Why do all phone numbers in TV shows, movies, etc., have the prefix 555? Is it an FCC regulation?
Mary Jane, formerly of Lawrence, Kansas
Believe it or not, there are a few pinheads out there with nothing better to do than sit down and call every number they see on a television show or in a movie. “Hello, is Kojak there?” they say, chuckling at the sublimity of their wit. Generally, Kojak is not there, which causes a great deal of inconvenience for the poor sap who is. In one case several years ago a Peanuts strip carried a number that turned out to belong to a family in Moline, Illinois. Over 50 calls, ranging from plaintive requests to speak to Snoopy to less plaintive requests of a considerably darker nature, were logged in one evening.
Up until a few years ago, the phone company maintained a service that provided fictional (i.e., unused) numbers to producers and writers. But it soon developed, in this wide, wonderful country of ours, that there wasn’t a single number that wasn’t in use somewhere. The “555” gambit was created in 1973–no matter where you are, dialing the 555 number plugs you into directory assistance, where a legion of professionally trained operators awaits to answer the particular crankiness of your call. 555 isn’t an FCC regulation, but simply a convenient creation of Ma Bell.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.