NBC aired the second episode of its new sketch comedy series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in on Monday, January 29th, 1968. During the episode, the following fake news bulletin flashed at the bottom of the screen:
Help! Help! I’m being held prisoner in the newsroom!
Viewers in several cities promptly called the police to report that someone was being held hostage at their local NBC affiliates. Officers looking to rescue hostages burst into three stations: WICS-TV in Springfield, Illinois; KCMT-TV in Alexandria, Minnesota; and KARK-TV in Little Rock, Arkansas. According to an NBC spokesman no viewers called in to complain about that fake news bulletin although 35 called to complain about one that reported the upcoming marriage of a bishop and a nun, concluding with “This time it’s for keeps”.
Reporting on the unexpected turn of events, Broadcasting quoted an NBC spokesman as saying it was “very unlikely” fake news flashes would be used in future entertainment programs.
“Laugh Show Gag Fails to Amuse Police.” Chicago Tribune. 31 Jan. 1968: B17.
“N.B.C. Finds ‘News’ Jokes Stir Up Earnest Viewers.” New York Times. 31 Jan. 1968: 83.
“The News is Serious.” Broadcasting. 5 Feb. 1968: 54.