By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed Wednesday, July 20, 2016
A Latino mom and her 9-year-old son are at Lizards & Lollipopz, a popular independent toy store on Marietta Square, this past April. She wants to reward him for good grades by buying him a toy he wants.
But she is short $11 at the register. A customer behind them overhears the conversation. Will she help the mom out or pretend nothing is happening? What would she do?
Or in this case, it’s ABC taping its hidden-camera social experimentation show “What Would You Do?” hosted by John Quinones. The mom and son are actors. The customers are real. The long-running show spent two weeks in Atlanta this past spring to tape various scenarios that begin airing at 9:01 p.m. Friday after “Shark Tank.”
The show has been a steady performer for ABC over the years, and Quinones has become iconic in the role, popping out after a scene, typically to a surprised do-gooder or the occasional bystander who chose to do nothing.
And while the show normally shoots in the New York metro area, he said they sometimes hit the road to get different perspectives. “Geography matters,” Quinones said. “It’s expensive. We don’t do it as often as we’d like. Personally, I like being on the road, a rolling tour of America.”
The most memorable scene in Atlanta, he said, was at a local restaurant Harold’s Chicken & Ice Bar where an actor informed another of his HIV status. The other actor did not take the news well. And neither did some of the non-actors around them. “Reactions were pretty dramatic,” he said. “We found there is still a lot of ignorance when it comes to the issue of AIDS. Two guys left the restaurant. They said it ruined their appetite.”
During the toy store scenario, some people didn’t help the Latino woman out, later wondering if she was for real.
Lisa Sampson, Marietta resident and customer, said the actor’s story felt contrived: “She was so exuberant. She drew attention to herself a little bit too much. I thought it was a scam. If she was just a couple dollars short, it would have been more believable. Eleven was a bit much.”
The actress Lauren Rodriguez said the resistance could have been tied to her ethnicity. “Maybe,” she said, “it’s because I’m Hispanic.”
While waiting at the famous Brumby rocking chair store next door, where the production team was camped out, Quinones said the show is “at the mercy of who walks in. Sometimes, we can knock this out in three or four hours. Sometimes, it takes six or seven.” Eventually, a couple of folks helped the mom out.
Melanie Lauder, another Marietta resident and regular Lizards & Lollipopz customer, said she didn’t hesitate to hand over $11. “How fun to be able to do something like that to help her with that gift,” she said.
Quinones saw plenty of people rise to the occasion. He said when the show set up an interracial couple where a black woman criticized a black girl for dating a white guy, almost everyone came to the defense of the interracial couple. And when an actor playing a nightclub doorman at the Havana Club mocked a woman for being too heavy, people in line were quick to criticize the doorman.
“It was inspiring,” Quinones said. “Some girls were screaming at the doorman. People said, ‘You can’t treat her that way. If you don’t let her in, we won’t go in!’ ”
The show also shot at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the Silver Skillet and Purple Door Salon, all in Atlanta.
Southerners are generally more polite than Yankees, Quinones said.
“They’re just so hospitable and so welcoming,” he said. “Folks have much more time on their hands. We do these scenarios in New York, New Jersey, people have very little time for you. Here, it’s like, ‘Come on in, sit down! I can talk to you for hours!’ “
He said as he watches the scenarios play out, he and the producers try to guess what will happen. “We are so often wrong,” he said. “A guy with tattoos could end up being really helpful while the little old lady is mean.”
Quinones said they have done more than 500 scenarios, a few more than once. Race, religion and gender are still touchstone issues. “We have made a lot of progress, but this show reminds us we have work to do,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
“What Would You Do?” 9:01 p.m., Fridays, ABC