Second City Television
|Also known as|
|Country of origin||Canada|
|No. of seasons||6|
|No. of episodes||135 (List of episodes)|
|Picture format||NTSC (480i)|
|Original release||September 21, 1976 –|
July 17, 1984
Second City Television, commonly shortened to SCTV, is a Canadian television sketch comedy show that ran between 1976 and 1984. It was created as an offshoot from Toronto's Second City troupe. It is a rare example of a Canadian show that moved successfully to American TV.
The show's premise is the broadcast day of a fictitious TV station (later network) in the town of Melonville. Melonville's location is left unspecified; the very earliest episodes imply it is in Canada, but most later episodes place it in the US.
A typical episode of SCTV presents a compendium of programming seen on the station throughout its broadcast day. A given episode could contain SCTV news broadcasts, sitcoms, dramas, movies, talk shows, kid shows, commercial send-ups hawking nonexistent products, and game shows. Several "shows" are seen regularly on SCTV, including SCTV News; soap opera The Days of the Week; late night movie features Monster Chiller Horror Theater and Dialing For Dollars; and Great White North (a show centered around two Canadian 'hosers'), among others. Many other SCTV shows are seen only once, such as game shows like Shoot at the Stars in which celebrities are literally shot at like shooting gallery targets, or 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 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 that helpfully describes "Seven Signs You May Already Be Dead".
Also seen fairly frequently, particularly in later episodes, are behind-the-scenes plots focusing on life at the station. These often feature Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty), SCTV's cheap, tyrannical owner and president, who, despite being perfectly ambulatory, uses a wheelchair to earn "respect" (i.e., sympathy) from employees and viewers. Also seen regularly are 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, play a wide variety of other station roles ranging from program hosts to commercial spokespersons. They also impersonate numerous popular celebrities appearing on the station's programming.
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 veterans Harold Ramis, Sheldon Patinkin, and Del Close, along with business partner Bernard Sahlins.
According to Dave Thomas's account in SCTV: Behind The Scenes, various ideas were batted around, then—and here is 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 Alexander and Sahlins.
Alexander remained as producer and 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.
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 bi-weekly. 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; Ramis was a Second City veteran, 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 first four 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). Ramis and Flaherty also served as associate producers. Sahlins produced the show; Global staffer Milad Bessada produced and directed the first 13 episodes. George Bloomfield became director as of episode 14.
Several cast members (Flaherty, Candy, Thomas, and Martin) also worked together as regulars on The David Steinberg Show, which premiered the same week as SCTV on the Canada-wide CTV Network and in US syndication. The David Steinberg Show also featured future SCTV cast member Martin Short, but did not utilize any of the SCTV cast as writers. It folded after a single season.
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 three of the second season, Ramis was no longer in the cast but continued to receive credit as the show's head writer for most of the season.
The show was off the air for the 1979–80 season, but returned to production after 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 primarily known as a radio personality in Canada, was the only cast member not to have come from the ranks of Second City. John Blanchard became the series director at this point.
This season of the show was seen in Canada on the CBC, and in scattered markets in the U.S. in syndication.
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 stint as producer), 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 stayed 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 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 was an official cast member. 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 and 5, the show continued to air on the CBC in Canada as a full hour, edited down from the NBC shows.
The 90-minute shows were released in a series of DVD sets in 2004 and 2005, and selected skits are also available in 90-minute collections. The CBC and Cinemax seasons have never had a proper release in any medium, though sketches from Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 6 can be easily found on YouTube.
In the fall of 1983, NBC wanted the late Friday night time slot 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's 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.
After the show's end several SCTV characters continued to make appearances on Cinemax, with Flaherty reprising his roles as Count Floyd and Guy Caballero during free preview weekends in 1987 and 1988, and Bobby Bittman appearing in a standalone special chronicling his life and career under the Cinemax Comedy Experiment banner.
On September 5, 1988, ABC aired a special called The Best of SCTV. In the special, Flaherty and Martin returned as Caballero and Prickley. The two presented a look back at SCTV (using flashbacks) as they tried to convince the FCC to renew their license. A slightly different version aired in Canada, wherein the pair make their arguments to the CRTC; this necessitated a few changes to certain lines of dialogue and on-screen text, but the show content was otherwise identical. This special was ordered amidst the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike.
The earliest three seasons, in Canada, were 30 minutes. NBC broadcast two seasons of 90-minute programs, including at the beginning material from the Canadian seasons. Some of these 90-minute shows were abbreviated to 60 minutes for the Canadian market. After the end of the NBC seasons the material was repackaged into 30-minute shows.
Reviews for SCTV were strong from the beginning. Of its very first episode, Margaret Daly of the Toronto Star wrote, "Global TV may have just pulled off the comedy coup of this season ... the concept is as clever as the loony company members." 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." Newsday's Marvin Kitman wrote, "The premiere episode was quite simply the most superb half hour comedy…in a long time." "SCTV is witty, grown-up, inventive and uproariously funny," Gary Deeb wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.
"SCTV is far from perfect—there are too many meandering remarks addressed directly to the camera, and the musical interludes tend to turn mossy—but it's the only entertainment show on TV that matters, that goes beyond comedy to create a loopily affectionate world of its own."
During its network run on NBC, the show garnered 15 Emmy nominations (often with multiple episodes competing against each other). The episode "Moral Majority" won an Emmy Award for Writing for a Variety or Music Program in 1982. During Joe Flaherty's acceptance speech, award presenter Milton Berle repeatedly interrupted with sarcastic retorts of, "Oh, that's funny". Flaherty then turned to Berle and said, "Sorry, Uncle Miltie...go to sleep" (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 flustered Berle simply replied, "What?" The incident became comedy fodder for SCTV, as the next season contained a bit where Flaherty beats up a Berle lookalike while shouting, "You'll never ruin another acceptance speech, Uncle Miltie!"
SCTV won the award again in 1983.
SCTV was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2002.
SCTV parody shows include a parody of the western drama The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams—retitled Grizzly Abrams—which depicts the burly wilderness hero as the owner of a wild tortoise that takes weeks to lead police to the skeletal remains of its master, trapped beneath a fallen log.
Battle of the PBS Stars is a parody of ABC television's Battle of the Network Stars athletic competitions that pitted performers against each other in running and swimming events. SCTV's version features 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 include Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fame (played by Short) in a boxing match with chef Julia Child (played by Candy).
The People's Global Golden Choice Awards sends up award 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 chief Guy Caballero secretly having conspired to guarantee that every award goes to his own network's stars.
Some of SCTV's most memorable sketches involve parodies of low-budget late-night ads, like "Al Peck's Used Fruit" (enticing viewers to visit by offering free tickets to Circus Lupus, the Circus of the Wolves; mocked-up photos depict wolves forming a pyramid and jumping through flaming hoops). Equally memorable are 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 are also an integral part of the comedy, with almost every cast member playing multiple roles as well-known personalities. Some impressions include:
|John Candy||Edward Asner (as Lou Grant)|
William Benedict (as "Whitey")
Humphrey Bogart (as Rick Blaine)
Jackie Gleason (as Ralph Kramden)
Jerry Mathers (as Beaver Cleaver)
Marvin Miller (as Michael Anthony)
Hal Smith (as Otis Campbell)
Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder
|Robin Duke||Imogene Coca|
|Joe Flaherty||Alan Alda|
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Hugh Beaumont (as Ward Cleaver)
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Bernard Gorcey (as Louie Dumbrowski)
Paul Frees (as John Beresford Tipton, Jr.)
Don Knotts (as Barney Fife)
Jason Robards (as Howard Hughes)
|Eugene Levy||Bud Abbott|
Lon Chaney Jr.
John Charles Daly
Tony Dow (as Wally Cleaver)
Gabriel Dell (as Gabe Moreno)
Howard McNear (as Floyd Lawson)
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
|Andrea Martin||Harriet Anderson|
Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund)
Zelda Rubinstein (as Tangina Barrons)
|Rick Moranis||Kip Addotta|
Francis Ford Coppola
Paul Le Mat (as Melvin Dummar)
|Catherine O'Hara||Tammy Faye Bakker|
Frances Bavier (as Aunt Bee)
Barbara Billingsley (as June Cleaver)
Mary Tyler Moore
|Harold Ramis||Kenneth Clark|
Stanley Fafara (as Hubert "Whitey" Whitney)
|Tony Rosato||Edward Asner|
|Martin Short||Paul Anka|
Huntz Hall (as Horace Debussy "Sach" Jones)
Billy Redden (as Lonnie)
Kenneth D. Taylor
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
|Dave Thomas||Howard Baker|
Bob Keeshan (as Captain Kangaroo)
G. Gordon Liddy
Vernon S. Shaffer
Popular sketches and recurring characters include:
Ironically, the most popular sketch was intended as throwaway filler. Bob and 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 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 2-minute length reflects the fact that American shows were 2 minutes shorter than Canadian ones (to allow more commercials), leaving 2 minutes needing content for the Canadian market. 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 popularize the stereotypical Canadian trait of adding "eh" to the end of sentences, a facet of Canadian life 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 of the Bob & Doug McKenzie albums, ultimately leading to Thomas and Moranis leaving the show in 1982. Flaherty and Candy accused Thomas of using his position as head writer to increase the visibility of Bob and Doug, even though the original segments were largely unscripted. An SCTV episode even poked fun at the duo's popularity. 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.
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 Flaherty as Count Floyd 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 aired in a 2002 episode of The Simpsons that depicts the Simpson family visiting Toronto. On March 27, 1982, "Take Off" reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is the highest charting single of Lee's career.
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, but they soon discovered that by 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 transformed into a zombie by a glowing 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". James Ingram appeared on 3-D House of Beef, and violinist Eugene Fodor in New York Rhapsody. Hall & Oates appeared on a "Sammy Maudlin Show" segment promoting a new film called Chariots of Eggs, a parody of both Chariots of Fire and Personal Best, and showed 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 Gill Fisher (Candy).
This, along with SCTV's cult status, led to the show's celebrity fans clamouring to appear. Tony Bennett credited his appearance on Bob and Doug McKenzie's variety-show debacle "The Great White North Palace" for triggering a significant career comeback. 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 the same episode, he 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 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 tutelage 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.
The laugh track used in early episodes was recorded using audience reactions during live performances in the Second City theatre.
SCTV had a 90-minute format, unique for a dramatic or comedy series, although not unknown in talk shows. Such shows are hard to fit into a schedule, and the market was limited. The original 90-minute shows were never rebroadcast.
Instead, in 1984, after production on the series 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 late night talk show Later on January 18, 2001, but to retain continuity with the latter, it was aired with an introduction voiced by Friday Night and occasional Later substitute host Rita Sever and was known as Later Presents: SCTV. It aired until Last Call with Carson Daly took over the time slot on January 4, 2002, from Monday to Thursday; Late Friday (which also had a title change the same week SCTV was picked up) aired on Fridays.
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. Due to difficulty obtaining music rights for DVD releases, Shout! Factory edited music in certain sketches or even left out sketches like "Stairways to Heaven." Dave Thomas acknowledged: "We were true guerrilla TV in that when we wanted background music we just lifted it from wherever we wanted. Consequently, today, to release the shows on home video, it would cost millions to clear the music."
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.
|DVD Name||# of Ep||Release Date||Additional Information|
|SCTV – Vol 1: Network 90||9||June 8, 2004|
|SCTV – Vol 2||9||October 19, 2004|
|SCTV – Vol 3||9||March 1, 2005|
|SCTV – Vol 4||12||September 13, 2005|
On May 5 and 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, Robin Duke, and Joe Flaherty took part; Dave Thomas reportedly bowed out due to illness. The event was a fundraiser for The Alumni Fund, which helps support former Second City cast and crew members facing health or financial difficulties. The performances have not been released.
To honor the 50th anniversary of The Second City, SCTV Golden Classics aired nationwide on public television stations beginning March 2010 featuring some memorable skits from the comedy television series.
Although SCTV was never directly adapted as a film, the characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie, popularized on the series, were featured in their own film, 1983's Strange Brew. A sequel was planned in the late 1990s but never produced.
In April 2018, Netflix announced that Martin Scorsese would direct an original comedy special exploring the legacy of the show. In May 2018, it was announced the special would be titled An Afternoon with SCTV and air on CTV in Canada and Netflix worldwide.
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