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KING–TV's 'Almost Live!' Logo courtesy of Wikipedia.

KING–TV's 'Almost Live!' Logo courtesy of Wikipedia.

KUOW News

This NOT Just In: Space Needle Hoax

Feliks Banel
03/30/2012

April Fool's Day is usually a fun day of pranks and jokes. Feliks Banel takes us back to 1989 to find out how a local comedy show pulled an unbelievable prank on the entire city of Seattle for This NOT Just In.

TRANSCRIPT

There's nothing on the Seattle skyline more recognizable than the Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the distinctive tower has come to symbolize Seattle all over the globe.

"World's Fair Seattle" By The Jerry Tucker Orchestra: "I wanna be up in that Space Needle, high up in the clouds."

And just a few blocks away from the Needle are the studios of KING–TV. Back in the 1980s, KING was home to a popular local comedy program called "Almost Live!" Typical material on the weekly show was the "Guide To Living In Seattle."

John Keister: "The steadiest jobs in the Seattle area are: returns manager at Nordstrom, Microsoft Prozac distributor, grunge musician rehab counselor and the Costco baker."

John Keister hosted the Emmy–winning show, along with a cast including Pat Cashman, Steve Wilson and Tracey Conway. "Almost Live!" skewered local culture, ridiculed suburban hairstyles and generally poked gentle fun at all things sacred in late 20th century Seattle.

Cashman: "And then there's this strange mystery: the Enumclaw man who finds Bazooka Joe comics unbearably hilarious."

But very few people were laughing at "Almost Live!" one Saturday evening in the spring of 1989. Viewers who tuned in for the broadcast that night instead got some shocking news.

Announcer: "We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for the following special report."

News Anchor: "Good evening. Approximately seven minutes ago, at 6:53 p.m., the Space Needle collapsed."

On thousands of TV screens across the Northwest, images showed the beloved Space Needle as it lay in ruin on the Seattle Center grounds. A man who looked like a newscaster sat at a desk and filled in sketchy details of the disaster.

News Anchor: "Information at this point is incomplete. We do know that injuries are minimal. Fortunately, the Needle was nearly empty when the accident occurred. A maintenance man who was working on the lower level has apparently been taken to Harborview's emergency room for minor injuries."

It was an unbelievable tragedy. Unbelievable because it wasn't true. Anyone who checked the calendar would have noticed the date: April Fool's Day. But, much like the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast of 1938, some percentage of the audience just didn't get the joke.

Within moments, the phones at KING–TV, the Space Needle and the 9–1–1 switchboard were jammed with people calling in to find out what was up. This was 1989, after all, and there was no Internet or social media to turn to for more information.

Seattle Police said that one man called complaining of chest pains. He said his daughter worked at the Needle and that he feared for her safety.

Meanwhile, "Almost Live!" came back from a commercial break and John Keister acknowledged the prank. But it was too late. Over at the Space Needle, officials counted 700 frantic callers.

As Saturday evening wore on, most people finally figured out that the story was false. The shock turned to outrage.

In The Seattle Times the next morning, viewers called KING–TV "ignorant," "not very smart," "disreputable" and even a "disappointment."

The controversy flared for a few days, and the story even went national with articles in newspapers around the country.

Cashman: "This is 'Almost Live!' taped before a pre–recorded audience."

A week passed. It was Saturday night; time for another episode of "Almost Live!" Instead of the usual laughs, viewers were again presented with a special announcement.

Keister: "On April Fool's Day, we broadcast a prank — a phony news report — in which we said that the Space Needle had collapsed. Now, we meant this as an April Fool's Day joke. We labeled it as a joke, and we thought that people would take it as a joke. Unfortunately, it didn't, it didn't work that way."

After the Needle hoax, the show went on to win more Emmys. It was aired nationally on Comedy Central, and launched the careers of Bill Nye, The Science Guy and Joel McHale of "The Soup." The show was cancelled in 1999, but "Almost Live!" lives on in reruns and on the web. And, at last check, over at Seattle Center, the Space Needle was still standing.

I'm Feliks Banel for This NOT Just In.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

Song Information:

"Wasn't That a Mighty Day (When the Needle Hit the Ground)?" Performed by Mike & Maggie and recorded live in Seattle circa 1962.

"Well it crashed across the fairgrounds with such gruesome sound, and the Coliseum went tumbling and the mess was all around.

Wasn't that a mighty day, wasn't that a mighty day, wasn't that a mighty day, great God that evening when the Needle hit the ground?

Well, the restaurant kept rolling right on down Denny Way and it landed in the bay.

Wasn't that a mighty day, wasn't that a mighty day, wasn't that a mighty day, great God that evening when the Needle hit the ground?"

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