Does this spell the end for TV pranks?
… stunt which will make big-name celebrities think twice about working the crowds at red-carpet events, according to the public relations expert Mark Borkowski. …
PRANKSTER TV has claimed many celebrity scalps in recent years, with Ali G, Mrs Merton and Dennis Pennis leading the way in conducting cleverly subversive interviews with unwitting stars.
Yet the most unsubtle prank of all – squirting water in someone’s face – could not only spell the end for the genre, but also scare Hollywood stars away from the UK.
The joke microphone which fired water into the face of Tom Cruise was a puerile stunt which will make big-name celebrities think twice about working the crowds at red-carpet events, according to the public relations expert Mark Borkowski. He said: “A thousand American actors and actresses are going to look at this and decide they aren’t going to Britain to be humiliated for a stunt on a cheap TV show.”
Cruise, 42, who has a reputation for spending hours chatting with fans at such events, won plaudits for his dignified response to being soaked at the premiere of The War of the Worlds in London’s Leicester Square.
A Channel 4 spokesman said the incident was filmed for an entertainment show “which involves playing light-hearted comedy pranks on celebrities and members of the public”. It was intended to be light-hearted not malicious, and Channel 4 “would apologise to Mr Cruise for any offence caused”.
Three of the four men arrested for allegedly drenching the actor were released on police bail last night.
It emerged the same comedy programme – reportedly called Balls of Steel – caught Sharon Osbourne, 52, with an almost identical incident last month. The wife of rock star Ozzy Osbourne was doused by a fake camera as she walked through London’s West End.
Unlike the more composed Cruise, she borrowed a champagne bucket filled with water from a restaurant and decanted it over her attacker. She said she would “laugh at anything” but such attacks constituted assault and gave TV a bad name.
Channel 4 said it was uncertain if the Cruise incident would feature in the series, due to be shown later this year, because of the possibility of legal action.
Objective Productions, the independent company commissioned by Channel 4 to make the show, specialises in entertainment programmes and its star clients include the illusionist Derren Brown.
The Cruise stunt took place as the actor answered questions in front of a 5,000-strong crowd on Sunday evening. He initially smiled, then became angry and demanded: “Why would you do that … why would you do that … why would you do that?”
As the prankster tried to offer an excuse, Cruise said: “Do you like thinking less of people, is that it?”
When the bogus reporter tried to leave, Cruise snapped: “Don’t run away. That’s incredibly rude. I’m here giving you an interview and you do that … it’s incredibly rude.”
He told his attacker: “You’re a jerk … jerk … you’re a jerk.”
The Hollywood star then dried himself off with a towel and carried on with his walkabout, which lasted more than two hours. But public relations adviser Julian Henry, whose clients include the footballer David Beckham and his singer wife Victoria, suggested Sunday’s stunt may backfire.
“Tom Cruise has the reputation of generally being a good guy and being happy to stop and talk to fans, so in doing this the comedy makers may have picked on the wrong subject,” he said.
He said stars had for some while been aware that a crowd outside an opening or event could contain people other than fans or journalists. “We have seen all this over the past ten years with Dennis Pennis and others. That’s why you see huge bouncers everywhere,” Henry said.
Being ridiculed on TV is nothing new. The tradition goes back to ITV’s Candid Camera and the formula was milked for ten years by Jeremy Beadle. Earlier shows involved hapless members of the public, but the targeting of celebrities was popularised by spoof showbiz interviewers such as Mrs Merton (comedienne Caroline Aherne with a blue rinse), Dennis Pennis and Ali G.
Pennis – the actor Paul Kaye – regularly turned up to premieres and launches to ask loaded questions and the targets of his cynical humour included the actor Steve Martin, former Tory leader William Hague and the model Naomi Campbell. He once asked the singer Cher: “Has anyone ever told you you’re really beautiful – and meant it?”
Ali G, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, duped prominent figures such as Tony Benn, Sir Teddy Taylor and the judge James Pickles, who believed he really was a wannabe gangsta from Staines.
Cohen has found to his cost that spoofing the public can have its unfunny side. Earlier this year, while filming as fictional Kazakhstan journalist Borat, he had to be led to safety from a rodeo in Virginia after his parody of the Star Spangled Banner angered locals. In 2004, Cohen’s Borat character prompted scores of complaints after he got drinkers in an American bar to sing a country and western song with the chorus “Throw the Jew Down the Well”.
The media analyst Graham Lovelace said he believed the “victim TV” format was tired. He said: “The trouble is that, once the viewers have seen a celebrity have the mickey taken out of them, it loses shock value. The danger is, for the programme makers, that viewers start siding with the celebrities.”
Borkowski believes the latest stunt has already backfired on Channel 4 and the production company. He said: “Cruise is a master of the red carpet and he humiliated this bloke. He could have reacted like John Prescott and hit him, but you can see Cruise calculating all the options. In the event he stayed calm and it was a very dignified response.”
Sunday’s premiere was staged by Premier PR, one of London’s biggest event public relations firms which regularly runs red-carpet launches. A spokesman said the comedy team gained access to the normally tightly-controlled press enclosure by gaining accreditation as a regular Channel 4 crew.
“They applied for accreditation as ‘Entertainment 4’ so there was nothing to suggest the application was unusual,” the spokesman said.
FERGUS SHEPPARD MEDIA CORRESPONDENT