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Status: TV show gets hoaxed (but claims it hoaxed first)Hoax master Joey Skaggs has issued a press release describing the latest deception he's been involved in. I can't find the release posted online, so I uploaded the pdf file he emailed to me. I've also excerpted the main part of the release below:
Skaggs was contacted by producer Ben Sinden of ITV Factual, about a 90-minute special called "Danny Wallace's Hoax Files," to air in prime time Monday, December 19, 2005, on SkyOne throughout the UK. Sinden said Danny Wallace wanted to speak with the all-time great hoaxer Skaggs to see if he could teach him anything. In Skaggs' experience, producers of shows like this tend to overuse flattery, thinking that people will jump at the chance to be on TV. But Skaggs prefers not to become involved with this type of show. He'd rather expose them for what they are - self-aggrandizing and exploitive infotainment.
So, on October 30, 2005, rather than do the interview himself, Joey sent his friend Norman Savage in his place. Although Wallace had claimed to be a big fan of Skaggs' work, he apparently did not know the difference.
Savage, a novelist, has sat in for Skaggs before. In 1988 he appeared as Skaggs on "Entertainment Tonight" for a piece called "The Inside Story on Great Hoaxers," and in 1991 sat in for him on "To Tell the Truth" where he stumped the panel without the show's knowledge that he himself was a hoax.
Wallace's apparent plan was to attempt to hoax the hoaxer. He switched places with producer Sinden, who donned Wallace's signature glasses and messed up his hair. Savage, who had never met Wallace, was none the wiser, but apparently to his credit did a fine job impersonating Skaggs. Sinden proceeded to do the interview with Savage and each was happy in their duplicity, neither realizing the doublecross.
It wasn't until later, after the shoot, that the Skaggs switch was revealed to Wallace, and further confirmed while reviewing the collection of news clips of prior real Skaggs appearances licensed from other networks for use in the show. Says Skaggs, "It stands to reason that had he figured it out during the interview, he would have busted Savage, on camera, and used it in the show."
Realizing he'd been had, there was now a need for damage control. The trip to New York with the crew had cost the production company money. So now, how to salvage Danny Wallace's anticipated "leg up" on Skaggs? On December 8, Wallace phoned Skaggs to tell him he knew that Savage had played him and that, in fact, he (Skaggs) had been hoaxed by him (Wallace). Wallace was now going to make Skaggs confess! Curious to know what he had planned, Skaggs asked, "Are you pulling the interview?" "No!" said Danny Wallace, gloating, "We're going to show that it wasn't me doing the interview with you! We're showing a split screen with the fake you on one side and you on the other and we'll cut to me posing as crew during the interview." Skaggs replied, "Uh... Danny, but you didn't succeed in hoaxing me because, uh, it's not me!"
So, if the piece stays in the show, they'll be showing a fake interviewer interviewing a fake interviewee, while gloating about it. Unfortunately, Skaggs has seen this type of lame spin before. Embarrassed journalists who have fallen for his hoaxes, have frequently done follow-up stories to convince the audience that they knew the truth and were just going along for the ride.
The thing is, I recall being contacted by a researcher from this show, who wanted my advice on who the top hoaxers in the world were. So I mentioned Joey Skaggs. (Unless I'm confused about whom I discussed Skaggs with. Possible, because it was a while ago, but I'm pretty sure it was them.) In other words, I may have played a small role in giving him this hoaxing opportunity. Though the show doubtless would have contacted him anyway without my suggestion. (And I did warn them that Skaggs likes to turn the tables on the media.)