Second City Television (SCTV) was a Canadian television sketch comedy show offshoot from Toronto's The Second City troupe that ran between 1976 and 1984.
The basic premise of SCTV
is that it is an independent television station in the city of Melonville, in an unknown state or province. Rather than broadcasting the usual TV rerun fare, the station produces a bizarre and humorously incompetent range of cheap local programming. This can range from a soap opera
called "The Days of the Week", to 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.
In-house media melodrama was also satirised with characters like John Candy's vain, bloated variety star Johnny La Rue, Dave Thomas' acerbic critic Bill Needle, Joe Flaherty's wheelchair-bound program manager Guy Caballero, and Andrea Martin's flamboyant, leopard-skin clad station manager Mrs. Edith Prickley.
Seasons 1 & 2: 1976-79
was initially produced starting in 1976 at the Toronto studios of the Global Television Network
, then a small regional network of stations in Southern Ontario. For the first two years of the show, new episodes were seen every second week during the regular TV season from September to March. There were thirteen episodes produced in 1976/77, and another thirteen in 1977/78; these two years of alternate-week programming 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 of them had previously worked together on The David Steinberg Show
. Ramis was also 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, Ramis and Dave Thomas. All also served as writers on the show, although Martin and O'Hara did not receive writing credits on the very earliest episodes. Ramis served as SCTV's original head writer, but only appeared on-screen as a regular during the first season. The show also usually employed at least one or two other writers outside of the cast, but throughout its run SCTV's content was largely created by the on-screen performers.
SCTV became a weekly series on Global for the 1978/79 season, and was seen in syndication throughout Canada and parts of the United States.
Season 3: 1980-81
The show was temporarily off the air, but returned to production after producer Andrew Alexander and Allarcom-ITV Edmonton owner Charles Allard
struck a deal to produce SCTV in Edmonton
. In 1980, after a one year hiatus, SCTV moved to CBC
for its third season, and the show's production base moved to ITV Studios
in Edmonton, where the show was produced for the 1980-1981 season, and part of the 1981-1982 season, wrapping production in December 1981. Candy, O'Hara and Ramis dropped out of the show at this juncture; added to the cast (and writing room) were Tony Rosato
, Robin Duke
and Rick Moranis
. Moranis, a friend of Dave Thomas, would be the only cast member not to have come from the ranks of Second City.
Seasons 4 & 5: 1981-83
In 1981, SCTV was picked up as a 90-minute show by NBC as a mid-season replacement (for The Midnight Special
), airing first as SCTV Network 90
, then as SCTV Network,
late Friday nights. For this iteration of SCTV, Rosato and Duke dropped out (and ended up as cast members of Saturday Night Live
), and Candy and O'Hara returned.
During its network run, the show garnered 15 Emmy nominations, winning two (both for outstanding writing in a variety or music program). The show continued to air on the CBC in Canada as a full hour, edited down from the NBC shows.
In 1982, the show moved back to Toronto. Writer/performer Martin Short was added to the cast in late 1982, but several episodes later Catherine O'Hara left again, as did Thomas and Moranis.
Season 6: 1983-84
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 their content to appeal to "family" audiences, they declined. Instead, for their 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
. For this final season, the cast consisted solely of Flaherty, Levy, Martin and Short, although Candy, Thomas, and O'Hara all made guest appearances. Additionally, writer/performers John Hemphill
and Mary Charlotte Wilcox
, though never full cast members, appeared semi-regularly throughout Seasons 5 and 6.
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
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 — which after all was supposed to be 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 — as in the Emmy-winning "Moral Majority" episode where advertisers and special interest groups forced significant changes to SCTV’s programming, "Zontar" (a parody of the John Agar film Zontar, 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.) 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.
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 humorous 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 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. Also, John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara have individual stars.
parody shows included Natalie Wingneck
, a Tarzan
-style spoof in which Martin played a girl raised by geese after her family died in a plane crash
. A parody of the popular western drama 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
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 and Tex and Edna Boil's Organ Emporium.
Impersonations were also an integral part of the comedy, with almost every cast member playing multiple roles as well-known personalities. Some impressions included:
- John Candy as Orson Welles, Julia Child, Luciano Pavarotti, Glen Milstead as Divine, Curly Howard, Richard Burton, Tip O'Neill, Jimmy the Greek, Hervé Villechaize, and Alfred Hitchcock.
- Robin Duke as Shelley Winters
- Joe Flaherty as Gregory 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 and Salvador Dalí
- Eugene Levy as Ricardo Montalban, Henry Kissinger, Judd Hirsch, John Charles Daly, The Andy Griffith Show's Floyd Lawson, Milton Berle, Neil Sedaka, Howard Cosell, Ralph Young, Perry Como and Gene Shalit
- Andrea Martin as Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Linda Lavin, Joyce DeWitt, Indira Gandhi, Connie Francis, Arlene Francis, Ethel Merman, Karen Black, Marsha Mason, Brenda Vaccaro, Charo and Mother Teresa
- Rick Moranis as Merv Griffin, Woody Allen, Gordon Lightfoot, Ringo Starr, Dick Cavett, Phil Silvers, George Carlin, Brent Musburger, Michael McDonald, Al Waxman, David Brinkley, James Stewart.
- Catherine O'Hara as Katharine Hepburn, Morgan Fairchild, Jane Fonda, Dorothy Kilgallen, Mary Tyler Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith, Lucille Ball and Brooke Shields
- Tony Rosato as Lou Costello, Ella Fitzgerald, Lou Ferrigno, Ed Asner and Tony Orlando
- Martin Short as Jerry Lewis, Pierre Trudeau, Dustin Hoffman, David Steinberg, Robin Williams, Fred Rogers, Ambassador Ken Taylor, Pee Wee Reese, Deliverance banjo-boy Hoyt Pollard, Jamie Farr, Scott Baio, Denny Terrio, Howie Mandel, Howie Meeker, Tony Sandler (of Sandler and Young), Tom Hayden, Gore Vidal and Brian Linehan
- Dave Thomas as Bob 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 and Fred Travalena doing Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle.
Sketches and characters
Popular sketches and characters include:
- Mailbag, SCTVs take on a vox populi segment where near-apoplectic host Bill Needle' would answer viewer mail. The shows length was continually cut, however, until Needle was down to mere seconds of airtime.
- Farm Film Report aka Farm Film Celebrity Blow-Up: Two hicks named Big Jim McBob (Flaherty) and Billy Sol Hurok (Candy) (a spoof of Billie Sol Estes and Sol Hurok) interview celebrities and ultimately encourage them to blow up (creating the catch-phrase "blow'd up good, blow'd up real good!"). Exploding guests included Dustin Hoffman, David Steinberg (both played by Short), Bernadette Peters (Martin), Meryl Streep (O'Hara), and a lispy Neil Sedaka (Levy).
- Polynesiantown: a parody of modern-day film noir. In its attempt to emulate the movie Chinatown, this extended one-shot sketch ended with a crane shot that pushed the show so over budget that the sketch's producers got in trouble with the network. The show's writers incorporated this behind-the-scenes drama into the show's long-term continuity, causing fictional actor/producer/superstar Johnny LaRue's career to go into a tailspin as a result of this budget mishap.
- The Sammy Maudlin Show: Joe Flaherty was the afro-coiffed, knee-slapping, overly-effusive host welcoming a panel of "stars" who did nothing but heap lavish praise on each other and applaud their pointless profundities. Originally a parody of Sammy Davis, Jr.'s short-lived gab-fest, Maudlin (the word means overly sentimental, treacly) evolved into a late-night universe all its own. Eugene Levy is "a comic in all seriousness" as egomaniacal funnyman Bobby Bittman (whose younger brother Skip Bittman, played by Moranis, eventually appeared on Maudlin as well, with disastrous results); Andrea Martin skewered Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft with "real terrific" combo-character Lorna Minnelli (in one wickedly funny skit, she accepts an award telling the audience "If my mother were here tonight" and is then interrupted by a drunken Johnny LaRue who finishes, "you wouldn't be"); Catherine O'Hara inhabited pill-popping boozer Lola Heatherton, a Joey Heatherton-Lola Falana amalgam who greeted fans with her trademark shriek, "I love you! I wanna bear your children!"; John Candy portrayed constantly-chuckling Ed McMahon-style sidekick/sycophant William B. Williams, who often wound up kneeling on the floor as guests came out and the couch filled up. The Maudlin regulars would later appear together in the Rat Pack movie parody Maudlin's Eleven.
- Mel's Rock Pile was a knockoff of the Citytv dance show Boogie and closely resembled American Bandstand. Hosted by "Rockin' Mel" Slirrup (Eugene Levy), a nervous, bespectacled nerd who played lame pop songs for surly in-studio teen guests. One memorable episode of Mel's Rock Pile featured an appearance by Sex Pistols-type band The Queen Haters, featuring the entire Short-era cast in perfect '80s punk-band mode.
- Martin Short's Jackie Rogers, Jr. was an earnestly smarmy albino Las Vegas headliner with a grating, lisping laugh in a manner similar to Sammy Davis, Jr. He's partial to sequined jumpsuits, Jack Jones-style song standards, and "eligible ladies". Later, Rogers would run for political office but drop out of the race when he realizes it's cramping his show-biz lifestyle.
- Martin Short's somewhat-unclassifiable uber-nerd Ed Grimley (later featured on Saturday Night Live when Short became a regular) was an SCTV fixture, appearing on numerous assorted shows, commercials, promos, and "behind-the-scenes" dramas.
- Half-Wits and High-Q were parodies of quiz shows College Bowl and Reach For The Top hosted by a highly-irritable Alex Trebek approximation named Alex Trebel (Levy), a thinly-veiled riff on the real-life Jeopardy! host.
- The 5 Neat Guys, an absurdly clean-cut, '50s style vocal group (á la The Four Freshmen), were portrayed by Candy, Flaherty (as the drunk one), Levy, Moranis, and Thomas. The "5" sang songs like "I've Got a Hickey on My Shoulder", "Pimples and Pockmarks" and other memorable tunes. Several of their songs contrasted with their squeaky-clean image, however, such as "She Does It","Patsy Has the Largest Breasts In Town", and "Who Brought the Egg Salad Sandwiches".
- Connie Franklin, a caricature of Connie Francis portrayed by Andrea Martin. Franklin appeared on the Sammy Maudlin Show but also appeared in a parody of mail-order record commercials. Franklin's songs are universally depressing; one contains the lyrics, "I'm losing my hearing, I've lost sight in one eye. I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, did you really say goodbye?"
- Another Martin Short character, talk-show host Brock Linehan was a parody of real-life Canadian interviewer, the late Brian Linehan. Linehan was famous for his overpreparation, which Short satirized by going in the opposite direction: on SCTV's version of the Linehan show, called Stars in One, all the research compiled about any particular episode's guest was totally and completely wrong, making for some unhappy guests and one frustrated, uneasy host.
- Harry, the Guy with the Snake on his Face (John Candy). Harry ran Melonville's adult book and X-rated video stores.
- "Video deejay" Gerry Todd (Moranis) hosted an all-night "televised-radio" type of video show. Moranis' turtleneck-sporting, smooth-talking radio-personality parody was perfectly pitched—complete with casually-pronounced "vuddeeo"--and eerily presaged the first group of MTV VJs.
- Mayor Tommy Shanks (John Candy) is Melonville's "easygoing" (corrupt) mayor who is prone to sudden fits of rage and physical violence, yet gives regular fireside chats on SCTV while a stuffed dog sits motionless by his side. Throwing out one non-sequitur after another, Shanks manages to convey absolutely nothing of relevance during his broadcasts. Eventually, Shanks succumbs to mental illness and is institutionalized. While still in the institution, he runs for re-election with the campaign slogan "Get me outta here!" and wins by a landslide. The character was named after Edmonton jazz musician (and future Senator) Tommy Banks, but does not resemble him otherwise.
- SCTV News (later Nightline Melonville), anchored by Joe Flaherty as mostly professional (but alcoholic) newscaster Floyd Robertson and Eugene Levy as geeky, clueless Earl Camembert, a model of oblivious self-importance. The members of the SCTV news-team were named after Canadian news anchors Lloyd Robertson and Earl Cameron respectively, but otherwise bore no resemblance to their real-life counterparts (Camembert was in fact based on American newsman Irv Weinstein). Unlike Saturday Night Live's similar news parody Weekend Update, which typically uses actual news headlines as set-ups for more satirical humour, SCTV News used more absurdist humor, with its news stories often focusing on events happening within the Melonville continuity. Another source of humour for this segment was the contrast between the hapless Camembert (whose name is pronounced "Canenbare") and the more respected Robertson, who usually ended up playing straight man to Camembert's antics. A running gag involved the news team's tendency to give the hard news items to Robertson (such as the tiny Republic of Togo's threats against the USSR) and the trivial or poorly-prepared stories to his co-anchor (such as a fire at a doily factory).
- Monster Chiller Horror Theatre: This fright-film showcase featured laughably non-frightening z-movies like Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses and Tip O'Neill's 3-D House of Representatives. Dr. Tongue was played by John Candy and Monster Chiller Horror Theatre was hosted by Flaherty character Count Floyd, who was revealed in a later episode to be SCTV News anchorman Floyd Robertson working a second job. This was a tip of the hat to the fact that in the early days of television, a channel's kiddie show host was often a member of the news staff in a clown suit or police uniform.
- The Shmenge Brothers and their polka band, The Happy Wanderers. Like Bob and Doug McKenzie, the Shmenges were breakout characters and their popularity resulted in the HBO special The Last Polka (a parody of Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz). (John Candy would go on to play another polka clarinetist in Home Alone, which also starred Catherine O'Hara). In one episode, the Shmenges performed a memorable tribute to composer John Williams.
- Harvey K-Tel, portrayed by Dave Thomas. K-Tel, a parody of rapid-fire mail-order commercial announcers, spoke in a rapid patter both on and off the air. The character's name is derived both from the Canadian mail-order commercial company K-tel and the actor Harvey Keitel.
- Dave Thomas as actor Richard Harris in a skit where "Harris" sang an extended version of his famous hit "MacArthur Park", then dances endlessly in total agony during the elongated orchestral stretch while the show moves on to other skits. The song finally ends when an audience member hurls a brick at his chest.
- The famous CCCP1-Russian television episode in which SCTV is taken over by Soviet programming. At first, nothing seems out of the ordinary at the station: on the air, Eugene Levy plays Perry Como in a promo for Still Alive, a TV-special in which Como's trademark relaxed style is taken to ludicrous extremes. The nearly-comatose Como sings one song while propped up against a dancer, another swaddled in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, and performs a third number sprawled face-down and almost-motionless on the floor, mic lying next to his mouth, one finger moving to the beat. But SCTV is suddenly knocked off the air, replaced by an illegal signal from the Soviet television network. Throughout, the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is abbreviated USSR in English but CCCP in Russian, is referred to as "three-C-P-one". From there, all the "shows" are Russian-themed spoofs: Tibor's Tractor, a situation comedy about a talking tractor similar to My Mother the Car--only with the voice of Nikita Khruschev; a game-show, What Fits into Mother Russia?, which celebrates the USSR's massive size; Upo-Scrabblenyk; and Hey, Giorgy--"everybody's favourite Cossack"--with the memorable line "Uzbeks drank my battery fluid!", uttered when Rick Moranis's Lada won't start outside an alehouse. (Popping the hood reveals the old-style battery's six cells sporting bendy straws.)
- A Jazz Singer parody which reversed the story by having musical guest Al Jarreau play a popular jazz singer who wants to become a cantor (hazzan). His father is a disapproving pop-music impresario played by Eugene Levy's befuddled Sid Dithers. Hasidic Dithers, four feet tall and cross-eyed behind Coke-bottle glasses, spoke with a thick early vaudeville-style Yiddish accent ("San Fransishky? So how did you came: did you drove, or did you flew?"). The payoff of this parody made for a classic SCTV moment: Jarreau has become a synagogue cantor, fulfilling his dream against his father's wishes, and he wonders if his father will ever speak to him again – until, during the service, he is interrupted by a disco-clad Dithers standing in the doorway in dancing shoes, spangled jacket, and corn-rowed hair.
- The episode in which a janitorial union went on strike, forcing stations to broadcast the network feed from CBC Television. Parodies ensued, such as Hinterland Who's Who, Front Page Challenge and It's a Fact, among others. Meanwhile, 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!")
- Magnum, P.E.I. wherein John Candy plays a savvy private investigator a la Magnum, P.I., chasing his quarry through the scenic potato patches of Prince Edward Island.
- Tex & Edna's Organ Emporium a series of parodies of local car dealer TV ads with Tex (Rick Moranis) and Edna (Andrea Martin) imploring viewers to "Come on down!" to buy their organs.
Ironically, the most popular sketch was intended as throwaway filler. Bob & Doug McKenzie, dim-witted beer-chugging 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 network's request that the show feature two minutes of "identifiably Canadian content" in every episode.
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. 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". Previously, Rush used Joe Flaherty in his Count Floyd persona to introduce their song "The Weapon" during their 1984 Grace Under Pressure Tour.
Special guests and musical guests
The shows 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
(then still 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. Even The Tubes
appeared on the "Fishin' Musician."
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 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 when possible); and he also appeared as Joe DiMaggio in a commercial for DiMaggio's restaurant, where he promised anyone who could strike him out a free meal (the strikeout challenges then took place in the middle of the dining room, with many patrons injured by speeding baseballs).
Several other Canadian actors, including Jayne Eastwood, 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".
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.
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
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.
For years, SCTV was unavailable on video tape (apart from one compilation, The Best Of John Candy On SCTV), or in any form except these re-edited half hour programs. Originally, the producers and editors putting the original shows together never bothered to get clearance to use copyrighted music — for example, the "Fishin' Musician" show ended with Bing Crosby singing "Gone Fishin'", even though SCTV never obtained the clearance rights to use copyrighted music recordings.
Whenever anyone uses copyrighted material, such as music in a film, TV program or documentary, clearing the music rights with the copyright owners is a standard procedure. This procedure not only has to be done for TV Broadcasts, but also for any Home Video formats released. Each format, such as VHS or DVD, needs to have the rights cleared all over again for that format. Clearance is negotiated between the producers of, say a program like SCTV and the Music Publishers, such as ASCAP or BMI. These Music Publishers can ask for any amount they wish. There is no regulation on the fees they can ask for.
It has been mistakenly believed that the sole reason for SCTV not appearing on DVD before, is that the series did not originally get clearance for the numerous music cues used throughout the six seasons that SCTV was produced. Although the producers did neglect to clear the music for SCTV during production, this has no legal bearing on the use of the music for the DVD releases. However, this could indeed have had a detrimental effect on how smoothly those rights were granted for the use of music on the DVD releases. The ease of obtaining music clearance rights for a given music cue may depend upon the context in which that music cue is used, as well as the willingness of the copyright holder to allow the use of their music in any shape or form.
The shows couldn't be reproduced on DVD or video tape until after the laborious rights issues were resolved and clearances were received. In some cases (as with the aforementioned Crosby song) clearances couldn't be secured after the fact and new music had to be edited in its place for the 2005 DVD releases of the 90-minute shows. In a few cases where the music is intrinsic to the premise of the sketch (such as the sketches "Stairways to Heaven" and "The Canadian National Anthem") and rights could not be obtained, sketches have been dropped from the DVDs.
has released SCTV on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. To date, all episodes from Season 4 & 5 (which aired on NBC
) have been released in 4 Volumes and a Best-of DVD has been released which features episodes from Seasons 2 & 3. It is not known if the remaining episodes (Seasons 1-3,6) will be released at some point.
2008 On-Stage Reunion
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. 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.