July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

OVER THIRTY YEARS AGO CANDID CAMERA did a wonderful segment about workers picking up their checks to find that a slew of strange new taxes had reduced their take-home pay to virtually nothing. (If memory serves, one of the taxes was a levy on breathing.) Today that segment still seems funny and smart. It is very unlikely that TV viewers 30 years from now will recall the pranks played on MTV’s Buzzkill with similar affection.

Buzzkill, which airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, features three brash twenty-something guys, armed with hidden cameras. Comedians Dave Sheridan, Travis Draft and Frank Hudetz are quite adept at passing themselves off as voodoo specialists, Cajun chefs and professional streakers. Nevertheless, the show suffers from two major shortcomings. One, most of the pranks are not funny: Two, a lot of the pranks don’t even work. As any veteran scamster knows, pranks work best when they poke fun at a powerful target: the government, big business, public relations firms.

But the sneering producers of Buzzkill are mostly interested in making the man on the street look stupid, for example, by drinking a mixture of salt and vinegar passed off as “Creole soda.” This is anything but funny. This is simply mean. The victim should have popped them.

In another segment, in which the lads try to enlist passersby in a bogus organization called the International Streakers Association, they fail to persuade anyone to take off his or her clothes and have to do it themselves. You call this a prank?

Recently, Hard Copy had a reporter pose as a bank examiner to investigate a crooked teller. The fake bank employee actually persuaded people to make withdrawals and then hand their money to him. The piece was funny and useful. And it made Buzzkill look like an amateur operation.

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