Friday, November 12, 2010

On Air: SCTV, and How It Remapped Our Smiles

Writing about Second City Television feels radically daunting to me. It's like writing a a review of the Bible, or telling you about the love of my life or something: it feels too big for me to handle. In fact it IS too big for me to handle, at least here on The Flaming Nose. But I'll try.

In 1977, when I was 11, I was friends with a kid named Juan Salazar. Juan was from Cuba, and when I'd hanging around his family's apartment, I was introduced to their then-unique (to me) mixture of Spanish and English. I found this aspect of Juan's life quite fascinating, and so I tuned in, once, to a Spanglish show on my Atlanta PBS outlet called Que Pasa, USA? As I watched this series (which I now find even more intriguing), I felt it cluing me into the Hispanic dialect and culture, and as a result, I was hoping to garner a deeper understanding of Juan's life (though his English was better than mine, and we had a preternatural connection through humor; no one in my life made me laugh harder than Juan Salazar, and wherever he is, I hope he feels the same about me). Anyway, I'd watch this sitcom every week, and I really enjoyed it, even if I couldn't get some of the jokes. One week, I stuck around afterwards to see what was on next, and what appeared blew my little mind.

It was a cheap dinky show, and it was called Second City Television, or SCTV for short. It spoofed all manner of media, and in a different way than did the then relatively new Saturday Night Live. For one thing, there were no audience members, no musical guests, no celebrities, no streams of whooping applause; it was only 30 minutes long and it'd come on (in my outlet at least) when the sun was still up. Many of the sets were slightly makeshift (sometimes there weren't even sets; there were just lit studio backgrounds). The costumes and makeup (by the incredibly talented Juul Haalmeyer and Christine Hart, respectively) were rich but definitely hitting a strange note of comedy-centric craft I'd never before witnessed. The sound was weird; SCTV had a laugh track unlike any out there--uber-phony, but somehow it was the one laugh track that really did make me laugh a little harder (I've read that the laugh track was sampled live from real audiences at the Second City Theater in Toronto). The on-screen titles and graphics were bizarre, seemingly hand-crafted. It all just totally overloaded me with exoticism and, thus, I couldn't immediately fathom its appeal, except to say that it made me laugh and FEEL complete rapture. Though the show was in English, I felt like it was being beamed to us from another world far away.

Well, I guess it was. SCTV was being broadcast from Toronto, Canada (and later was shot even further north, in Edmonton, Alberta, which made the comedy seem even more alien). Anyway, I didn't know any of this at the time. I just knew there was something peculiar about this show that I loved. Only problem was, when I would insist that my closest relations, my mom Lynn and dad Buddy, watch it with me while we ate dinner, I'd be the only one in the den laughing. I endured some pretty stony silences those days; my parents just didn't get it at all (the only thing more uncomfortable than being the only one in the room laughing is to be the only one in the room NOT laughing). Once again, like many time before and after, I fear, my parents were baffled by this weird little only child of theirs. And then, when I sojourned over to Juan's house to watch Que Pasa USA? I'd insist we'd watch SCTV right after it. But, somehow, he didn't get it, either. Neither did my cousin Greg, with whom I grew up and I watched Saturday Night Live with regularly during weekend sleepovers at his house. In fact, I knew not one person, big or pint-sized, who was watching this show. Not one...except for me.

And so it became my show. Mine, all mine. On Sundays, I'd wake up, watch an old movie on Atlanta's WTCG, or listen to Casey Kasem count down America's Top 40 on Z-93, and then by 7 pm, I'd retreat into my room for the main attraction, tuning in with my tiny black-and-white tube to glorify in this Canadian silliness that I was sure was intelligent and insightful (the night would be capped, by the way, with 96 Rock's Dr. Demento and the King Biscuit Flour Hour). One thing is for sure I knew right away about SCTV: I got a lot of the jokes. For instance, having long realized the Vegas-tinged phoniness of 70s TV talk shows, I really got a kick out of Joe Flaherty as the unctious gabfest host Sammy Maudlin, a long-running character who appeared here, in 1976, alongside John Candy as sidekick William B. Williams, Eugene Levy as funnyman Bobby Bittman, Catherine O'Hara as Trish Nutley--an early Lola Heatherton--and Andrea Martin doing a confused "Mother Teresa"

And then, later on in the show's run, there was this insane commercial for the home version of my favorite game show, the Hollywood Squares. Even to this day, the last shot of this bit gives me both goosebumps and guffaws--and even today, I can't really explain where the goosebumps come from. There's just a radical oddness about the piece that really tapped into not only a deep-seated fear of having my childhood home ripped apart for no reason at all, but also into my romance with all things wacky (also, the notion that we're supposed to buy the obvious miniature at the end as real was a new level of comedy for me). At any rate, this was a sensation I'd get accustomed to feeling while watching SCTV:

The premise of SCTV was simple: each episode was a "programming day" for Channel 109 out of an anonymous American city called Melonville. The shows being programmed on SCTV were fast-paced: an "episode" could go on for four minutes, and then it'd be on to the next thing. Watching it on PBS without any real commercials intruding, I think, was a real key to my liking SCTV so early on. The whole thing tapped into my love for and sometimes disgust with television's brilliance and inanity. And I liked that the whole thing seemed to be done by a bunch of amateurs. Just look at this early opening, which actually used a famous Spike Jones tune to back up shots of TV "professionals" who clearly have no idea what they're doing!

This cast rundown was the show's bedrock. None of them had yet ripened into movie stars; they all seemed like my weird uncles and aunts--the ones that made me laugh incessantly because they didn't have to deal with the consequences once they handed me back to my parents. Later, the SCTV cast projected a more celebrated image when this slightly more familiar opening began airing, complete with shots of the now-iconic falling TVs and Russ Little's incomparable theme playing in the background:

I think I first really, in my marrow, knew I was hopelessly in love with SCTV when this very skit first aired: The Leave It To Beaver 25th Anniversary Party. Beaver was a series that greeted me almost every day upon my arrival home after school. To savage it like just seemed How could you make cruel hay of such innocence? Portraying Ward as a greying drunk, Whitey (Harold Ramis) as a murder-minded chum, Eddie Haskell (Dave Thomas) as an enabling homosexual, and referring to those wild 1970s rumors of the Beaver being killed in Vietnam? (The whole bit, actually, seems to be about the mass confusion the latter urban myth about Jerry Mathers' wartime "death" evoked in the populace.) Hell, the SCTV writers even deigned, as became their custom, to spell the actors' names hilariously wrong--Hugh Bowmont (fanatically soused Joe Flaherty), Barbara Billingslee (adulterous Catherine O'Hara), Tony Dowe (genial pompadoured Eugene Levy), and Gerry Mathers (the only innocence still to be sullied, in John Candy) as The Beaver. Again, I got chills watching this, but laughed hard, particularly at something an 11-year-old would find hysterical: Joe Flaherty's sublime drunken stumbling...

Harold Ramis would be the first cast member to jump ship, noticeably disappearing after the show's first year to co-write the box office smash hit National Lampoon's Animal House. But the other cast members stayed with me, and for a long time. I got to be great friends with them. Eugene Levy would forever be in my heart as the harried, fake-mustachioed game show host Alex Trebel (again with the name screw-ups) in this, what is widely considered to be the perfect SCTV skit, High-Q. It was written, in a fit of delirious genius, by Catherine O'Hara, and remains the game show we all secretly wanna see happen. Just look at these faces, and listen to the sound, in this piece--they make the senses smirk:

My relationship with SCTV on my PBS stations (Channel 8 and 30 in Atlanta) continued unabated until the year 1980. By this time, I was well into my love of movies, having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1978 and, upon which, having decided that the pursuit of either the making of or the talking about movies would be my lifelong chase. By this time, another PBS staple, Sneak Previews, with hosts Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, had become another obsession of mine. In between watching movies on my own, and seeing what these guys had to say about everything coming out in theaters around me, I'd become sincerely strung-out on movies. So when I saw this skit on my favorite TV show ever (SCTV had surpassed my former favorite TV show, All in the Family, by this time), I was apoplectic. Everything about it--from the slaying cheap-o effects with those improbably combined Starlost/Star Wars/Lost in Space/Star Trek models and the skewering of Robert Altman's lark Popeye--to the spoofing of the "Dog of the Week" feature on Sneak Previews (in which Siskel and Ebert had an actual dog on set barking to signify the segment's appearance--and I mention it now just to explain the now-obscure upcoming jokes)---everything about this skit touched me deeply, and made me love SCTV even more. Time and space themselves, now, could not tear this relationship asunder; for me, it was a perfect storm:

There was a time where SCTV became harder for me to see. In fact, it had vanished from my local station's lineup in late 1980, and I felt like my favorite cat had run off on me. Seriously, as I entered high school, I had become somewhat sallow in the show's absence. I had movies to keep me happy, but Saturday Night Live's original cast had departed, and the replacement cast wasn't doing it for me. Luckily, this was one of the best periods for cinema in my lifetime, so I kept busy. But something... something was missing. I perked up for a short while when, on Atlanta's CBS affiliate, the show reappeared as a late-night rival to Saturday Night Live. The cast had changed: Catherine O'Hara (an early crush) and John Candy (an early man-crush) were gone, replaced by the less funny Robin Duke and Tony Rosato. Still, there were golden moments. For instance, I had long been famous in high school for memorizing and performing K-Tel commercials in their entirety; and I'd recently been creeped out as a 13-year-old by Mike Nichols' 1966 film of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? As a result, I really dug this bit (and I even knew who Broderick Crawford was, too):

NBC returned my love to me full force, though, in 1981. With the dismal failure of the new Saturday Night Live's ratings, the network was searching for a possible replacement. So they granted SCTV a extra life, and when I found this out, ecstasy stands as a weak term for what I experienced. I was scaling the moons of Jupiter when NBC birthed SCTV Network 90, a massively-scaled 90-minute vehicle for this cast of characters (now with Catherine O'Hara and John Candy back in the fray). When I tuned in on that first September Friday in 1981, at the incredibly late 12:30 time slot (I never fell asleep, not once), I saw this indelible opening. How I still adore those glimpses into each actor's "life" as they are badgered by the network to sign their stinking contracts; it's the funniest opening ever for any TV show (Catherine O'Hara being caught as she cheats on a test cracks me up every time; so does that one little girl on the left giving a goodbye Girl Scout salute to the amazing Andrea Martin, another early crush of mine; and may I say, Dave Thomas' narration reigns supreme):

This new guise for SCTV ushered in a wholly different feel for the show. Most importantly, it slowed the pace down a bit, and I don't mean that in a bad way. After the show found its footing midway through its first season (still shooting in Edmonton, Alberta, by the way), it halfway eschewed the shorter skits and started concentrating on the behind-the-scenes doings at SCTV. Now we were totally in another world. Totally. To give you an idea: Matt Groening and James L. Brooks have said they were inspired by SCTV to create a little universe in The Simpsons' Springfield. This should give any novice a perspective on the show's influence.

I can't give a rundown of all the SCTV characters here. To do so would be madness. But I have to say the series, for me, was ultimately anchored by SCTV's Owner and President Guy Cabellero (Guy Guy!), played with supreme improv confidence by Joe Flaherty. Dressed in a natty panama suit, seated in a wheelchair he didn't need ("I use it for respect," he'd confess to his closest confidants), and slimy as all get out, Guy made no bones about it: he was in the TV business to make money, and would break everyone's balls to do so. He wore this goal as a badge of pride, and would admit it outright to the viewers, whom he fully expected to be on his side in exploiting them. In Guy's defense, I think his motto was that old producers bromide "Give the people what they want." Because he was strangely so honest with us, it was hard not to love Guy Cabellero.

SCTV Network 90 was, I think, a questionable ratings success--back then, before the 24-hour cable cycle was really born, who was up at 12:30 watching TV, and what outfit was really staking its guts on the concept? But it was an unqualified critical and industry success. In fact, the show achieved an absolutely unprecedented feat in television history. Yeah, in 1982, its writing staff (which included its entire cast, too) were nominated for four out of five Emmy nominations for Best Writing for A Variety Show (they won that year, of course, for their Moral Majority episode). But, incredibly, in 1983, the show was nominated again--for FIVE OUT OF FIVE NOMINATIONS. No TV show EVER has matched this feat (the episode that won was the amazing Energy Ball/Sweeps Week episode with the "Night of the Primetime Stars" throughline). This is outstanding. It's like...could you imagine the batshit shitstorm that would rain down in the media nowadays if Mad Men, as fantastic as it is, were nominated for five out of five of anything? Well, this happened in 1983. And it'll never occur, in any category of any award show, in any country, in any universe, ever again. It's a planetary alignment, or a Chicago Cubs pitcher delivering five no-hitters in a row. This is how great SCTV was and is. For me, this was that recognition I'd sought when I was that little kid, looking at SCTV alone in my room on a Panasonic black-and-white. If I coulda said boo-ya then to my not-with-it parents and friends, I would've.

I think a 10,000-page volume could be written about the SCTV characters, references, influence, and laffs. In fact, Dave Thomas penned an invaluable, detailed, well-illustrated, quote-heavy, annotated, but much shorter book in 1997 called SCTV: Behind The Scenes that is really the last inside word on the subject. But I'd love to see (or maybe write myself) a detailed appreciation of everything SCTV from a fan's perspective, noting everything that's funny, and why it's so, about the show. At any rate, the list of characters and impersonations the show offered up could go on forever, nearly. I won't even attempt to go over them all. If you're interested, the work has already been done for us on the Wikipedia or IMDB entries for John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, and John Hemphill. One and all, they're incredible. If I were to list their achievements on this show, you'd never be able to finish this post. However, I will go on to throw in some choice bits of comedy chow here, with my own comments on each. I'll make a deal with myself: I'll limit myself to ten inclusions (and this is my reward for doing this article, cause now I get to watch a lot of great SCTV to pick my faves):

(1) From SCTV Network 90, a musical and childlike interlude from the kids of Pre-Teen World, with the Recess Monkeys playing Chilliwack's one-hit-wonder "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)" with accomplished musician Rick Moranis aping a novice (love that guitar solo). God, I love how Eugene Levy quits playing rhythm and reverts to the tamborine, and how great is John Candy, as the nervous telethon-host/drummer Stephan Sealy who can't speak/sing a line without swallowing in fear? Pre-Teen World was a spoof of things like the forgotten Zoom and Kid's World, and as a kid who loved these shows (even though I felt I was somehow ahead of them), I loved and related to this spoof so much.

(2) Okay, this made me cry my eyes out with laughter. A promo for Liberace's Christmas special, with Dave Thomas as an obviously gay Liberace (how did anyone NOT know?). The piece goes on a lot longer, with a great deal more features, but the end-all-be-all happens very early on, with the hilariously tense piano-off between Liberace and Rick Moranis' Elton John (whom I'm just now fully realizing owes a lot to Liberace with his wild costumes, perfectly mirrored here by series costume designer Juul Haalmeyer). When real-life football club owner Elton John realizes he's the loser here and resorts to rebounding a silvery soccer ball to the back of Liberace's head to win the day...well, as an Elton John fan then and now, I can't tell you how much this means to me. And I love Liberace, too. Jesus Kee-ryste, this skit slays me.

(3) The 5 Neat Guys. Yes, even in the 1970s, this kind of commercial existed on TV. As Rick Moranis details in Dave Thomas' book SCTV: Behind The Scenes: "Dave was the happy singer, and John was the comfortable, relaxed borderline retiree. Joe was a drunk. Eugene was damaged in some way. I think that I was the only one that didn't know, didn't have a beat. Except I felt very protected by all those guys. They were all taller, bigger. They knew what they were doing. I was the least neat guy and it didn't matter. It was all going to be okay and that's how I played the character. It was, boy, am I ever safe. That's really what was behind the voice. John and Joe didn't sing it. I double-tracked the middle. Gene went a third up and a third down. Dave did the really high and the really low voices. John just sat back and lip-synched. Joe could barely hold it together. I just beamed through the whole thing. I'm the happiest guy in the world."

(4) The Twilling's Tea ad, with Catherine O'Hara downright foolproof as Katherine Hepburn. Imagine being an actor asked to imitate another actor who was imitable, but whom no one had yet managed to imitate; it must have been frightening. Then again, O'Hara was in good hands with Haalmeyer's authentic threads, Christine Hart's convincing makeup, that huge high-backed leather chair that makes Hepburn seem deceptively small, and John Blanchard's fuzzy-focused camera. All the elements bond, but it's O'Hara who's obviously the heroine. In fact, she's a major reason the entire show works at all. Only two women in the cast, for the most part, and they covered it all when it came to the female roles, which is astounding. Though I know they had problems working in what was largely a boy's club, they can stand tall. O'Hara and Andrea Martin, they rock so, so sturdy.

(5) Andrea Martin's Station Manager Edith Prickley was always one of my favorite SCTV characters. Perpetually bedecked in leopard skins, and so forward with her love of the menfolk, she struck me as one of the more confident members of the SCTV universe. She was who she was, and no one was gonna steer her away from that, and really, she wanted you to be the same way. Nothing says this more than the segment which has Prickley as the host of a concert at the Melonville Baths (a reference to Bette Midler's beginnings as a bathhouse entertainer, complete with a version of Midler staple "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which Prickley plays on the piano partially with her breasts). Here, we get, also, a regal Charlton Heston imitation from Joe Flaherty, who has Chuck reading from the diaries of Alexander Hamilton and dancing stiffly with Edith (while grasping the back of his neck and exclaiming "Damn!"). This spoof of The Dating Game is pretty dang good, too! 

(6) You know these guys. Bob and Doug McKenzie were developed as a part of SCTV early on when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation demanded that there be at least two minutes of Canada-specific material on each episode of all its shows. So Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas came up with these two hosers and the characters almost overtook the show, to the actors' embarrassment. Still, their ultimate popularity helped the ratings a lot, and boosted the show's media profile. They also provided the basis for some of the best episodes of SCTV Network 90 and, overexposed or not, added to the show's otherworldly quality.

(7) Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice is a part of the extra-weird Canadian episode of SCTV. Surely, this is one of the strangest moments seen by American network television, and yes, it was produced for NBC exclusively. But this 4th season episode of SCTV Network 90 demanded its place as a love letter to the show's country of origin. As its centerpiece, this sketch is a send-up of one of the great Canadian films, Donald Shebib's 1970 grubby masterwork Goin' Down The Road . I won't bother to try to explain it all to you. It's better that it seem as bizarre to you as it did to me when I first saw it. But believe me, it's an accurate satire, even right down to including one of the movie's main actors, Jayne Eastwood, as one of the mopey ladies. This bit, too, gives me those wintery Canuck chills.

(8) No explanation necessary. The Merv Griffith Show. Merv Griffin. Andy Griffith. This puny locutional connection was enough for the SCTV team to work with. And this is another of their jewels. Eugene Levy continues beyond the comedy stratosphere with his portrayal of the post-stroke Howard McNear (the actor who played Floyd The Barber). And I love that Dave Thomas plays 70s impersonator Fred Travalena PLAYING Jim Nabors PLAYING Gomer Pyle. I could go on and on here, but you get the message. ("Riunite on Ice. It's the drink that Otis drinks.")

(9) Rick Moranis on Gerry Todd (from Dave Thomas' SCTV: Behind The Scenes): "I just structured a radio format for television. I wrote it up as a ten-minute sketch including my own songs. I did them as another middle-of-the-road radio station. I had worked at a radio station and there were these deejays who took great pride in being able to fill air time with inoffensive chatter. These guys had the ability to talk endlessly about nothing. They were middle-of-the-road in every way. Politically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, they reflected popular opinion. They could talk about the weather for fifteen minutes. They loved it. If you said to them, "Well, it's four minutes to the top of the hour and I've only got a two-minute record." "No problem," they would say and they would fill the rest. I was on the other side of the glass from them. I was their audience. I alone was representing the hundreds of thousands of people who were listening to them. They would talk to me and I would pretend that they were saying something important. Meanwhile, I'm taking notes in my mind the whole time. And I developed the ability to talk endlessly about nothing, as I'm doing right now. That's how Gerry Todd was born."

(10) I apologize for the poor quality of the following clips, but I work with what I got, and believe me, if I could get this any other way, I would (and if you look at it the right way, the gimpy quality actually helps). This Sammy Maudlin skit, Maudlin of the Night, was done as part of the Cinemax run of the SCTV, and is, as such, unavailable on DVD. But it's one of the funniest things ever on SCTV. We've earlier, here, seen Sammy Maudlin's beginnings on SCTV and now we're here at his very painful, even more uncomfortable downfall. John Candy's William B. Williams has been fired, and Sammy's been forced to keep up with the times, to act a lot younger than he really is (complete with 80s mullet and threads), and to take on a load of "zanies" as his backups. I include this skit mainly as a tribute to my favorite cast member, Joe Flaherty, who astonished me over and over with his fearless physicality and veering improv timing (he always seemed to be making things up as he goes along, and in a dangerous way, especially as Sammy, Guy Cabellero, and horror movie host Count Floyd). This particular piece here is a spoof of Alan Thicke's long-ago talk show Thicke of the Night, and is rife with 80s auras. But why can't we see this masterpiece in a pristine quality?? See, this is what I mean by no one being able to get a handle, truly, on releasing, or even TALKING about, the FULL run of SCTV. Why can't a company just go right down from the first 1976 program from Canada to the last 1984 program on Cinemax? What kind of rights problems are involved? Would the entangled lawyers blow a gasket at the prospect? Or is there no money to be made for the effort? I have to guess probably a combo of both. Still, we have the internet, and with it, we have to be thankful for what's available. At any rate, the final gasp for Sammy Maudlin is one of SCTV's major triumphs, in my opinion (and now I can pay special tribute to Martin Short's manic, desperate Howie (Mandel) Souzloff, Andrea Martin's flashdancy Jennifer "Beal" and Eugene Levy's drunken Dr. Henry Kissinger). Also, I always shiver at the show's closing credits, with that final zoom in to what I assume is an illustrator's rendering of the original Second City site.

BONUS TRACK: A 60-second excerpt from a Canadian on-demand infomercial that includes Joe Flaherty as Guy Cabellero, indespensible SCTV makeup artist Christine Hart as...a makeup artist, and the surest property of laughter around: a fake dummy. SCTV's makers were masters of the use of fake dummies, and they knew when they needed the BIIIIIIIG laugh, the dummy was the answer. See what I mean here:

So...this post. Why did I do it? Why now? Well, this definitely classifies as burying the lead, because at long last, the internet has been gifted, via You Tube, with The Official SCTV Channel. Beautifully designed and detailed, the site finally tries to take on the bear that is SCTV. Even with Shout's astounding series of releases of the entire SCTV Network 90 run (four volumes at five discs a piece, extras aplenty), and its followup releases of SCTV: Best of the Early Years, and Christmas with SCTV, I don't think that any company out there has been able to get an entire handle on the show's complete history. It's incredibly broad and complicated. What can you expect from a show that went from Canada's Global Syndication, to the nation's CBC, to NBC, and ultimately to Cinemax, where it finally heaved its last barbs in 1984? With this, you can understand my consternation at even attempting an article like this.

But I was so happy to see The Official SCTV Channel on You Tube that I had to get out there and try to express my happiness at its existence. It's a little taste of what I felt way back when, like I've been telling you, I was searching for a sign of love for the show. Yeah, there are dedicated fans out there like komedykollector and chalomirof63 (both of whom are so enamored with the series that they've downloaded obviously worn-out VHS copies of skits to You Tube for fans out there hungering for more). But having an official channel like this proves that the show's stewards finally recognize that SCTV is really internet-friendly. It can work extremely well in little You Tubey bite-sizes.

At any rate, you can see here that even attempting a post like this was pure folly, really, on my part. I can't do the show justice. I can only do what I can, which is to confess a lifelong love to the reader; even if some people can't get all the show's jokes and references in full, I urge anyone who's never even heard of SCTV but knows of all these stars that've hailed from its halls to investigate further and thus open yourself up to a galaxy of joy.

Finally, I want to get even more personal, even a little goopy, here. I have to thank every single person involved with the show for giving me some of the happiest moments of my life. And I mean every single person. The directors (Milad Bessada, George Bloomfield, John Blanchard, and John Bell), the scads of writers (too many to mention here), and producers, and anybody who ever clapped a board or held a boom mike (Ghod, I'm thinking of the skit "Mr. Boom Microphone" now). The cast, I've lionized only in part. And ultimately we have to think of Second City producers Andrew Alexander and Bernard Sahlins, and Second City improv masters Del Close and Sheldon Patinkin, for sitting in a room together and brainstorming "Well, what if we did a TV show where each episode was just an average programming day for a little station in a town called Melonville?" The whole concept of what we now think of as laughter--and ask any comic out there about this--would not be the same without their idea. These people might have changed my life, and who cares about that? But, with this li'l notion called SCTV, these guys, and the writer/actors they trusted...they truly shook the goddamned, bonafide world.


Lisa said...

OMG! Such a wonderful post for such an amazing show that I hold in the same esteem as you, Dean!

I hadn't come across the YouTube SCTV channel yet, but oh boy, I can see I'm going to be watching a lot of it.

Truly, as you so smartly and lovingly described, SCTV was so unique, so hilarious, so brilliant that its place in comedy history can't be touched.

I have a huge love-thing for Joe Flaherty! Once on a TNT MonsterVision Halloween special we got Joe Flaherty to reprise his Count Floyd, and I had to go the taping. He was HILARIOUS!!! And also the nicest guy in the world. I spoke to his daughter and specifically said what a great guy he seemed to be, and she assured me that he was as great a dad as he was a comic. That thrilled me, knowing that he was as kind and nice as his persona came across. Wow...I love him, and all of SCTV! The brilliance of SCTV presages Tina Fey's affection for and understanding of the special form that TV is that she celebrates in "30 Rock".

We need all of SCTV! Can you imagine anything better than spending your old age watching these shows? You'd want to live forever to enjoy them again and again!

Wonderful post, Dean! xoxoxoxo

Lisa said...

I was also going to say I definitely remember "Que Pasa U.S.A." -- we used to air it on KTLA as part of our educational requirement. Clever show out of PBS, definitely!

Dean Treadway said...

Thanks, Lisa. Of course, the post obviously comes from the heart. And I'm so envious of your brush with Flaherty greatness. And, yeah, QUE PASA USA? would be a very interesting show to watch today. I like the clip I linked to--still funny.

Randy said...

Thanks for this excellent blog post and for all the clips too!

Dean Treadway said...

Thank you, Randy!

Todd said...

Four years late, unfortunately, but I want to join in the praise of this piece. I was slightly younger when first exposed to SCTV, but it set the tone for my developing sense of humor more than anything else. I wish I could say Mojo Gardner was my first crush, but that would be absurd, what with her disease and all.

kevin said...

SCTV has been a lock in my life for decades and I go through the entire syndicated set at least four times a year

Juul Haalmeyer said...

My God John, what a loveletter! I had no idea at the the time we were doing the show that it meant so much to so many people, and not having had one fan letter while it was on, I am so completely bowled over and humbled by the the love and visits I've received over the years, I can't tell you. I feel so blessed to have been able to be part of this, and to have worked with all those wonderful people, and that they let me be on camera!
You should post this to the SCTV site so others can enjoy your wonderful writing and great experience!
Thank you so much!
Lots of love,
Juul Haalmeyer

Felicity Walker said...

This comment comes eight years after your article, but I enjoyed the article very much. I found it while searching for more about “Maudlin o’ the Night,” one of my favourite SCTV sketches. It still isn’t on the Internet in any better quality than the clip you linked to, which is also now gone! Thank goodness I downloaded it when I had the chance. But I also taped that episode from the Comedy Network in the mid-2000s, and at SP quality too, so when I finally get around to digitising my VHSes, it will be preserved in at least better quality, if not crystal-clear DVD quality.

We love you, Juul! You were in the first episode of SCTV that I ever saw (after a friend recommended I watch the series): the “Great White North Palace” special. If I could get a do-over on my life, but knowing everything I know now, I would send you a fan letter. :-)