Everyone who's ever watched an MTV reality TV show probably knows that some of that so-called "reality" is a little bit unreal. For every celebrity that totally lied on MTV's Cribs, there's a producer or two who faked a scene on Pimp My Ride. Reality TV lies are a dime a dozen – but then there was Punk'd.
Punk'd was arguably one of the realest reality shows on MTV. But when you consider all the ways reality TV is faked, how real could Punk'd really be? True, one of the ways MTV fakes reality TV is by scripting scenes, and that didn't exactly happen in this case. Instead, the series was molded by the lawyers who stepped in to control the outcomes of potentially risky situations. Basically, Punk'd was pranking in a controlled setting.
Even the actors weren't really being themselves. Producers had no qualms about cutting up their actual reactions and making it look like host Ashton Kutcher could not be beat. They hid their failures and pranks gone wrong. It may not be the fakest show, but many of the ways MTV's Punk'd is fake have to do with lying by omission.
Even with teams of lawyers at the ready, Punk'd sometimes got dangerous. In Serena Williams's episode, the tennis star drives a car at nearly 100 mph, chasing someone she thinks abducted two children. Rob Pinkston, who played a teenager in the episode, admitted that they "stretched" the boundaries of personal safety because he felt like his job was on the line:
"I had [Punk’d co-creators] Jason [Goldberg] and Ashton [Kutcher] in my ear during the bit, and they told us to keep going, as long as it was safe... I think we stretched the ‘safe’ part a bit...
Jon [Huck, the producer] wanted to save the sketch and escape Serena, and I wanted to keep my job – let alone survive the car chase!"
When the episode aired, the editing made it appear like Williams was told to drive to where the kids were taken – not that she was chasing down someone she thought was a criminal. Basically, what happened was rewritten after the fact.
Part of the reason why Punk'd was so great were the celebrity reactions. Unfortunately, too much of the time, a star's real reaction was left on the cutting room floor.
In Drake's episode, he thought was going to meet Vice President Joe Biden. Instead, the Punk'd crew faked an earthquake. Apparently, Drake jumped and curled up into the fetal position on his friend's lap. In the episode that aired, though, Drake is just shown looking scared. The extent of his fear was only revealed later when Ashton Kutcher shared the story.
Producers had to deal with so much potential violence on Punk'd that they made a policy: if you see a weapon, shut the prank down and reveal yourself immediately.
Someone actually pulled a gun in a never-aired episode featuring the Black Eyed Peas. A physical altercation broke out when someone in their entourage brought out the weapon.
Punk'd undoubtedly manipulated celebrity reactions in post, especially when it painted them in a negative light (what star would sign a release for that?). In Zach Braff's episode, the actor actually threw punches when he thought someone had painted graffiti on his brand new Porsche.
Rob Pinkston, who played the delinquent teenager, admitted that the star tried to beat him up as he ran towards fellow actor Chris Elwood, who was playing a security guard: "I felt the swings hit the jacket, which was terrifying."
Elwood vouched for Pinkston's story:
“Zach tried to pummel Rob, but instead pummeled my arm... He basically hit my arm as he was trying to hit this kid. He definitely wanted to stomp the ever-living crap out of this kid.”
MTV ended up cutting the punches out, and made it seem like Braff just yelled a bunch of profanities.