The premise of the show is the broadcast day of a fictitious TV station (later network) in the town of Melonville. The location of Melonville is left unspecified; the very earliest episodes imply it's somewhere in Canada, though 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 everything from SCTV news broadcasts to sitcoms, dramas, movies, talk shows, kid shows, commercial send-ups hawking non-existent products, and/or 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 which 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), the cheap, tyrannical owner and president of SCTV, who, despite being perfectly ambulatory, is seated in 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.
SCTV was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2002.
There is much dispute as to who actually created the SCTV series. The show itself bears no "created by" credit, although it gives "developed by" credits to Bernard Sahlins and Andrew Alexander.
What is clear is that, in 1976, Andrew Alexander (then the producer of Toronto's Second City stage show) was looking to expand his company into the realm of TV production. He called together the current cast of the stage show (including Candy, Flaherty, Thomas and Levy) to discuss a format for a Second City TV series. Also in attendance at the meeting were Second City vets Harold Ramis, Sheldon Patinkin, and Del Close, along with business partner Bernard Sahlins.
According to Dave Thomas' account in SCTV: Behind The Scenes, various ideas were batted around, then—and here's where meeting attendees remember things differently—either Close or Patinkin came up with the idea of presenting programming from the world's smallest TV station. The cast immediately jumped on the idea as a workable model for presenting a virtually unlimited range of characters, sketches, and ideas while still having a central premise that tied everything together. From there, the actual content of the show (the characters, the situations, the Melonville setting, etc.) was all the work of the cast, with contributions from producers Alexander and Sahlins.
Alexander remained as producer/executive producer throughout SCTV's run. Sahlins stayed for the first two seasons as a producer. Patinkin was a first-season writer and de facto editor and post-production supervisor. Close had no further involvement with the series.
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, and many had previously worked together on The David Steinberg Show. Ramis was a Second City vet, but with the Chicago troupe.
The original SCTV cast consisted of John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Harold Ramis, and Dave Thomas. All also served as writers on the show, although Martin and O'Hara did not receive writing credits on the earliest episodes. Ramis served as SCTV's original head writer, but only appeared on-screen as a regular during the first season (spread out over two years).
For the second season (1978–79), SCTV became a weekly series on Global, and was seen in syndication throughout Canada and parts of the United States. After episode three of the second season, Ramis was no longer in the cast but continued to receive credit as the show's head writer until towards the end of the season.
The show was off the air for the 1979-80 season, but returned to production after producer Andrew Alexander and Allarcom-ITV Edmonton owner Charles Allard struck a deal to produce SCTV at ITV Studios in Edmonton, Alberta.
Candy, O'Hara, and Ramis dropped out at this juncture, and Dave Thomas was promoted to head writer. Added to the cast (and writing room) were Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, and Rick Moranis. Moranis, a friend of Dave Thomas and primarily known as a radio personality in Canada, would be the only cast member not to have come from the ranks of Second City.
This season of the show was seen in Canada on the CBC, and in scattered markets in the 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 disastrous stint as showrunner), and Candy and O'Hara returned. Because of the rush to generate material for this new 90-minute show, several early Season 4 episodes were partially or even entirely made up of repeats of previously broadcast sketches from Seasons 1 to 3. Rosato, Duke and Ramis are often featured in these repeat sketches, uncredited.
Season 4 (25 episodes) ran on an irregular basis from May 1981 to July 1982. Beginning in January 1982, production of the show moved back to Toronto, where it would stay for the remainder of its run.
Writer/performer Martin Short was added to the cast at the end of Season 4, filming three episodes before O'Hara, Thomas and Moranis left. One of those episodes was aired as the Season 4 finale in July 1982; the other two were held for the start of Season 5 (14 episodes), which began in October 1982. For the remaining 12 episodes of Season 5, the cast of Candy, Flaherty, Levy, Martin, and Short were augmented by supporting players John Hemphill and Mary-Charlotte Wilcox, neither of whom were official cast members. Also, in Season 5, Ramis and O'Hara each returned for one episode apiece as guest stars.
The last new SCTV episode for NBC was seen in March 1983. For both Seasons 4 and 5, the show continued to air on the CBC in Canada as a full hour, edited down from the NBC shows.
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' 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.
On September 5, 1988, ABC aired a special called The Best of SCTV. In the special, Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin returned as Caballero and Prickley, respectively. 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.
A 60 or 90-minute show does not fit easily into most stations' schedules. After production of the show had ceased, in order to facilitate syndication sales, episodes from the show were repackaged into 30-minute segments, under the SCTV Network title. They appeared on a variety of U.S. and Canadian TV stations.
Reviews for SCTV were strong, right from the beginning. For its very first episode, Margaret Daly of the Toronto Star claimed that, "Global TV may have just pulled off the comedy coup of this season ... the concept is as clever as the loony company members." 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." Wrote Newsday's Marvin Kitman, "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," stated Gary Deeb in the Chicago Sun-Times.
During its network run on NBC, the show garnered 15 Emmy nominations (often with multiple episodes competing against each other). SCTV won a 1982 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program. During Joe Flaherty's acceptance speech, award presenter Milton Berle repeatedly interrupted with sarcastic retorts of, "Oh, that's funny". Flaherty then turned to Berle and said, "Go to sleep, Uncle Miltie," (a parody of Berle's famous closing line to children at the end of his Texaco Star Theater programs, "Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed"). Berle could only reply with, "What?" The incident became comedy fodder for SCTV, as the next season contained a bit where Flaherty beats up a Berle look-alike while shouting, "You'll never ruin another acceptance speech, Uncle Miltie!"
SCTV would win the award again in 1983.
SCTV initially adapted its comedy from existing sketches and improvisation from the Second City stage show. However, especially after expanding to a 90-minute format, SCTV quickly pushed the envelope on television sketch comedy. While showing some influence from Monty Python's Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live, SCTV eschewed both the live television format and even filming before a live studio audience. This was mostly to save money, but it also allowed more attention and care to be taken in building a premise and supporting it.
Having a moderately low budget and limited resources, SCTV earned a reputation for making the most out of what it had, reusing sets and particularly taking advantage of expert makeup and hairstyling. With the luxury of being able to take long periods of time in the makeup chair, elaborate characters could be built. Not being bound by expensive and elaborate prosthetics, cast members and makeup artists worked together to create their characters, referring to the process in interviews as "Improvisation in the chair".
To add to the feel of the show—that of a low-budget local television station gone 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, The Kids in the Hall and Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!.
Later shows built a tight theme, sometimes acting as a meta-parody—such as the Emmy-winning "Moral Majority" episode where advertisers and special interest groups force significant changes to SCTV's programming; "Zontar", a parody of the Larry Buchanan film Zontar, The Thing from Venus which features 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 featuring mafia-style hits on the sets of The Today Show, Three's Company, and The NFL Today as well as an extended sequence with guest star John Marley as an off-beat Leonard Bernstein, spoofing his Godfather role of Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz.
In another such episode, a janitorial union goes on strike, forcing the station to broadcast the network feed from CBC Television. Parodies of Canadian television ensue, such as Hinterland Who's Who, Front Page Challenge, and It's a Fact, as well as promos for Monday Night Curling, hosted by two orange-jacketed sportscasters both named Gord, and Magnum, P.E.I., with John Candy as a private detective chasing his quarry through the scenic potato patches of Prince Edward Island. The feature film for the night is Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice, a parody of Goin' Down the Road about two men from the Maritimes looking for "doctorin' and lawyerin' jobs" in Toronto. Meanwhile, in behind-the-scenes labour negotiations, Eugene Levy's Sid Dithers plays the union president, barely able to see over the conference table as he details the progress of the strike-talks ("Fifteen minutes for lunch? You can't even blow on your soup!")
While these shows continued to incorporate the broad range of television parodies the show was known for, they also have a strong narrative thread which sets the show apart from other sketch comedy shows of the time. TV critic James Wolcott once referred to SCTV as "the only entertainment show on TV that matters".
The show also had a huge influence on The Simpsons. In the DVD commentary for "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" (in which Dave Thomas guest stars), everyone says how much they loved the show and how influential it was because "it was so funny". Matt Groening goes on to say that he was specifically inspired by the town of Melonville, its own little universe with many recurring characters, and that that was the type of universe he wanted for The Simpsons. Both Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin have guest starred on The Simpsons.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (another program that also enjoys a "cult" following like that of SCTV) at times features references to the show and its characters; for example, during the film Space Mutiny, a character with an outrageous hairdo is said to resemble Martin Short's Ed Grimley and prompts numerous impersonations of said character. In another example, near the end of the film Danger! Death Ray a character throws a watch out of a window, prompting Crow T. Robot to cry "SCTV is on the air!"
The entire troupe was given a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2002. John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O'Hara also have individual stars.
SCTV parody shows include a parody of the popular 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 which 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 would pit 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 the countless 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 (they entice 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:
Popular sketches and recurring characters include:Mailbag, SCTV's take on a vox populi segment where near-apoplectic host Bill Needle (Thomas) answers viewer mail. The show's length is continually cut, however, until Needle is down to mere seconds of airtime. Bill Needle appears frequently in SCTV shows that were cancelled after one episode.
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 include 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 ends with a crane shot that pushes the show so over budget that the sketch's producers get in trouble with the network. The show's writers incorporate this behind-the-scenes drama into the show's long-term continuity, sending the career of actor/producer/superstar Johnny LaRue (Candy) into a tailspin as a result of this budget mishap.
The Sammy Maudlin Show: A send-up of The Merv Griffin Show. Flaherty is the afro-coiffed, knee-slapping, overly effusive host welcoming a panel of "stars" who do 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) evolves into a late-night universe all its own. Levy is "a comic in all seriousness" as egomaniacal funnyman Bobby Bittman, with his repeated catch-phrase "How are ya?" Bittman's younger brother Skip Bittman, played by Moranis, eventually appears on Maudlin as well, with disastrous results. Martin skewers 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"); O'Hara inhabits pill-popping boozer Lola Heatherton, a Joey Heatherton-Lola Falana amalgam who greets fans with her trademark shriek, "I love you! I wanna bear your children!"; John Candy portrays constantly chuckling Ed McMahon-style sidekick/sycophant William B. Williams, who often winds up kneeling on the floor as guests came out and the couch fills up. The Maudlin regulars later appear together in a Rat Pack movie parody Maudlin's Eleven.
The Days of the Week is a soap-opera spoof, with the continuing saga of terminally ill rock star Clay Collins (Moranis) trying to marry slutty fiancee Sue Ellen Alison (O'Hara) in the few days left to him by his tactless doctor Elliot Sabian (Levy). A second plot hatched by corrupt doctor Wainwright (Candy) has small-time criminal Rocco (Flaherty) conning the wealthy Violet McKay (O'Hara) into accepting him as her long-lost son Billy, even though Rocco is so inept that he mistakes Mojo the maid (Martin) for his mother. A third story has the suave swindler Harrington (Thomas) trying to seduce the suicidally depressed May Matlock (Martin) out of the land she owns. It is the only recurring segment throughout the series that does not contain a laugh track, keeping in the vein of soap operas.
Mel's Rock Pile is a knockoff of the Citytv dance show Boogie and closely resembles American Bandstand and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Hosted by "Rockin' Mel" Slirrup (Levy), a nervous, bespectacled nerd who plays lame pop songs for surly in-studio teen guests. One memorable episode of Mel's Rock Pile features an appearance by Sex Pistols-type band The Queen Haters, featuring the entire Short-era cast in perfect '80s punk-band mode. Another features Thomas as Richard Harris, performing MacArthur Park live in the studio—complete with lengthy instrumental breaks. This causes an uncomfortable Mel to try and fill the otherwise "dead" air. Harris dances endlessly in total agony during the elongated orchestral stretches, while the show moves on to other skits. The song finally ends when an audience member hurls a brick at Harris' chest.
Martin Short's Jackie Rogers, Jr. is an earnestly smarmy albino Las Vegas headliner with a grating, lisping laugh in a manner similar to Sammy Davis, Jr. Rogers is partial to sequinned jumpsuits, Jack Jones-style song standards, and "eligible ladies". Later, Rogers will run for political office but drop out of the race when he realizes it's cramping his show-biz lifestyle. Jackie Rogers, Jr., much like Ed Grimley, would later be seen on Saturday Night Live when Martin Short is hired there as a cast member.
Short's somewhat-unclassifiable uber-nerd Ed Grimley (later featured on Saturday Night Live when Short becomes a regular) is an SCTV fixture, appearing on numerous assorted shows, commercials, promos, and "behind-the-scenes" dramas. His hair is styled using an upside-down funnel, and he plays the triangle, for which he took lessons. Grimley has an obsession for the game show Wheel of Fortune and host Pat Sajak. The SNL version of the character is the same, except the sketches have Ed Grimley getting involved in weird situations: meeting a perpetually unlucky man (played by Ringo Starr), being targeted by the Devil (played by Jon Lovitz), and having a near-death experience. As of 2012, Ed Grimley is the only SNL and SCTV character to have his own children's cartoon show: The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley.
Half-Wits and High-Q are 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 (à la The Four Freshmen), are portrayed by Candy, Flaherty (as the drunk one), Levy, Moranis, and Thomas. The "5" sing songs like "I've Got a Hickey on My Shoulder", "Pimples and Pockmarks", and other unmemorable tunes. Several of their songs contrast with their squeaky-clean image, however, such as "She Does It", "Patsy Has the Largest Breasts In Town", and "Who Made the Egg Salad Sandwiches?".
Connie Franklin, a caricature of Connie Francis portrayed by Andrea Martin. Franklin appears on the Sammy Maudlin Show but also appears 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, is a parody of real-life Canadian interviewer, the late Brian Linehan. Linehan was famous for his over-preparation, which Short satirizes 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 is totally and completely wrong, making for some unhappy guests and one frustrated, uneasy host.
Harry, the Guy with the Snake on his Face (Candy). Harry runs Melonville's adult book and X-rated video stores.
"Video deejay" Gerry Todd (Moranis) hosts an all-night "televised-radio" type of video show. Moranis' turtleneck-sporting, smooth-talking radio-personality parody is perfectly pitched—complete with casually pronounced "vuddeeo"—and eerily presages the first group of MTV VJs.
Mayor Tommy Shanks (Candy) is Melonville's "easygoing" (i.e., corrupt) mayor, a man prone to sudden fits of rage and physical violence who still gives regular fireside chats on SCTV while feeding treats to a stuffed dog that 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. Some sources erroneously claim the character is named after Edmonton jazz musician (and future senator) Tommy Banks. However the character pre-dates SCTV's move to Edmonton by two years (first being referenced in the Toronto-shot episode 2.8 "The Mirthmakers/Happy Endings", aired 4 November 1978) and furthermore does not resemble Banks in any way.
SCTV News (later Nightline Melonville), anchored by Flaherty as mostly professional (but alcoholic) newscaster Floyd Robertson and Levy as geeky, clueless Earl Camembert, a model of oblivious self-importance. The members of the SCTV news team are named after Canadian news anchors Lloyd Robertson and Earl Cameron respectively, but otherwise bear no resemblance to their real-life counterparts (Camembert was in fact based on American newsman Irv Weinstein). Unlike the Saturday Night Live news parody Weekend Update, which typically uses actual news headlines as set-ups for more satirical humour, SCTV News uses more absurdist humour, with news stories often focusing on events happening within the Melonville continuity. Another source of humour for this segment is the contrast between the hapless Camembert (whose name is inexplicably pronounced "Canenbare") and the more respected Robertson, who usually ends up playing straight man to Camembert's antics. A running gag involves the news team's tendency to give the hard news items to Robertson (such as the latest earthquake to hit the tiny nation of Togoland) 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 is hosted by Flaherty's character Count Floyd—a vampire who mysteriously howls like a wolf. The show features laughably non-frightening z-movies like Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses, 3-D House of Beef, and Tip O'Neill's 3-D House of Representatives; many of the movies feature "mad scientist" Dr. Tongue (Candy) and his hunchback assistant Bruno, played by Woody Tobias, Jr. (Levy). As revealed in his very first appearance, Count Floyd is actually SCTV News anchorman Floyd Robertson working a second job. This character note was then ignored for several years before being picked up again as a plot thread towards the end of the show's run. Floyd's double-duty is a comic homage to the early days of television, where the kiddie show hosts at smaller TV stations were often members of the local news staff in costume.
The Shmenge Brothers (Candy and Levy) are the leaders of a polka band from (imaginary, but eastern European) Leutonia, called The Happy Wanderers. Based upon Czechoslovakian-born, Edmonton-based polka cable show host Gaby Haas, the Shmenges appear during Seasons 3 and 4. 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). (Candy would go on to play another polka clarinetist in Home Alone, which also starred O'Hara.) In one episode, the Shmenges perform a memorable tribute to composer John Williams. The band's name is based on the Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller song "The Happy Wanderer", which is frequently performed by polka artists. The hosts make a point of thanking the hostesses, in each episode, for the cabbage rolls and coffee provided.
Harvey K-Tel, portrayed by Thomas. K-Tel, a parody of rapid-fire mail-order commercial announcers, speaks in a rapid patter both on and off the air. The character's name is derived both from Canadian mail-order commercial company K-tel and the actor Harvey Keitel.
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, 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, microphone lying next to his mouth, one finger occasionally moving to the beat. Then, during a live broadcast of Caesar featuring Bobby Bittman, SCTV is suddenly knocked off the air, replaced by an illegal signal from the Soviet television network. The station calls itself "three-C-P-one", referring to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is abbreviated USSR in English but CCCP (SSSR) in Cyrillic. 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 Khrushchev; a game-show, What Fits into Russia?, which celebrates the USSR's massive size; another game-show, Upo-Scrabblenyk, with somewhat impenetrable game rules; and Hey, Giorgy, a sitcom about "everybody's favorite Cossack" modeled on the Canadian TV series King of Kensington, with the memorable line "Uzbeks drank my battery fluid!", uttered when Moranis' Lada won't start outside an alehouse. (Popping the hood reveals the old-style battery's six cells sporting bendy straws.) The CCCP1 episode is shot with a "new Soviet mini-cam," a massive electronic device the size of a small car that has to be dragged around by three technicians. The piece makes it clear on several occasions that CCCP's enemy is the Uzbeks, a reflection of the Soviet Union's ongoing struggle with Uzbek nationalism.
A Jazz Singer parody which reverses 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 Levy's befuddled Sid Dithers. Hasidic Dithers, four feet tall and cross-eyed behind Coke-bottle glasses, speaks 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 makes 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.
Tex & Edna's Organ Emporium (or "Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium"), a series of parodies of local car dealer TV ads with Tex and Edna (Thomas and Martin) imploring viewers to "Come on down!" to buy their wares.
Thursday Night Live, an atrociously low-budget ripoff of Fridays and Saturday Night Live created by Guy Caballero, who wants to go hip by making this show. However, it is nothing more than a long collage of uncontrollable laughter and hooting from the rowdy audience and many unconvincing samplings of profanity and corny drug jokes. The guest host is Earl Camembert, who during the monologue, does a bad impression of Steve Martin by going "Well, I beg your pardon!".
Towering Inferno, a satire of the 1974 Irwin Allen film, with each cast member playing multiple roles, trying to escape "the world's thinnest, tallest building" that catches on fire. Martin is at this point the only female cast member, so they are forced to use doubles when two women appear in the same shot. Candy actually says, "You take the Edith Prickley double and I'll take the other girl and get out of here," deliberately acknowledging the fake as a wink to the audience. There is also a nuclear reactor on the top of the building, with a spinning restaurant above it.
Ironically, the most popular sketch was intended as throwaway filler. Bob & Doug McKenzie, the dim-witted, beer-chugging and back bacon-eating brothers in a recurring Canadian-themed sketch called Great White North, were initially developed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (Bob & Doug, respectively) as a sardonic response to the CBC network's request that the show feature two minutes of "identifiably Canadian content" in every episode. The Bob and Doug McKenzie segments first appeared in 1980 at the start of Season 3 and continued in every episode until Thomas and Moranis left the series.
The characters ultimately became icons of the very Canadian culture they parodied, spinning off albums, a feature film (Strange Brew), commercials, and numerous TV and film cameos. Bob and Doug helped to popularize the stereotypical Canadian trait of adding "eh" to the end of sentences, a facet of Canadian life that is often gently ridiculed in American shows featuring Canadian characters. Lines from the sketch, such as "Take off, you hoser!", became part of North American popular culture. Thomas later revealed in his 1996 book SCTV: Behind the Scenes that the other members of the cast grew bitter at the immense financial and popular success he and Moranis received from their Bob & Doug McKenzie albums, ultimately leading to their departing the show in 1982. Joe Flaherty and John Candy accused Thomas of using his position as head writer to increase the visibility of Bob & Doug, even though the original segments were largely unscripted. An SCTV episode even poked fun at the duo's popularity. Station manager Guy Caballero declared that they had become SCTV's top celebrities, supplanting Johnny LaRue. This led to the pair being given a Bob & Doug "special" with Tony Bennett as their guest, which wound up being a disaster.
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. Rush vocalist Geddy Lee sang the chorus on the hit single "Take Off" from the 1982 Mercury Records album The Great White North by Bob and Doug McKenzie. That chorus was aired in a 2002 episode of The Simpsons which depicted the Simpson family visiting Toronto.
The show's NBC years brought with them a network edict to include musical guests (in part because of their use on Saturday Night Live, which NBC executives considered the model for SCTV, despite their being very different shows). At first, the SCTV cast, writers, and producers resisted special guests, on the theory that famous people wouldn't just "drop into" the Melonville studios. However, they soon discovered that by actually working these guests into different shows-within-shows, they could keep the premise going while also giving guest stars something more to do than show up and sing a song.
As a result, Dr. John became a featured player in the movie "Polynesiantown", John Mellencamp (at the time, known as John Cougar) was Mister Hyde to Ed Grimley's Doctor Jekyll in "The Nutty Lab Assistant", Natalie Cole was 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. It reached a point where Hall & Oates appeared on a "Sammy Maudlin Show" segment, promoting a new film called "Chariots of Eggs", which was a parody of both Chariots of Fire and Personal Best, only to show scenes from the faux movie as clips. Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Thomas (the real-life brother of cast member Dave Thomas) was the "topic" on a Great White North sketch. Carl Perkins, Jimmy Buffett, Joe Walsh, The Tubes, and Plasmatics also appeared on the "Fishin' Musician", hosted by Candy.
This, along with SCTV's cult status, led to the show's celebrity fans clamouring to appear. Later on, Tony Bennett credited his appearance on Bob and Doug McKenzie's variety-show debacle "The Great White North Palace" as triggering a significant career comeback. Sketch comedy giant Carol Burnett did an ad for the show in which an alarm clock goes off next to her bed, she rises up suddenly and advises those who couldn't stay up late enough (the NBC version aired from 12:30 to 2 a.m.) to go to bed, get some sleep, then wake up to watch the show. Burnett later briefly appeared in a climactic courtroom episode of "The Days of the Week".
Former Chicago Second City player, Saturday Night Live cast member, and film actor Bill Murray also guest-starred on a "Days of the Week" installment, as a photography buff scrambling to make it to the wedding of singer-songwriter Clay Collins (Rick Moranis) and town slut Sue-Ellen Allison (Catherine O'Hara) in time to take pictures of the event. In that same episode, he also played two other roles: Johnny LaRue's biggest fan, who is subsequently hired to be LaRue's bodyguard (and who pushes his homemade LaRue T-shirts whenever possible), and he also appeared as Joe DiMaggio in a commercial for DiMaggio's restaurant, where he offered a free meal to anyone who could strike him out. (The strikeout challenges then took place in the middle of the dining room, with many patrons injured by speeding baseballs.)
Robin Williams guest-starred in a sketch called Bowery Boys in the Band in which his Leo Gorcey-like character tries to hide a gay lifestyle from his Huntz Hall-inspired pal (played by Short). Williams also mimicked actor John Houseman eloquently reading the Melonville telephone book.
In a rare acting role, singer Crystal Gayle guest-starred in a January 1983 episode in the sketch "A Star is Born", a spoof of the 1976 film version of the movie, playing an up-and-coming singer trying to make it big under the 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.
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 Days of the Week segments did not include a laugh track.
The laugh track used in early episodes was actually recorded using audience reactions during live performances in the Second City theatre.
In 1984, after production on the series finally ended, the Second City Television syndicated half-hour episodes and SCTV Network 90-minute episodes were re-edited into half-hour shows for a revised syndicated package, which consisted of 156 re-edited half-hours. In 1990, a separate package of 26 half-hours (edited from the pay-TV SCTV Channel episodes) aired on The Comedy Channel (and later Comedy Central) in the United States. Like the original syndicated series, the US and Canadian versions of the 1984 package differed, with the Canadian half-hours a couple of minutes longer; the running order of episodes also differed between the two countries. By the late 1990s, the re-edited SCTV Channel episodes were added to the regular SCTV syndicated package; three additional half-hours (all from the 1980-1981 season) were restored to the package, knocking the episode count up to 185 half-hours.
The syndication package was picked up by NBC following the cancellation of its long running late night talk show Later in 2000. However, since NBC was not willing to give up the branding, these episodes aired as Later presents SCTV. NBC kept the SCTV episodes on their schedule until January 2002, when Last Call with Carson Daly took over the time slot. Like Later, SCTV aired four nights a week and did not air on Fridays when Late Friday would air in its place.
For years, SCTV was unavailable on videotape or DVD (apart from one compilation, The Best of John Candy on SCTV), or in any form except these re-edited half-hour programs. One main reason was that the producers and editors never bothered to get clearance to use copyrighted music: for example, the "Fishin' Musician" show ended with Bing Crosby singing "Gone Fishin'", even though no permission for using the song had been obtained. When preparing for the 2004-2005 DVD releases, the rights to the Bing Crosby song could not be purchased and new music had to be inserted in its place. In a few cases in which the music is intrinsic to the premise of the sketch and rights could not be obtained, sketches have been dropped from the DVDs. This is the case with the sketches "Stairways to Heaven", "The Canadian National Anthem", and "Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written".
Shout! Factory has released some of SCTV on DVD in Region 1. All episodes from Season 4 and 5 (which aired on NBC) have been released in 4 volumes, and a "best-of" DVD features episodes from Seasons 2 and 3. It is not known if the other episodes (from Seasons 1-3, and Season 6) will be released.
Other ReleasesChristmas With SCTV: Released October 4, 2005 (Two Christmas-themed episodes from 1981 and 1982)
SCTV- Best of The Early Years: Released October 24, 2006 (15 selected episodes from Seasons 2 and 3)
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, Robin Duke 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.
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.