I just recently had the opportunity to watch a video of this notorious broadcast for the first time, and was greatly impressed. It’s a brilliant concept, wonderfully designed to blur the edges between reality and television. It’s not too difficult for me to believe that some people really accepted it as fact, at least at first. The early segments perfectly capture the “manufactured event” quality that characterized the dramatic television stunts of that time such as those of Geraldo Rivera, and then the show proceeds to attack that structure mercilessly until it falls apart.
Interestingly, the recognizable actors such as Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles seem much more convincing than the other characters. The actors playing the guest scientists, the family and neighbors all seem to display that subtle artificiality that screams, “I am acting as though I am speaking in an untutored and extemporaneous manner,” whereas Parkinson is much more fluid and natural at appearing caught off guard. The plot-related call-in sequences were the only really transparent bits in my opinion.
I don’t know how much the “subliminal” additions added to the effect of the show, but they had some pretty effectively spooky moments in there.