The Case of the Missing Four Seconds

One of my last TV spots before leaving the ad business may not have been the most important commercial I ever did, nor was it for the biggest client, but it did give my art director partner, Holland Henton, and me the gift of yet another lesson in accidental genius.

This was a 15-second commercial for an ABC network affiliate promoting their Roseanne reruns during the early-fringe 5:00—6:00 P.M. time slot. It was one of a package of six spots, all starting off with a freeze-frame of the TV show with comedian Gilbert Gottfried as the voice-over saying something pithy or totally inane, as the case may be. Then the tape would roll for about eight seconds in each spot, featuring a clip from a rerun. At the end came a freeze-frame where the voice-over would return and the station's logo would appear.

In this particular commercial, the script for the head of the spot read, "How'd you like to come home to this every night at 5:30," spoken in Gottfried's patented sloppy, Brooklyn-accented scream. Then we were supposed to have a clip from the show showing Roseanne being the far-from-average average housewife in the title role. The problem was this: When edited, the chosen clip showing Roseanne running toward the camera hollering fell four seconds short. It seems the intern who had selected the initial batch of takes we considered using for the spot had forgotten to time all of the scenes. Now, if you're not in advertising, you may think, what's four seconds? If you are in advertising, you understand our dilemma. Four seconds is an eternity, especially in a 15-second commercial.

As I recall, the initial thought was to look at some of the takes we had passed over to find a replacement scene that could fill our four-second hole. But then someone with an open mind (I still can't recall who) said, "Hey, let's try slowing the footage down to fill the hole."

Well, let me tell you, the gods of creativity were smiling down on us this day. When we slowed down the tape, not only did we get to see Roseanne lumbering toward the camera in slow motion like a charging rhino on Wild Kingdom, a very funny sight, but, surprising all of us, the slowed-down sound track created an amazing effect. If you don't know anything about sound recording, slowing down a sound creates a lower pitch. I'm talking about a much lower pitch . . . like turning Tweely Bird into Lurch on The Addams Family. So now the charging-rhino housewife is sounding like lizards-turned-dinosaurs in a cheap Japanese horror flick.

Believe me when I tell you, this commercial was hilarious, and not only funny to a bunch of advertising executives who had just dodged a minor bullet, but to a much more demanding audience. You see, this innocent little low-budget local TV spot impressed some of the most savvy advertising professionals in the business that year, and they put this commercial into the winner's circle at the One Show Annual, one of the most prestigious, most difficult advertising competitions on the planet.

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