Whos the Dummy

One of the first TV spots I ever wrote had Steve Allen — comedian, musician, songwriter, philosopher, and all-around creative genius —

doing a comic bit with a ventriloquist dummy in his own likeness (don't ask) for a bank client. We recorded Allen's voice in advance for the dummy's lines, and during one of the early takes Allen stepped on his own line and proceeded to acknowledge the mistake with big eyes to the camera, in a broad "early live TV" kind of way. The director yelled "Cut" from off-camera, but Allen kept going, finishing the final lines and the scene. The camera operator, luckily, kept the film rolling. At the end of the scene Allen whispered to me, "That's the take we'll use."

The clueless director, trying to nail the script perfectly, went on to film a half dozen more takes. You can guess the end of the story. We went with the botched take. It was funnier; it gave Allen the gift of an accident to create something better than what was asked for; and, above all else, the commercial was very memorable and helped give a big boost to the advertiser's awareness levels. In the end, the only edit required was eliminating the closed-minded director's "Cut" from the audio.

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