The episode: “Being from Another Planet,” ep. 405
The riff: Asked by Tom as a bevy of reporters swoop forward and an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is opened with great fanfare.
The explanation: Tom is mocking a famous television failure: “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” program that was broadcast in 1986. Geraldo Rivera, then a famous investigative journalist, was the host for the live two-hour special, which received heavy promotion and hype in the days leading up to its broadcast. For two hours, Rivera told audiences of the treasures he hoped to find inside; everything from gold to dead bodies. When the “vault” was finally opened, only a few empty bottles were found, which Rivera speculated might have contained “bathtub gin.” The let-down of the empty vault went on to be widely satirized and seriously hurt Geraldo’s credibility as a serious journalist.
Novelty factor: I’ve always loved this story–it’s just so silly. It’s hard to believe someone could have planned a two-hour live program without ensuring there was anything in the vault first.