What a Dummy (partially found TV sitcom; 1990-1991)
What a Dummy was an American sitcom TV series created by Leslie Eberhard, Barbara Hobart, Arthur L. Annecharico, and Craig Kellem that was broadcast in syndication from September 29th, 1990 to May 25th, 1991. The series was designed to capitalize on the success of shows such as ALF and Small Wonder and featured a similar premise of a typical American family living with a bizarre creature that they have to hide from the rest of the world.
The series focused on the Brannigan family of Secaucus, New Jersey; consisting of family patriarch Ed Brannigan (David Doty), his wife Polly (Annabel Armour), his sons Tucker (Stephen Dorff) and Cory (Joshua Rudoy), and his daughter Maggie (Janna Michaels). In the first episode of the series, the family attends the funeral of Ed's great uncle Jackie Brannigan, and (as Ed is Jackie's closest living relative) subsequently inherits all of Jackie's worldly possessions. Said possessions consist of a single antique trunk containing numerous props from Jackie's career as a ventriloquist, chief among which is Buzz (voiced by Loren Freeman), the ventriloquist dummy Jackie used in his act.
However, the family soon discover that Buzz is no ordinary ventriloquist dummy; having the ability to move, talk and think for himself without the need of human control. Buzz is displeased about having been locked inside a trunk for 50 years but soon takes a liking to the Brannigan family regardless. The Brannigan family feel likewise and take Buzz in as one of their own, while also taking on the responsibility of hiding him from other individuals such as their nosy neighbor Treva Travalony (Kaye Ballard).
Despite Buzz being the show's main draw, he would rarely play a role in the plot of any given episode, instead largely delegating himself to the sidelines where he would comment on the Brannigan's situations, give them advice, and make wisecracks at their expense. The series instead mostly focused on the Brannigan family and the situations they found themselves in, be they interpersonal conflicts between family members, or issues the individual family members dealt with on their own.
Alongside the Brannigans, Buzz and Treva, the show also featured a series of one-shot characters who were played by several notable guest stars including Richard Belzer, Foster Brooks, Henry Gibson, Sherman Hemsley, Marty Ingels, Pat Morita, Marcia Wallace, and Shelley Berman.
Production and Broadcast
What a Dummy was produced by Arthur Annechario's production company The Arthur Company, with the Buzz animatronic being created by special effects artists Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics, and puppeteered by Mark Rappaport. The series was made under a noticeably small budget, resulting in issues such as a very limited number of sets, and the Buzz animatronic only being able to move its head (resulting in Buzz seemingly teleporting across locations between shots without explanation).
But budgetary constraints were not the only issue What a Dummy faced. Considerable difficulty with the show's cast was also present throughout production, with the original actors for Ed and Polly being replaced following filming of the first episode for unknown reasons, and several other actors on the show openly showing their dislike for it and its content on multiple occasions. Stephen Dorff stated in an interview with Teen Beat that "I had to do What a Dummy because I was contracted”, and Kaye Ballard displayed her contempt for the material several times, claiming in a 1990 interview with the Chicago Tribune that she did the show because "I had to get back on television", and remarking in her 2004 memoir How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years that "the title adequately describes the fact that I signed the contract: What a Dummy."
What a Dummy was distributed by MCA TV (now known as NBCUniversal Syndication Studios), and was broadcast in syndication across America between 1990 and 1991. But in some regions, the stations who had the rights to broadcast the series were network affiliates who had prior commitments to broadcast college football games and other sports events, resulting in the series having an overall inconsistent time slot placement, which likely contributed to its failure. But despite the show's failure in its home country, it still managed to receive various international dubs, being shown in Germany as Der Familienschreck (The Family Fright), in Italy as L’amico di legno (The Wooden Friend), and in Spanish speaking countries as Un intruso en la familia (An Intruder in the Family).
24 episodes of What a Dummy were produced and aired on television between 1990 and 1991. But the show never received a home media release, and due to its obscurity and the inconsistent time slot placement in some regions, footage of it has become very rare in the years since its cancellation. To date, only one full episode of the series has been uploaded online, along with various clips and promos from multiple other episodes.
|1||What a Dummy||When Ed Brannigan's great uncle passes away, he and his family discover a steamer trunk full of old props left over from the days when his Uncle Jackie had a travelling ventriloquist show, including Buzz, the dummy. Only this dummy talks and isn't too happy about being left in a trunk for 50 years.||Sep 29th, 1990||Partially Found|
|2||My Hero||After Cory saves Tucker's life, that life then becomes slavery when Tucker must do anything and everything Cory wants.||Oct 6th, 1990||Lost|
|3||The Contractor from Hell||In Ed's attempt to save money, Lucky Ernesto is hired to fix a plumbing problem. Unfortunately, this was not a smart move and Ed ends up having to take Lucky to court.||Oct 13th, 1990||Lost|
|4||Who's Life Is It Anyway?||In order to attract the eye and affections of a young lady, Tucker takes on the persona of his sensitive brother and tries to act like Cory would act if he were in the same situation.||Oct 20th, 1990||Found|
|5||The Champ||Tucker is suffering from feelings of low self worth, so Ed tries to help by offering him a position at the family's restaurant while Cory nurses a broken heart.||Oct 27th, 1990||Lost|
|6||Good Neighbor Brannigan||Trying to be the nice and friendly neighbors, the Brannigans invite their next-door neighbors out to dinner, only to find that they are a couple of strange birds.||Nov 3rd, 1990||Partially Found|
|7||Car Wars||Polly covers for Tucker by taking the blame for him after the young man wrecks his dad's cherry Mustang.||Nov 10th, 1990||Lost|
|8||Grandpa Lou||Buzz targets insulting Grandpa Lou.||Nov 17th, 1990||Lost|
|9||What I Did for Love||Tucker gives Buzz to his new girlfriend.||Nov 24th, 1990||Lost|
|10||The Substitute||Tucker plays a prank on a substitute teacher.||Dec 1st, 1990||Lost|
|11||Unmarried... with Children||Ed and Polly learn they are not married.||Dec 8th, 1990||Lost|
|12||Bringing Up Baby||Tucker delivers a baby, whose mother then disappears.||Jan 26th, 1991||Lost|
|13||Buzz Is Loaded||Buzz's offer to lend money comes with a hitch.||Feb 2nd, 1991||Lost|
|14||Fear Itself||The family tries to rid Cory of horror-movie jitters.||Feb 9th, 1991||Lost|
|15||The Babysitter||The children think they have killed the baby sitter.||Feb 16th, 1991||Lost|
|16||Tucker's on the Air||An ex-hippie (Henry Gibson) gives Tucker a radio job.||Feb 23rd, 1991||Lost|
|17||Mrs. Grumbacher's Talent Show||Cory uses Buzz to beat a talent-show rival.||Mar 2nd, 1991||Lost|
|18||My Imaginary Friend||Cory credits an imaginary pal for Buzz's opinions.||Mar 9th, 1991||Lost|
|19||The Vacation That Never Was||Treeva and her beau wreck the Brannigans' vacation.||Mar 16th, 1991||Lost|
|20||Buzz for Sale||Buzz is mistakenly left on a toy-store shelf.||Apr 27th, 1991||Lost|
|21||The Nudge Who Came to Dinner||Buzz and houseguest Treeva come to an agreement.||May 4th, 1991||Lost|
|22||Treasure of the Sierra Secaucus||An old letter tells of treasure in the family house.||May 11th, 1991||Lost|
|23||Knock on Wood||Bad fortune descends after Ed breaks a lucky statue.||May 18th, 1991||Lost|
|24||Toy's Aren't Us||Cory prefers a toy robot to Buzz.||May 25th, 1991||Lost|
- Bloody Disgusting article about the series. Retrieved 12 Sep '22
- Interview with Kaye Ballard in which the series is discussed. Retrieved 12 Sep '22
- Syndicated Shenanigans: What A Dummy. Retrieved 12 Sep '22
- Forgotten TV: What a Dummy (1990). Retrieved 12 Sep '22
- epguides page for What a Dummy. Retrieved 12 Sep '22