When Ashton Kutcher first emerged as a star, playing the naive and dim-witted Kelso on That ’70s Show, few would have expected he was on his way to becoming a media tycoon. He seems to always have a project in the works for TV or the Internet. A couple years ago, Kutcher was closely associated to Punk’d, the prank TV series that he created and executive produced. While it seemed to run its course after four years, Kutcher is now finding a new way to bring it back.
A blend of the old Candid Camera and TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes series, Punk’d features Kutcher and crew playing elaborate pranks on unsuspecting celebrities. Some of the most memorable “punkings” during the series run include Justin Timberlake, Elijah Wood, Wilmer Valderrama, Katie Holmes, Zach Braff, Kristin Cavallari, Sean Paul, and Beyoncé Knowles. Though most have taken the joke in good fun, some were not amused and refused to give permission for their segment to air. They reportedly include David Spade, Michael Vartan, and Pamela Anderson.
Punk’d ran for eight seasons on MTV, from 2003 until 2007. A total of 64 episodes were created with the series finale being a mock awards show, filled with clips of Kutchers favorite punkings.
Now, two years after MTV showed the last first run episode of Punk’d, the series is going to be revived for the web. Kutcher’s company, Katalyst Media, is teaming up with Ustream to bring “Punk’d-style experiences” to the Internet. The hope is that now the punkings can happen live and might possibly lead to some interactivity, making it an even more exciting show than it was on broadcast TV.
Of course, it couldn’t be better timing for Kutcher and his ever-growing presence on the web. He recently beat out CNN, a whole network, in a race to be the first celebrity on Twitter to reach one million followers. He and partner Jason Goldberg also have a web cartoon, Blah Girls, that airs on the net. The cartoon took awhile to take off and find an audience, but with Punk’d, Kutcher will just be reconnecting with his old audience.
Ustream is walking into this new venture with a little success of their own. They currently host hundreds of shows, including the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam which has ten million viewers alone. They also streamed content during President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony this past January.
With the hopes of increasing the presence of the web version of Punk’d even further, the new punkings will also be available on iPhone via a custom application in May.
What remains to be seen is if Kutcher and friends will run into a problem with their new “live” strategy. While most punked celebs have agreed to signed a release, some haven’t. How much legal trouble could Kutcher and pals get into if their victim objects but the punking has already been broadcast without their permission? In that case, the “punkee” could end up having the last laugh.