Second City Television

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SCTV
Second City Television
SCTV NETWORK.png
Also known asSecond City TV (1976–1981)
SCTV Network 90 (1981–1983)
SCTV Channel (1983–1984)
GenreSketch comedy
Developed by
StarringJohn Candy
Robin Duke
Joe Flaherty
Eugene Levy
Andrea Martin
Rick Moranis
Catherine O'Hara
Harold Ramis
Tony Rosato
Martin Short
Dave Thomas
Country of originCanada
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6 (over an 8-year period)
No. of episodes135 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time30 minutes (1976-1981)
90 minutes (1981-1983)
45 minutes (1983-1984)
Broadcast
Original channelGlobal (1976-1979)
CBC (1980-1983)
NBC (US, 1981-1983)
Superchannel (1983-1984)
Cinemax (US, 1983-1984)
Picture formatNTSC (480i)
Original runSeptember 21, 1976 – July 17, 1984
 
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SCTV
Second City Television
SCTV NETWORK.png
Also known asSecond City TV (1976–1981)
SCTV Network 90 (1981–1983)
SCTV Channel (1983–1984)
GenreSketch comedy
Developed by
StarringJohn Candy
Robin Duke
Joe Flaherty
Eugene Levy
Andrea Martin
Rick Moranis
Catherine O'Hara
Harold Ramis
Tony Rosato
Martin Short
Dave Thomas
Country of originCanada
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6 (over an 8-year period)
No. of episodes135 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time30 minutes (1976-1981)
90 minutes (1981-1983)
45 minutes (1983-1984)
Broadcast
Original channelGlobal (1976-1979)
CBC (1980-1983)
NBC (US, 1981-1983)
Superchannel (1983-1984)
Cinemax (US, 1983-1984)
Picture formatNTSC (480i)
Original runSeptember 21, 1976 – July 17, 1984

SCTV (Second City Television) is a Canadian television sketch comedy show offshoot from Toronto's Second City troupe that ran between 1976 and 1984.

Premise[edit]

The premise of the show was the broadcast day of a fictitious TV station (later network) in the town of Melonville. The location of Melonville was left unspecified, though most episodes implied that it was somewhere in the US.

A typical episode of SCTV presented a compendium of programming seen on the station throughout its broadcast day. A given episode could contain everything from SCTV news broadcasts to sitcoms, dramas, movies talk shows, kid shows, parodic commercials for non-existent products, and/or game shows: everything from a soap opera called "The Days of the Week" ("Monday... Tuesday... Wednesday... these are... the days of the week"), "Monster Chiller Horror Theater," whose host, Count Floyd, did not preview the movies and did not know that he was not showing scary movies, game shows like "Shoot At The Stars" in which celebrities are literally shot at like targets in a shooting gallery, to full-blown movie spoofs like "Play it Again, Bob" in which Woody Allen (Rick Moranis) tries to get Bob Hope (Dave Thomas) to star in his next film. Episodes would also feature a range of SCTV-produced promos (for imaginary future shows) and commercials, such as spots for "Al Peck's Used Fruit" or "Shower In A Briefcase," or a PSA which helpfully describes "Seven Signs You May Already Be Dead."

Also seen fairly frequently, particularly in later episodes, were behind-the-scenes plots focusing on life at the station. These often featured Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty), the cheap, tyrannical owner and president of SCTV, who, despite being perfectly ambulatory, was seated in a wheelchair to earn "respect" (i.e., sympathy) from employees and viewers; weaselly, sweating station manager Maurice "Moe" Green (Harold Ramis), succeeded in the position by flamboyant, leopard-skin clad, foul-mouthed Mrs. Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin); vain variety star Johnny LaRue (John Candy); washed-up entertainers such as singer Lola Heatherton (Catherine O'Hara) and comedian Bobby Bittman (Eugene Levy); news anchors Floyd Robertson (Flaherty) and Earl Camembert (Levy), talk-show host Sammy Maudlin (Flaherty), cult-stardom-destined and beer-addled brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie (Moranis and Thomas), and many others.

The small cast, typically six to eight members at any given time, played a wide variety of other station roles ranging from program hosts to commercial spokespersons. They also impersonated numerous popular celebrities appearing on the station's programming.

History[edit]

Show creation[edit]

There is much dispute as to who created the SCTV series. The show itself bears no "created by" credit, although it gives "developed by" credits to Bernard Sahlins and Andrew Alexander.

What is clear is that in 1976, Andrew Alexander, then the producer of Toronto's Second City stage show, was looking to expand his company into the realm of TV production. He called together the current cast of the stage show (including Candy, Flaherty, Thomas and Levy) to discuss a format for a Second City TV series. Also in attendance at the meeting were Second City vets Del Close, Sheldon Patinkin, and Harold Ramis, along with business partner Bernard Sahlins.

According to Dave Thomas' account in SCTV: Behind The Scenes, various ideas were batted around, then—and here's where meeting attendees remember things differently—either Close or Patinkin came up with the idea of presenting programming from the world's smallest TV station. The cast immediately jumped on the idea as a workable model for presenting a virtually unlimited range of characters, sketches, and ideas while still having a central premise that tied everything together. From there, the actual content of the show (the characters, the situations, the Melonville setting, etc.) was all the work of the cast, with contributions from producers Alexander and Sahlins.

Alexander remained as producer/executive producer throughout SCTV's run. Sahlins stayed for the first two seasons as a producer. Patinkin was a first-season writer and de facto editor and post-production supervisor. Close had no further involvement with the series.

Seasons 1 & 2: 1976-79[edit]

SCTV was initially produced in 1976 at the Toronto studios of the Global Television Network, then a small regional network of stations in Southern Ontario. For the first six episodes, new episodes were seen once a month. For the next seven episodes (beginning in February 1977, and continuing through the spring of 1977) new episodes were seen every second week. Then, in September 1977, Global ordered 13 additional episodes, which were seen once a week from September through December.

These irregularly scheduled 26 episodes (produced over a period of 15 months) were considered one "season" for syndication purposes. All of the original cast (except Harold Ramis) were from the Toronto branch of The Second City theatre improv troupe, and many had previously worked together on The David Steinberg Show. Ramis was a Second City vet, but with the Chicago troupe.

The original SCTV cast consisted of John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Harold Ramis, and Dave Thomas. All also served as writers on the show, although Martin and O'Hara did not receive writing credits on the earliest episodes. Ramis served as SCTV's original head writer, but only appeared on-screen as a regular during the first season (spread out over two years).

For the second season (1978–79), SCTV became a weekly series on Global, and was seen in syndication throughout Canada and parts of the United States. After episode 3 of the second season, Ramis was no longer in the cast but continued to receive credit as the show's head writer until towards the end of the season.

Season 3: 1980-81[edit]

The show was off the air for the 1979-80 season, but returned to production after producer Andrew Alexander and Allarcom-ITV Edmonton owner Charles Allard struck a deal to produce SCTV at ITV Studios in Edmonton, Alberta.

Candy, O'Hara, and Ramis dropped out at this juncture, and Dave Thomas was promoted to head writer. Added to the cast (and writing room) were Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, and Rick Moranis. Moranis, a friend of Dave Thomas and primarily known as a radio personality in Canada, would be the only cast member not to have come from the ranks of Second City.

This season of the show was seen in Canada on the CBC, and in scattered markets in the US in syndication.

Seasons 4 & 5: 1981-83[edit]

In 1981, SCTV was picked up as a 90-minute show by NBC as a replacement for the cancelled Friday variety show, The Midnight Special. Less than two months after Season 3 ended, SCTV was back on the air for Season 4, airing first as SCTV Network 90, then as SCTV Network, late Friday nights. For this iteration, Rosato and Duke dropped out (ending up as cast members of Saturday Night Live during its rebuilding years following Jean Doumanian's disastrous stint as showrunner), and Candy and O'Hara returned. Because of the rush to generate material for this new 90-minute show, several early Season 4 episodes were partially or even entirely made up of repeats of previously broadcast sketches from Seasons 1 to 3. Rosato, Duke and Ramis are often featured in these repeat sketches, uncredited.

Season 4 (25 episodes) ran on an irregular basis from May 1981 to July 1982. Beginning in January 1982, production of the show moved back to Toronto, where it would stay for the remainder of its run.

Writer/performer Martin Short was added to the cast at the end of Season 4, filming three episodes before O'Hara, Thomas, and Moranis all left. One of those episodes was aired as the Season 4 finale in July 1982; the other two were held for the start of Season 5 (14 episodes), which began in October 1982. For the remaining 12 episodes of Season 5, the cast of Candy, Flaherty, Levy, Martin, and Short were augmented by supporting players John Hemphill and Mary-Charlotte Wilcox, neither of whom were official cast members. Also, in Season 5, Ramis and O'Hara each returned for one episode apiece as guest stars.

The last new SCTV episode for NBC was seen in March 1983. For both Seasons 4 & 5, the show continued to air on the CBC in Canada as a full hour, edited down from the NBC shows.

Season 6: 1983-84[edit]

In the fall of 1983, NBC wanted the late Friday night timeslot for the new Friday Night Videos. SCTV was offered a slot on early Sunday evenings by NBC, but because they would have had to alter the show's content to appeal to "family" audiences (per a 1975 amendment to the Prime Time Access Rule) as well as face CBS' dominant 60 Minutes, the producers declined.

Instead, for its final season, the show moved to pay-TV channels Superchannel in Canada and Cinemax in the United States, changing the name slightly to SCTV Channel. The running time was now 45 minutes, and new episodes (18 in total) were seen every second week from November 1983 to July 1984. For this final season, the cast consisted solely of Flaherty, Levy, Martin, and Short, although Candy, Thomas, and O'Hara all made guest appearances. Writer/performers Hemphill and Wilcox once again appeared semi-regularly.

The Best of SCTV 1988[edit]

On September 5, 1988, ABC aired a special called The Best of SCTV. In the special Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin returned as Guy and Edith, respectively. The two did a look back at SCTV (using flashbacks) as they tried to convince the FCC to renew their license. This special was ordered amidst the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike.

Repackaging into 30-Minute Episodes[edit]

A 90-minute show does not fit easily into most stations' schedules. After production of the show had ceased, in order to facilitate syndication sales, episodes from the show were repackaged into 30-minute segments. They appeared on a variety of U.S. TV stations.

Reception[edit]

Reviews for SCTV were strong, right from the beginning. For its very first episode, Margaret Daly of the Toronto Star claimed that "Global TV may have just pulled off the comedy coup of this season ... the concept is as clever as the loony company members."[1] After one year on the air, Dennis Braithwaite of the Star wrote that SCTV was "delightfully funny and inventive ... (SCTV) offers the best satire seen regularly on North American television. No, I haven't forgotten NBC's Saturday Night."[2] Wrote Newsday's Marvin Kitman, "The premiere episode was quite simply the most superb half hour comedy…in a long time."[3] "SCTV is witty, grown-up, inventive and uproariously funny," stated Gary Deeb in the Chicago Sun-Times.[4]

Awards[edit]

During its network run on NBC, the show garnered 15 Emmy nominations (often with multiple episodes competing against each other). SCTV won a 1982 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program. During Joe Flaherty's acceptance speech, award presenter Milton Berle repeatedly interrupted him with sarcastic retorts of "Oh, that's funny." Flaherty then turned to Berle and said, "Go to sleep, Uncle Miltie" (a parody of Berle's famous closing line to children at the end of his Texaco Star Theater programs, "Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed."). A visibly shaken Berle could only reply with, "What?" The incident became comedy fodder for SCTV, as the next season contained a bit where Flaherty beats up a Berle look-alike while shouting, "You'll never ruin another acceptance speech, Uncle Miltie!"[5]

SCTV would win the award again in 1983.

Significance[edit]

SCTV initially adapted its comedy from existing sketches and improvisation from the Second City stage show. However, especially after expanding to a ninety minute format, SCTV quickly pushed the envelope on television sketch comedy. While showing some influence from Monty Python's Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live, SCTV eschewed both the live television format and even filming before a live studio audience. This was mostly to save money, but it also allowed more attention and care to be taken in building a premise and supporting it.

Having a moderately low budget and limited resources, SCTV got a reputation for making the most out of what it had, reusing sets and particularly taking advantage of expert makeup and hairstyling. With the luxury of being able to take long periods of time in the makeup chair, elaborate characters could be built. Not being bound by expensive and elaborate prosthetics, cast members and makeup artists worked together to create their characters, referring to the process in interviews as "Improvisation in the chair."

To add to the feel of the show — that of a low-budget local television station that went national — the SCTV crew recruited their dance troupe from the writers on the show, led by costumer Juul Haalmeyer. The "Juul Haalmeyer Dancers" were spectacularly maladroit, parodying dance teams on variety shows through their sheer ineptness, and ultimately attracting a cult fandom of their own. (Juul Haalmeyer himself reports still being asked for autographs years later.)

The core premise of the show allowed for tremendous variety in presentation, but unlike Monty Python, which often would cut from one sketch to another without any resolution, the SCTV format required television style bridges. One technique they used was to build premises into "promos" for shows that would never run (such as "Melvin and Howards", a parody of the movie Melvin and Howard which featured Melvin Dummar, Howard Hughes, Howard Cosell, Curly Howard, and Senator Howard Baker on a road trip singing old tunes). Another was to take longer pieces that failed and cut them into promos or trailers. These short elements wound up being the equivalent of "blackout" pieces on the Second City stage. However, the internal logic of the series — that this actually was a television station producing low-budget programming — was never lost. SCTV's techniques helped inform and influence later shows, with clear influence on The State, the Upright Citizen's Brigade, and The Kids in the Hall.

Later shows built a tight theme, sometimes acting as a metaparody — such as the Emmy-winning "Moral Majority" episode where advertisers and special interest groups forced significant changes to SCTV's programming; "Zontar", a parody of the Larry Buchanan film Zontar, The Thing from Venus which featured an alien race seeking to kidnap SCTV's on-air talent for "a nine-show cycle plus three best-ofs" (which was the actual deal NBC worked out with SCTV that season); and an ambitious parody of The Godfather featuring an all-out network war over pay television between SCTV, CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS - the last featured mafia-style hits on the sets of The Today Show, Three's Company, and The NFL Today as well as an extended sequence with guest star John Marley as an off-beat Leonard Bernstein, spoofing his Godfather role of Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz.

In another such episode, a janitorial union went on strike, forcing the station to broadcast the network feed from CBC Television. Parodies of Canadian television ensued, such as Hinterland Who's Who, Front Page Challenge, and It's a Fact, as well as promos for Monday Night Curling, hosted by two orange-jacketed sportscasters who were both named Gord, and Magnum, P.E.I., with John Candy as a private detective chasing his quarry through the scenic potato patches of Prince Edward Island. The feature film for the night was Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice, a parody of Goin' Down the Road about two men from the Maritimes looking for "doctorin' and lawyerin' jobs" in Toronto. Meanwhile, in behind-the-scenes labour negotiations, Eugene Levy's Sid Dithers played the union president, barely able to see over the conference table as he detailed the progress of the strike-talks ("Fifteen minutes for lunsch? Ye can't even blow on your shoop!")

While these shows continued to incorporate the broad range of television parodies the show was known for, they also had a strong narrative thread which set the show apart from other sketch comedy shows of the time. TV critic James Wolcott once referred to SCTV as "the only entertainment show on TV that matters" [6]

The show would also have a huge influence on The Simpsons. In the DVD commentary for "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" (in which Dave Thomas guest stars), everyone says how much they loved the show and how influential it was because "it was so funny". Matt Groening goes on to say that he was specifically inspired by the town of Melonville, its own little universe with many recurring characters, and that that was the type of universe he wanted for The Simpsons. Both Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin have guest starred on The Simpsons.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (another program that also enjoyed a "cult" following like that of SCTV) at times featured references to the show and its characters; for example, during the film Space Mutiny, a character with an outrageous hairdo is said to resemble Martin Short's Ed Grimley and prompted numerous impersonations of said character. In another example, near the end of the film Danger! Death Ray a character throws a watch out of a window, prompting Crow T. Robot to cry "SCTV is on the air!"

The entire troupe was given a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2002. John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O'Hara also have individual stars.

Features[edit]

SCTV parody shows included a parody of the popular western drama The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams — retitled Grizzly Abrams — depicted the burly wilderness hero as the owner of a wild tortoise which took weeks to lead police to the skeletal remains of its master, trapped beneath a fallen log.

Battle of the PBS Stars was a parody of ABC television's Battle of the Network Stars athletic competitions that pit performers against each other in running and swimming events. SCTV's version featured a team of public television stars captained by William F. Buckley (played by Flaherty) vs. a team led by Carl Sagan (played by Thomas), with confrontations that included Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers's Neighborhood fame (played by Short) in a boxing match with chef Julia Child (played by Candy).

The People's Global Golden Choice Awards sent up the countless show-biz shows in which the industry honors itself. Presenters include stars ranging from Elizabeth Taylor (played by O'Hara) to Jack Klugman (Flaherty) reading off the nominees in each category, with SCTV's chief Guy Caballero secretly having conspired to guarantee that every award goes to his own network's stars.

The TV station concept provided SCTV the ability to lampoon virtually any television genre, as well as commercials, promos, network IDs, and more. Some of the most memorable sketches involved parodies of low-budget late-night ads, like Al Peck's Used Fruit (they enticed viewers to visit by offering free tickets to Circus Lupus, the Circus of the Wolves; mocked-up photos depicted wolves forming a pyramid and jumping through flaming hoops). Equally memorable were the faux-inept ads for local businesses like Phil's Nails, Chet Vet the Dead Pet Remover, and Tex and Edna Boil's Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium.

Impersonations[edit]

Impersonations were also an integral part of the comedy, with almost every cast member playing multiple roles as well-known personalities. Some impressions included:

StarImpersonations
John CandyOrson Welles
Julia Child
Edward Asner (as Lou Grant)
Luciano Pavarotti
Divine
Curly Howard
Richard Burton
Tip O'Neill
Jimmy the Greek
Hervé Villechaize
Alfred Hitchcock
Jerry Mathers (as Beaver Cleaver)
William Benedict (as "Whitey")
Robin DukeShelley Winters
Imogene Coca
Linda Ronstadt
Joe FlahertyGregory Peck
Gavin MacLeod
Donald Sutherland
Peter O'Toole
Kirk Douglas
Charlton Heston
Henry Fonda
Bing Crosby
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Geraldo Rivera
Charles Bronson
Alan Alda
Gene Siskel
Richard Nixon
Jack Klugman
Slim Whitman
Larry Fine
Salvador Dalí
Hugh Beaumont (as Ward Cleaver)
Bernard Gorcey (as Louie Dumbrowski)
Eugene LevyRicardo Montalbán
Henry Kissinger
Judd Hirsch
Bud Abbott
John Charles Daly
Howard McNear (as Floyd Lawson)
Milton Berle
Neil Sedaka
Howard Cosell
Ralph Young
Perry Como
Gene Shalit
Tony Dow (as Wally Cleaver)
Gabriel Dell (as Gabe Moreno)
Andrea MartinBarbra Streisand
Liza Minnelli
Linda Lavin
Joni Mitchell
Joyce DeWitt
Indira Gandhi
Connie Francis
Bernadette Peters
Ethel Merman
Karen Black
Patty Duke
Marsha Mason
Brenda Vaccaro
Charo
Mother Teresa
Sophia Loren
Rick MoranisMerv Griffin
Woody Allen
Gordon Lightfoot
Ringo Starr
Mel Torme
Dick Cavett
Phil Silvers
George Carlin
Brent Musburger
Michael McDonald
Al Waxman
David Brinkley
James Stewart
Elton John
Richard Dreyfuss
Neil Young
Anson Williams
Catherine O'HaraKatharine Hepburn
Morgan Fairchild
Jane Fonda
Dorothy Kilgallen
Mary Tyler Moore
Elizabeth Taylor
Maggie Smith
Lucille Ball
Tammy Faye Bakker
Brooke Shields
Barbara Billingsley (as June Cleaver)
Harold RamisStanley Fafara (as Hubert "Whitey" Whitney)
Tony RosatoLou Costello
Ella Fitzgerald
Lou Ferrigno
Edward Asner
Tony Orlando
Martin ShortJerry Lewis
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Dustin Hoffman
David Steinberg
Robin Williams
Fred Rogers
Kenneth D. Taylor
Paul Anka
Hoyt Pollard
Jamie Farr
Scott Baio
Deney Terrio
Howie Mandel
Howie Meeker
Tony Sandler
Tom Hayden
Gore Vidal
Brian Linehan
Huntz Hall (as Horace Debussy "Sach" Jones)
Dave ThomasBob Hope
Richard Harris
DeForest Kelley
Liberace
Bennett Cerf
Michael Caine
G. Gordon Liddy
Roger Ebert
Neil Simon
Lee Iacocca
Carl Sagan
John Ritter
Walter Cronkite
Fred Travalena
Dennis Hopper
Al Pacino
Randy Newman
James Whitmore
Orson Welles
Jerry Brown
Ken Osmond
Benny Hill
Robert Duvall
Robert Young
Phil Donahue
Roger Ebert
Red Buttons
Ken Osmond (as Eddie Haskell)

Sketches and characters[edit]

Popular sketches and recurring characters include:

Bob & Doug McKenzie[edit]

Ironically, the most popular sketch was intended as throwaway filler. Bob & Doug McKenzie, the dim-witted, beer-chugging and back-bacon-eating brothers in a recurring Canadian-themed sketch called Great White North, were initially developed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (Bob & Doug, respectively) as a sardonic response to the CBC network's request that the show feature two minutes of "identifiably Canadian content" in every episode. The Bob and Doug McKenzie segments first appeared in 1980 at the start of Season 3 and continued in every episode until Thomas and Moranis left the series.

The characters ultimately became icons of the very Canadian culture they parodied, spinning off albums, a feature film (Strange Brew), commercials, and numerous TV and film cameos. Bob and Doug helped to popularize the stereotypical Canadian trait of adding "eh" to the end of sentences, a facet of Canadian life that is often gently ridiculed in American shows featuring Canadian characters. Lines from the sketch, such as "take off, you hoser!", became part of North American popular culture. Thomas later revealed in his 1996 book SCTV: Behind the Scenes that the other members of the cast grew bitter at the immense financial and popular success he and Moranis received from their Bob & Doug McKenzie albums, ultimately leading to their departing the show in 1982.[7] Joe Flaherty and John Candy accused Thomas of using his position as head writer to increase the visibility of Bob & Doug, even though the original segments were largely unscripted.[8] An SCTV episode even poked fun at the duo's popularity. Station manager Guy Caballero declared that they had become SCTV's top celebrities, supplanting Johnny LaRue. This led to the pair being given a Bob & Doug "special" with Tony Bennett as their guest, which wound up being a disaster.[9]

Recently, Moranis and Thomas recreated Bob and Doug in the form of a pair of moose in the animated feature Brother Bear from Disney. During Canadian rock band Rush's 2007 Snakes And Arrows tour, Moranis and Thomas reprised their Bob and Doug Mackenzie roles in an introductory clip projected on the rear screen for the song "The Larger Bowl".[10] Previously, Rush used Joe Flaherty in his Count Floyd persona to introduce their song "The Weapon" during their 1984 Grace Under Pressure Tour. Rush vocalist Geddy Lee sang the chorus on the hit single "Take Off" from the 1982 Mercury Records album The Great White North by Bob and Doug McKenzie. That chorus was aired in a 2002 episode of The Simpsons which depicted the Simpson family visiting Toronto.

Special guests and musical guests[edit]

The show's NBC years brought with them a network edict to include musical guests (in part because of their use on Saturday Night Live, which NBC executives considered the model for SCTV, despite their being very different shows). At first, the SCTV cast, writers, and producers resisted special guests, on the theory that famous people wouldn't just "drop into" the Melonville studios. However, they soon discovered that by actually working these guests into different shows-within-shows, they could keep the premise going while also giving guest stars something more to do than show up and sing a song.

As a result, Dr. John became a featured player in the movie "Polynesiantown", John Mellencamp (at the time, known as John Cougar) was Mister Hyde to Ed Grimley's Doctor Jekyll in "The Nutty Lab Assistant", Natalie Cole was made into a zombie by a cabbage in "Zontar", and the Boomtown Rats were both blown up on "Farm Film Celebrity Blow Up" and starred in the To Sir, with Love parody "Teacher's Pet". It reached a point where Hall & Oates appeared on a "Sammy Maudlin Show" segment, promoting a new film called "Chariots of Eggs", which was a parody of both Chariots of Fire and Personal Best, only to show scenes from the faux movie as clips. Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Thomas (the real-life brother of cast member Dave Thomas) was the "topic" on a Great White North sketch. Carl Perkins, Jimmy Buffett, Joe Walsh, The Tubes, and Plasmatics also appeared on the "Fishin' Musician", hosted by Candy.

This, along with SCTV's cult status, led to the show's celebrity fans clamoring to appear. Later on, Tony Bennett credited his appearance on Bob and Doug McKenzie's variety-show debacle "The Great White North Palace" as triggering a significant career comeback. Sketch comedy giant Carol Burnett did an ad for the show in which an alarm clock goes off next to her bed, she rises up suddenly and advises those who couldn't stay up late enough (the NBC version aired from 12:30 to 2 a.m.) to go to bed, get some sleep, then wake up to watch the show. Burnett later briefly appeared in a climactic "courtroom" episode of "The Days of the Week".

Former Chicago Second City player, Saturday Night Live cast member, and film actor Bill Murray also guest-starred on a "Days of the Week" installment, as a photography buff scrambling to make it to the wedding of singer-songwriter Clay Collins (Rick Moranis) and town slut Sue-Ellen Allison (Catherine O'Hara) in time to take pictures of the event. In that same episode, he also played two other roles: Johnny LaRue's biggest fan, who is subsequently hired to be LaRue's bodyguard (and who pushes his homemade LaRue T-shirts whenever possible), and he also appeared as Joe DiMaggio in a commercial for DiMaggio's restaurant, where he offered a free meal to anyone who could strike him out. (The strikeout challenges then took place in the middle of the dining room, with many patrons injured by speeding baseballs.)

Robin Williams guest-starred in a sketch called Bowery Boys in the Band in which his Leo Gorcey-like character tries to hide a gay lifestyle from his Huntz Hall-inspired pal (played by Short). Williams also mimicked actor John Houseman eloquently reading the Melonville telephone book.

In a rare acting role, singer Crystal Gayle guest-starred in a January 1983 episode in the sketch "A Star is Born", a spoof of the 1976 film version of the movie, playing an up-and-coming singer trying to make it big under the tutuelge of her boyfriend and mentor Kris Kristofferson (played by Flaherty).

Canadian actors, including Jayne Eastwood, Dara Forward, Monica Parker, and Peter Wildman, appeared on the show occasionally as guests. Catherine O'Hara's sister, singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara, also appeared in a bit part in the episode "Broads Behind Bars". William B. Davis, still a decade away from his signature role as The X-Files' "Smoking Man", also has a bit role in one 1983 episode.

Laugh track[edit]

One other point of contention between SCTV and several different networks they were on was the use of laugh tracks. As SCTV wasn't a live show, it paced its comedy accordingly, and several pieces were more outré than standard network fare. The use of a laugh track often stepped clumsily on the punchlines as a result, and there are some reports that the laugh track editor admitted to not getting SCTV's humour and just threw laughs in wherever they would fit.[citation needed]

The Days of the Week segments did not include a laugh track.

The laugh track used in early episodes was actually recorded using audience reactions during live performances in the Second City theatre.

Syndication and music rights[edit]

In 1984, after production on the series finally ended, the Second City Television syndicated half-hour episodes and SCTV Network 90-minute episodes were re-edited into half-hour shows for a revised syndicated package, which consisted of 156 re-edited half-hours. In 1990, a separate package of 26 half-hours (edited from the pay-TV SCTV Channel episodes) aired on The Comedy Channel (and later Comedy Central) in the United States. Like the original syndicated series, the US and Canadian versions of the 1984 package differed, with the Canadian half-hours a couple of minutes longer; the running order of episodes also differed between the two countries. By the late 1990s, the re-edited SCTV Channel episodes were added to the regular SCTV syndicated package; three additional half-hours (all from the 1980-1981 season) were restored to the package, knocking the episode count up to 185 half-hours.

The syndication package was picked up by NBC following the cancellation of its long running late night talk show Later in 2000. However, since NBC was not willing to give up the branding, these episodes aired as Later presents SCTV. NBC kept the SCTV episodes on their schedule until January 2002, when Last Call with Carson Daly took over the time slot. Like Later, SCTV aired four nights a week and did not air on Fridays when Late Friday would air in its place.

For years, SCTV was unavailable on videotape or DVD (apart from one compilation, The Best of John Candy on SCTV), or in any form except these re-edited half-hour programs. One main reason was that the producers and editors never bothered to get clearance to use copyrighted music: for example, the "Fishin' Musician" show ended with Bing Crosby singing "Gone Fishin'", even though no permission for using the song had been obtained. When preparing for the 2004-2005 DVD releases, the rights to the Bing Crosby song could not be purchased and new music had to be inserted in its place. In a few cases in which the music is intrinsic to the premise of the sketch and rights could not be obtained, sketches have been dropped from the DVDs. This is the case with the sketches "Stairways to Heaven", "The Canadian National Anthem", and "Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written".

DVD releases[edit]

Shout! Factory has released some of SCTV on DVD in Region 1. All episodes from Season 4 and 5 (which aired on NBC) have been released in 4 volumes, and a "best-of" DVD features episodes from Seasons 2 and 3. It is not known if the other episodes (from Seasons 1-3, and Season 6) will be released.

DVD Name# of EpRelease DateAdditional Information
SCTV- Vol 1: Network 909June 8, 2004
SCTV- Vol 29October 19, 2004
SCTV- Vol 39March 1, 2005
SCTV- Vol 412September 13, 2005

Other Releases

2008 on-stage reunion[edit]

On May 5 & 6, 2008 most of the cast reunited for a charity event 'The Benefit of Laughter' at the Second City Theatre in Toronto.[11] Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, and Joe Flaherty took part. The event was a fundraiser for The Alumni Fund, which helps support former Second City cast and crew members facing health or financial difficulties. There is no word yet if the performances will be released.

The initial press release for this event also included Dave Thomas, but he reportedly bowed out due to illness.

SCTV Golden Classics 2010[edit]

To honor the 50th anniversary of The Second City, SCTV Golden Classics aired nationwide on public television stations beginning March 2010[12] featuring some memorable skits from the comedy television series.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Daly, Margaret, "Second City, rah, rah!", The Toronto Star, September 22, 1976, page G1.
  2. ^ Braithwaite, Dennis, "Here's to fun and Global's Second City", The Toronto Star, October 7, 1977, page D7.
  3. ^ http://catherine_ohara_fan.tripod.com/rollingstone.html
  4. ^ http://catherine_ohara_fan.tripod.com/rollingstone.html
  5. ^ How Television Award Acceptance Speech Controversy Mines Comedy Gold Stape, Will at voices.yahoo.com on September 8, 2010.
  6. ^ Dyess-Nugent, Phil (January 30, 2013). "Ten Episodes that Make the Argument for SCTV as one of TV's all-time greats". Onion A.V. Club. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Dave. SCTV: Behind the Scenes. New York: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.
  8. ^ "Take off, eh?" Review of Two-Four Anniversary special at www.macleans.ca [1]
  9. ^ Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Dave Thomas (Part 1 of 5)" at movies.img.com, February 10, 2000.
  10. ^ "Rush out for latest Rush Concert DVD Snakes & Arrows." Review at www.epinions.com on December 5, 2008.
  11. ^ Ouzounian, Richard (May 6, 2008). "All the hits, as good as we remember". The Star (Toronto). Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  12. ^ "SCTV Golden Classics | WLIW21 Productions". Wliw.org. 1959-12-16. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]