Alfonso Ribeiro on '[email protected]'s Quarantine Videos & How 'DWTS' Could Return
America’s Funniest Home Videos has always been a show that the whole family can watch together in their living rooms. Now, it’s being broadcast from the one belonging to host Alfonso Ribeiro. The folks at AFV and ABC got together to assemble a special episode, set to air on Sunday, titled [email protected], which features videos done by families and social media influencers who are currently learning how to survive in a COVID-19 world.
“[email protected] shines a light on the fun and amazing ways people have found to pass the time while being quarantined,” says Vin Di Bona, executive producer, America’s Funniest Home Videos, in a statement.
TV Insider recently spoke with Ribeiro about how the show was produced from his residence, how he thinks Dancing With the Stars might successfully adjust its production to successfully return given social-distancing concerns, and if there’s any chance of a revival of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the series that shot Will Smith to stardom and gave us the dance move known as "The Carlton."
— Tamron Hall Show (@TamronHallShow) May 15, 2020
AFV is actually fairly adaptable to the new normal, yes?
Alfonso Ribeiro: Yes. We finished our season without an audience and without flying contestants to Los Angeles. We finished the last few episodes and then the order for the pandemic/quarantine came down two days later. As everything went quiet in the world, our videos [submissions] spiked by triple! We were getting so many more videos. This hit Vin and Michele [Nasraway, executive producer] and they said ‘Let’s do something right now for the fans who are living in these times. Let’s do [email protected]’
How did you do this?
They sent me a separate iPhone, lights, gel for the lights, wires, a computer, microphones…I essentially became my own DP (director of photography), my own hair and make up artists, my own lighting director…a producer! I went to film school and I’ve been directing so, I called about those [skills]. We did five different location in our home. I think it turned out great.
Why do this show now?
We’re living in an unprecedented times. We need things to make people laugh and to take people’s minds off things. AFV is the show do to just that. And we created [email protected] from my home to yours.
So, the video content will reflect what’s going on in the world.
Yes. We’re not just showing your typical groin hits. It’s about the stuff we’re all doing now and living through.
What do you hope people get by watching this particular episode?
I’m hoping they get another break, another laugh. This is not a laughing matter, but perhaps people can laugh at the silliness of what we’re doing to entertain ourselves during this pandemic. Parents have to become teachers. They have to entertain their kids in a way they never have had to before. We’re all connecting through this. This is a difficult time for the whole world.
What did you learn about producing the show from your home?
We started later than we wanted it in the day so the sun wasn’t were I wanted it to be for certain locations.
Lighting is everything.
[Laughs] It is! The day before, we put it all up to see what it would look like on-screen. I had to play with the gels until it looked the way we wanted it to look. My house isn’t super bright so we weren’t able to use natural lighting.
Looking ahead, do you think that AFV could continue on in this format?
Yes. I think so. We learned that early on. We could do it on a sound stage without an audience if we had to. We love having an audience and we love flying out people who are competing for the $100,000 prize. Even if they don’t win, they have a great experience in L.A. and being part of a production. But we know we can do it from the studio without an audience and, if we have to, I think we can do it from my home.
Do you cut to winners and contenders in their homes from yours?
No. That’s not done in this episode.
But you could in the future?
Absolutely. The difference is we always use our studio audience to judge the winners. That would be the one thing [we’d have to re-work]. But there are ways. I ‘m sure the smart people at Vin Di Bona Productions and ABC would find a way to make it work.
You won Dancing With the Stars Season 19 with pro partner Witney Carson. In your opinion, could you see DWTS existing in a COVID-19 world?
It would be much harder. The real question is does it stay live or go to a pre-taped program? I think it would have to become a pre-taped program. Maybe the judges could watch [and judge] a taped performance? You’d lose the beauty of the set, the audience, the ‘here we go’ showtime aspect of it all. But they could still do it. It wouldn’t be the same, but American Idol has shown how it can be done. It’s more entertaining with a live audience but there’s no way to replicate that. I think 99% of the audience is people watching from home. I believe we’ll return to some sense of normalcy in the fall.
Pros and celebrities often don’t see each other after the show ends, but you and Witney have continued to work together on the GSN show you host Catch 21.
I had done the show before and they came to me to bring it back. We talked about what aspects they’d keep, which ones would change. Witney’s came up and it was an absolutely ‘I’m calling her now.’ This will be amazing. She’s a lifelong friend. There are other relationships I have from that show that have turned into lifelong friendships – Sasha [Farber] and Emma [Slater], Keo [Motsepe] and Mark Ballas. We’ll grow old together and talk about the show.
What’s up with Catch 21?
We’re going back into production for 130-episode pickup -- only without an audience, at least, initially. We’re hoping to have an audience back later in the year.
What did being on Dancing With the Stars mean to you?
Dancing With the Stars gave me a career again. I will always honor, respect and love it because it give me the life I have now back to me. It was a venue for me to showcase me — who Alfonso Ribeiro is — not my character from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. As amazing as that character is there might be person who is just as fun to hang around. Our bond was special on that show. I don’t know if I would have won with any other partner. The hard work and the energy would have been there, but there’s no guarantee the audience would have responded [to another couple] the way they did to Witney and me. This life that I have I partly owe to Witney. I will always support her and her husband, Carson [McAllister].
What did you learn from watching Tom Bergeron host?
I watched when Bob Saget did the show. I also watched Tom’s shows. I think Tom Bergeron is the best host on television. He’s fantastic. He decided to leave the show. I was blessed by the ‘godfather’ to take over and as he was leaving. He went to ABC and said, ‘I think Alfonso would be the guy.’ He said to me ‘Just be you. Just do you, and I think the audience will respond and love you for it.’ I said, ‘All right!’ I didn’t want the show to feel very different the first season I took over. I wanted the show to feel the same to the audience and then, gradually change it to what feels a little more like me. The changes have been small. I like to rhyme a little more than Tom does.
Last month, the Fresh Prince cast reunited for a tribute to the late James Avery (Uncle Phil), who passed away in 2013, on Will Smith’s Will From Home show on Snapchat. How was that?
It was wonderful. I think it was the 30th anniversary of when we did the pilot. Whenever we have the opportunity to get together, we will. We do individually with each other, but not often as a group. We got choked up and emotional over the tribute to James Avery. He was the backbone of the show right from the very beginning. Just like [email protected], that reunion was for the fans.
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Could you ever imagine a Fresh Prince revival?
I don’t see that happening. You’re not going to do it without Will, who I don’t think would do it. After James Avery passed, there’s nothing there. He was the backbone of the show. Will and Carlton getting in trouble with the law or whoever didn’t matter compared to how Uncle Phil was going to react [to whatever they had done]. That was more important than anything that happened outside of the home. That allowed all the funny silly and crazy to exist. The solid base of James Avery and Uncle Phil is what made the show work. I always say unless it’s going to be better than the first, why do it?
[email protected], Sunday, May 17, 7/8c, ABC