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"The Space Needle collapsed."
Those were the words from the KING 5 Newsroom which aired live on April 1, 1989, that launched perhaps the most infamous April Fools' Day prank in Seattle history and sent many in Washington state into a panic.
"A lot of people wanted us fired," John Keister, host of KING TV's sketch comedy show Almost Live, told KING 5's Evening back in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the event.
The show's writers had an idea. Hire someone who looked like a news reporter to break into programming, go on air for a special report, and tell viewers the Space Needle had collapsed.
They went a step further, having the art department create a fake scene that made it look like the needle had, indeed, toppled onto nearby buildings.
But director and cast member Steve Wilson said after seeing the fake video footage, he was concerned people would believe it was real. Station management signed off on the prank, on the condition that it was made clear on the screen it was an April Fools' Day joke.
Big, bold letters at the top of the screen read "Space Needle--April 1, 1989. April Fools Day." At the bottom was what appeared to be Seattle's most iconic structure, in pieces.
A lot of people didn't get the joke as the actor-reporter stayed in character and kept reading.
"Information at this point is incomplete. We do know that injuries are minimal. Fortunately, the needle was nearly empty when the accident occurred. A maintenance man who was working on the lower level has apparently been taken to Harborview's emergency room for minor injuries," he said.
The skit was not devoid of cast members. Tracey Conway played the role of hysterical eyewitness.
"I was walking along Mercer here and I heard this sound. It was like thunder and I looked up and it was swaying. And it went over. It was like somebody just kicked the bottom out from under it. You wouldn't believe it," she said.
"So many people called 911 that it shut the 911 lines down," said Keister. "There were people from Eastern Washington, medical people, who came over to volunteer."
The KING 5 switchboard went nuts.
"They said 'What have you done? We've just gotten hundreds of phone calls,'" said Wilson. "The police were not happy with us. The city was not happy with us."
The city likely also wasn't thrilled when the reporter-actor suggested the collapse may have been caused by construction on the Metro bus tunnel.
The prank made national headlines. After consulting with management and lawyers, Keister was forced to go on air the next week and apologize.
"We labeled it as a joke, and we thought people would take it as a joke. Unfortunately, it didn't work that way," Keister told viewers.
The advice from Keister to future pranksters who might want to try something like this?
"Make sure that you do it in a way that doesn't hint that people could be dead."
Talk about fake news.
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