Has anyone outdone Orson?
September 27, 2006 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Has there been anything like the radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds since?

Since it first aired, has there been any piece of entertainment that was misinterpreted by a mass audience the way the War of the Worlds radio broadcast was?

As in... people believing it was real? And even acting upon that assumption? I suppose it could be on "accident" like WotW was (even though Welles probably knew what he was doing) or on purpose.

The closest I can think of is when the Blair Witch Project came out, the word on the street was that it was "real." But even then it doesn't match how people reacted to the WotW.
posted by starman to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Although there is no law against broadcasts of that nature, the very nature of broadcasting changed as a result of WOW.

Now, when a television network plans a WOW-type one-off, they usually have to let 'someone' (like TV Guide and the TV listings people) know ahead of time.

There also seems to be a general rule in broadcasting not to do shit like WOW again.

I certainly learned that in broadcasting school.
posted by parmanparman at 8:50 PM on September 27, 2006

Probably only in the form of pranks, like Opie and Anthony's 1998 April Fool's joke on Boston's WAAF where they reported (as news) that Mayor Thomas Menino had died in a fiery accident.
posted by RavinDave at 8:52 PM on September 27, 2006

Incedentally, the FCC is very serious about on-air hoaxes now.
posted by phrontist at 8:57 PM on September 27, 2006

It seems as though periodic replays or recreations of WotW around the world still cause some people to freak out.

Not on the same scale, but the 1983 US TV movie Special Bulletin, which depicted live news coverage of a situation where a nuclear bomb was detonated, freaked out people living nearby where it was set ... despite repeated disclaimers and "dramatization" appearing on screen.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2006

There's a movie called Incident in Lake County, a Blair Witch type movie about a family attacked by aliens. Apparently some people sell at UFO conventions as proof of a real UFO attack.
posted by clockworkjoe at 9:09 PM on September 27, 2006

In the UK, there was Alternative 3, a supposed plan to evacuate the elite to a lunar colony, presented straight-faced as a science report on Anglia Television. There are still some tin-foil hat types that take this seriously.
posted by SPrintF at 9:25 PM on September 27, 2006

Blair Witch, definitely. It came out with its own fake documentary on some science channel about the story of the lost filmmakers.

I think a lot of the viral marketing stuff (lonelygirl15 etc) and astroturf stuff we're seeing now on the web is in the same category.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:30 PM on September 27, 2006

What about Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver? I haven't seen it myself, but apparently it set off a bit of a controversy in New Zealand.
posted by mariokrat at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2006

yeah i was going to say lonelygirl too. the nerds werent quite rioting on the streets, but it was touch and go for a while there
posted by petsounds at 9:43 PM on September 27, 2006

The Swiss spaghetti harvest?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:18 PM on September 27, 2006

Ghostwatch is pretty interesting, and I believe it caused a fair amount of upset in the UK when it was aired.
posted by Addlepated at 10:38 PM on September 27, 2006

Not on as large of a scale, but almost as ridiculous as the War of the Worlds broadcast:

Superman in Dubai
posted by catburger at 10:41 PM on September 27, 2006

Without Warning was fun, and definitely in the spirit of War of the Worlds, but it wasn't as successful. (There's a list of other similar programs in the linked entry, most of which have been mentioned by others in this thread.)
posted by headlessagnew at 10:42 PM on September 27, 2006

What Did You Do During the Zombie War? evoked WOW for me, and probably other folks listening last week too, but in a humorous, sarcastic way.
posted by PY at 10:43 PM on September 27, 2006

There was a pirate radio show in Texas which culminated in the host being shot by a female serial killer and the show going off the air.... some listeners thought it was the real deal....until they made a B-movie about the whole thing, and the real DJ behind the mysterious host unveiled himself. It was a bit anticlimactic.
posted by haplesschild at 10:45 PM on September 27, 2006

Blair Witch, perhaps.

However, I studied WOW in university almost 15 years ago. Our professor noted that there had been promos for the show prior to airing, including during the previous show. Also, during the opening and end credits for WOW, listeners were told they were hearing a radio play starring Orson Welles. There were also repeated statements about the show being fiction, although there was a 20 or 30 minute period where they didn't do that. And most people would have recognied Welles' voice from his regular appearance on the show. (Do you appear on radio?!)

Wikipedia also has some details of things that happened in other countries.
posted by acoutu at 11:04 PM on September 27, 2006

Ghostwatch scared the crap out of me as a kid...
posted by twine42 at 4:24 AM on September 28, 2006

Here's a teensy weensy scale thing:

When I was in high school, the popular morning radio station played an April Fool joke of just completely replaying their broadcast from the day before. Problem was, the day before had been a freakishly unseasonably warm March day. Like, in the 90s. In Maine. Of course, April 1 was a normal April 1, probably around 60 degreesat most. A lot of people (not me!) complained because they dressed for another hot day because they heard the weather report on that broadcast.
posted by lampoil at 4:30 AM on September 28, 2006

I wanna say there's a Fortean Times article from the last 7 or 8 years disputing how widespread and/or drastic the reaction was to WotW actually was.

You might be interested in this Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

You also don't stipulate whether the result is intentional, so the whole "Paul is dead" phenomenon may or may not count.
posted by kimota at 5:19 AM on September 28, 2006

Back in the early 1980s, when Mount St. Helens was busy erupting, a Boston newscaster was fired when he reported on April 1st that Great Blue Hill, a 600 foot hill just outside Boston, was erupting. He showed clips of St. Helens. It seems some folks believed him, probably because it was on TV so it had to be true.

He didn't cause mass panic on a WOW scale, but there were reports of a few folks evacuating.
posted by bondcliff at 6:37 AM on September 28, 2006

The BBC's Ghostwatch is the closest recent (1992) equivalent. It was trailed -- extensively -- as a live show set partly inside a "real" haunted house and partly in a studio. Real well-known BBC presenters were used. The show never broke the fourth wall to admit or even hint that it wasn't what it claimed (though there was a writer in the credits and if you know the difference between factual and fiction TV editing it was clear enough) -- apart from the 'Hotline' phone number, which if called would inform you that the programme was not real.

Though I can't find reports of the number of complaints to the BBC, the national (or at least tabloid) sense of indignation at having been fooled was widespread and long-lasting. Watching the show was enough to give two boys post-traumatic stress (cited in the British Medical Journal).

Ghostwatch went out at peak time on a Saturday evening and attracted over 11m viewers -- more than 1 in 6 people in the UK watched it.
posted by Hogshead at 7:14 AM on September 28, 2006

This episode of Radiolab chronicles a few of the remakes and similar incidents that have followed in the wake of War of the Worlds. It's also a pretty great look at the original.
posted by unsupervised at 7:51 AM on September 28, 2006

All of the MeFi posters except me and you are just Perl scripts.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on September 28, 2006

Blair Witch, definitely.

Oh, please. The reaction to that silly film had no resemblence to the mass panic of 1938.
posted by Rash at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2006

I said Blair Witch because before the film came out, there was a perception (among people I knew anyway) that this was a factual story. And it's a widely-known film, in the US.You're certainly right that it didn't cause mass panic. Neither did lonelygirl15 etc... I was thinking mainly of mass-media offerings that were intended to hoax and achieved some degree of success; wasn't really thinking of panics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2006

I heard a WOW type show on a Washington, DC radio station about 4 years ago on the way to a band practice... It was updated with locations around the DC area, spaceships landing on the mall in front of the capitol, and in a field next to wisconsin avenue... I think it was either April 1 or Halloween... Freaked me out pretty well, boy howdy.
posted by joecacti at 11:51 AM on September 28, 2006

50 M insect invades germany!

Apparently a bug got squished when someone was scanning a section satellite images for germany for google maps.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:43 PM on September 28, 2006

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