Seventy-nine years ago today - yes, 79 years - the incorrigible Orson Welles broadcast the infamous "The War of the Worlds" episode of his popular radio program, Mercury Theater on the Air. It was October 30th, 1938 and it was a Halloween episode aired by the CBS radio network.
Next year will be the 80th anniversary of the broadcast and I have this perverse fantasy that, between now and then, some brave, resourceful filmmaker/documentarian might pull the same kind of prank, given that Americans are more skittish than usual these days (understandable, considering how chaotic life has become). It would be a terrific, much-overdue wake-up call. And think of all the horrible current events ready-made for an irresponsible, "scare-the-bejesus-out-of-them!" broadcast.
Perhaps Errol Morris or Morgan Spurlock or Gabriela Cowperthwaite could pull it off. Or Steven Soderbergh or The Coen Brothers. Or Mr. Provocateur himself, Michael Moore. Wait! I'm not sure about Moore, now that he's been sucked into a pointless Twitter war-of-words with Trump.
It would be perfect. After all, Welles' broadcast was the original Fake News. How appropriate would it be if the viewing public (it would have to be on TV these days) was sucked into faux "breaking news" about Trump or white nationalists or out-of-control police - a story even more outrageous than the ones routinely aired by ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News?
"Our actual broadcasting time, from the first mention of the meteorites to the fall of New York City, was less than forty minutes," Welles' producer John Houseman later reminisced. "During that time, men traveled long distances, large bodies of troops were mobilized, cabinet meetings were held, savage battles fought on land and in the air. And millions of people accepted it - emotionally, if not logically." And, surprisingly, there were no real ramifications from a prank that unsettled the nation, other than Welles and company being subjected to relentless hounding by the media.
I don't recall reading anything of a serious reprimand by the government or about any charges brought against Welles and the Mercury Theater.
Of course, these days, there would be consequences, with the usual suspects - the assorted talking heads of TV - self-righteously scolding the filmmaker in question for being either "inappropriate" or "insensitive" or "irresponsible" or "politicially incorrect." Or all of the above.