Tom Morrill and Sam Wallace worked together to create “Random Acts” — a TV show celebrating the goodness of individuals and the kindness they show to others.
“Our primary goal is to motivate and inspire people to do kind things for others,” Morrill said. “The second is we want the show to be a gift to the world that families can watch together that is entertaining, but inspiring.”
Morrill said doing kind things doesn’t need to be big or flashy. An act of kindness doesn’t need to be something posted online.
The show’s official slogan is “hidden camera with heart,” according to Wallace.
“(The show is) difficult to define — hidden camera and comedy mixed with real life situations that have a lot of heart,” Wallace said. “The show gets tender. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry.”
The show started with a traditional pilot episode, much like any TV show, Morrill said. The original idea was a hidden camera show to test the kindness of strangers, according to Wallace.
The entertainment aspect was originally focused on comedy; displaying the lengths people would go to help a stranger. The producers both said this idea wasn’t sustainable and didn’t match up with BYUtv’s vision for the channel.
The pilot also included a few segments aimed to pull at viewers’ heartstrings, but they were too serious and not sustainable on their own, Wallace said.
Filming for season one didn’t start until almost a full year after the pilot aired, according to Wallace. At this point, the producers decided on a balance between hidden camera and segments with heart.
“In the beginning we thought the giving of gifts was an easy default — giving someone help in their yard or repairing their car,” Morrill said. “It evolved into us trying to find people in need of an emotional experience. Instead of a gift of a couch, or a bathroom remodel, we are trying to find a positive experience that can hopefully change (the recipient’s) life for longer than the life of a physical gift.”
The episodes consist of multiple segments of hidden-camera fun, according to Wallace, and one longer segment — the backbone of each episode — that retains the heart of the show.
Wallace said he is very careful to weigh the audience’s time and expectations when creating segments. He wants to make sure the show is worth the time a viewer takes out of their day to watch.
Hidden camera segments are set up to show interactions with the public. Wallace explained they are completely concept driven. The producers decide on the idea, like asking strangers to help find an engagement ring on the beach, but don’t run a simulation ahead of time. He said there is no limit to the number of people who might interact with each segment. These segments are around five minutes long and are filmed all across the U.S., Wallace said.
Wallace said while the recipient can be affected greatly, there is often a ripple effect where their family, friends and community are also affected.
“If you interviewed anyone that works on the show, any crew member, any host, any producer, we are constantly surprised at how kind people are. We are constantly surprised at the lengths people go to help people out,” Wallace said.
Nominees and ideas can be submitted online and the producers keep a spreadsheet of all submissions, according to Morrill. He said they look for people who need emotional experiences.
The more the show knows about the people nominated, the easier it is to get an experience selected, but he recalled an experience where someone nominated their best friend in just two sentences.
Morrill also said the producers have brainstormed ideas of experiences they want to give and are waiting for submissions that align with the experiences they’ve dreamed up.
Wallace said the producers look for nominees who are deserving and with whom the audience can empathize. The producers then dig around to verify the story and make sure the situation is still current.
Wallace and Morrill said creating each show is incredibly rewarding and reminds them of people’s goodness. Wallace said there are often many tears on set, especially during the reveals.
Both producers said the show has a greater impact than they could explain.
The show often gets letters from around the nation from people stating they have seen lasting effects after participating in specific segments of the show.
The show also receives letters from viewers who connect with segments because they know someone going through a similar experience and are grateful to see the recognition of the challenge, according to Wallace.
“We never know what impact a show is gonna have hundreds or thousands of miles away,” Wallace said. “When we have individuals with battles in their lives, I think people in similar situations see that as inspirational in their lives.”
Wallace was quick to clarify that the show is not about pranks, and none of the participants are being manipulated. Morrill said he wants the audience to understand all surprises done in the show are legitimate — reactions shown on TV are not staged.
Wallace added that the crew puts in a lot of hard work to make the show happen. He described the show as a huge team effort.
People can get involved by doing their own random acts of kindness, Wallace said.
Ideas for quick and easy service can be found on the “Random Acts” website. “Random Acts” also happily accepts monetary donations, as well as donations of people’s resources and talents, through its website. Wallace said people volunteer their resources through time or connections.
All three seasons of the show can be watched online through BYUtv.