — is and always has been about making families happy, and neither man has any inclination to change that. Maybe just a fresh coat of paint on the house.
“The key to this show is family,” says Ribeiro, asked if he planned to make the show ‘edgier.’ “We’re a place where grandparents and parents can also feel comfortable allowing the kids to watch — and there aren’t many shows where you can do that. We’re going to make it hipper. We’re going to make it cooler. The set is going to change. The music is going to change. But edgier? I wouldn’t use that word.”
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air favorite credits another family friendly Bergeron/Ribeiro mashup for helping him land his new gig.
“Tom Bergeron was stepping down [from AFV] and everybody knew that,” he explains. “So after my Dancing with the Stars win, ABC sat with me and we discussed the possibility of me being part of the network in more ways. So I went out on tour with Dancing with the Stars and came back and had an opportunity to sit down with Vin and do a screen test. They took it out and tested it with people and I came up the lucky one.”
The reasons for that are simple — and true to the AFV mission — Di Bona says, listing Ribeiro’s attributes: “A sense of sincerity. A sense of what family meant to him. Because if that’s inherent in him, then it will come through on the camera. He’s not just a person who is going to read copy and show up and smile, but a guy who really understands the premise of why our show is successful.”
“The reality for me is my fan base is everything that AFV represents,” says Ribeiro, the married dad of three kids. “I’ve got [everyone from] grandparents to little kids that will come up to me and ask me for an autograph or to take a picture. So all I have to do is be me. The producers have said, ‘This is no longer Tom’s show. This is your show. It’s your turn to be you and do what you do.’”
Which now entails being part of a wholesome Sunday night ritual for millions of families. One that involves more than just good clean entertainment, Di Bona notes with a chuckle.
“Ninety-three percent of the people that watch our show watch it live,” he explains. “It’s a time that Mom can say, ‘Did you take your shower yet? You have to get that done before the show starts!’ Or Dad can say, ‘Did you finish your homework? Well, ya gotta get it done before the show starts!’ It’s like having someone in the house that is the captain of getting stuff done. It really works!”
“It’s so endearing to see that, generation after generation,” says AFV executive producer Michele Nasraway. “People watch it as kids and then maybe go away for a while as teenagers and then come back as parents and their children start to watch it, too. It’s a cycle. And it’s wonderful!”
“I gotta tell you — that gives me pause and a tear in my eye, because we are so in touch with our audience,” Di Bona beams.
Being in touch with their audience, Di Bona and Nasraway add, means embracing the notion that today’s young fans and families want their AFV laughs to come in more ways than just on TV.
“We do have to stay current with Facebook and all of the platforms, because we have a billion people who come to look at at least one of our platforms every month. A billion people,” Di Bona says. “So we have to build something other than just the show, too.”
Luckily, AFV‘s very foundation — those laugh aloud clips of outspoken kids, goofy critters and accidental wipeouts — makes for a pretty smooth transition. And a profitable partnership.
“The material lends itself to every platform and every audience,” says Nasraway. “People like to see genuinely funny — and natural — circumstances that they can relate to, and that will never change. People have asked us if YouTube has hurt our business. I wonder where our business would be without YouTube making viral videos so popular. I think we’ve stayed in business because of it.”
“We’ve been through every possible format that’s in existence to man,” Di Bona agrees. “Michelle came to me this week and said, ‘You know, I think we’re going to stop going to our mailbox in Hollywood to pick up tapes.’ Because we’re only getting between one and five tapes a week. We’re getting 3,500-5,000 uploads a week. So our shows has really made almost every transition possible!”
But one thing remains the same — the genuine, rewind-worthy chuckles that have made the show the longest-running series in ABC history.
“I don’t believe in a laugh track,” Di Bona says of making sure the clips that makes it on-air live up to the AFV legacy. “That doesn’t make a show funny. It has to be inherently funny.“
So what kind of home video does Ribeiro find funniest?
“I love it when there are epic fails — when people put a plan in motion and it doesn’t work out well for ’em,” he grins. “We never want anyone to get hurt … but we love it when it looks like it does!”
America’s Funniest Home Videos Season 26 premieres Sunday, October 11 at 7/6CT.