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"Don't touch that dial! Don't touch that one either! And stop touching yourself! SCTV is on the air!"
Proof that Canadians are attempting to control America through comedy.
In 1976, there was a small group of comedians who had worked together for a season on a previous series, The David Steinberg Show — a sort of It's Gary Shandling's Show a good decade before Garry Shandling did it. They got together and produced a sketch comedy show around the premise that the sketches were episodes of local shows (or commercials for local businesses) being produced and aired by the television station for the mythical city of Melonville.
This show, SCTV (Second City Television), has probably had more impact on American comedy than most American shows.
How is that? Well, let's run down the original cast: John Candy. Joe Flaherty. Eugene Levy. Andrea Martin. Catherine O'Hara. Harold Ramis. Dave Thomas. Martin Short. Add in latecomer Rick Moranis, and you have a veritable who's who of comedy. Due to the connections between the Chicago and Toronto branches of the Second City comedy troupe, there was considerable constructive feedback between this show and Saturday Night Live.
The show started with a thirty-minute format on the Global Television Network, which ran from 1976-1979. After that, the show was picked up by CBC and expanded to an hour. During this era, the show's most popular characters, Bob and Doug McKenzie, debuted. The show was expanded to ninety minutes in 1981 when NBC picked it up as late-night programming (this version was known as SCTV Network 90). During this stretch of the run, coupled with the fact that it was neither live nor taped before a live audience, it was able to push the boundaries of traditional sketch comedy. It won 15 Emmys over its network lifespan. A final season of 45-minute episodes aired on Superchannel in Canada and Cinemax in the U.S. (as SCTV Channel) over 1983-84.
SCTV provides examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: And how!
- And Starring: "And Dave Thomas as The Beaver." Doubly deconstructed: Dave Thomas wasn't any more famous than anybody else in the cast, he was just alphabetically last; also, he did not, in fact, play The Beaver when SCTV did its Leave It to Beaver sketch, John Candy did.
- Breakout Character: Bob and Doug were created to be strictly filler to satisfy, and make fun of, Canadian Content broadcast rules, but they became the most popular characters of the series. In fact, the show itself lampshades this in "The Great White North Palace." In that episode, Guy Cabellero realizes how popular Bob and Doug are, and gives them their own variety show to shore up the flagging network. This is completely outside the brothers' comfort zone, however, and the show is an instant failure.
- Canada, Eh?: Taken to a truly extreme length in the episode "The Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary Show", where the station has to pipe in broadcasting from the CBC due to budget cutbacks. The resulting footage skewers several Canadian films and series (including Goin' Down The Road, Front Page Challenge and the "Hinterland Who's Who" nature commercials) and makes fun of established institutions like curling and Prince Edward Island.
- Canadian Accents: Bob and Doug McKenzie, probably the most "Canajun" Canadian accents ever aired, eh?
- Catch Phrase: Both straight (Bob and Doug, Count Floyd, Mayor Tommy Shanks) and subverted (Lola Heatherton, Bobby Bittman)
- Celebrity Star: Performers like Robin Williams and Bill Murray did guest spots as sketch characters. Most guest performers were musicians appearing as themselves on the Show Within a Show The Fishin' Musician and thus engaging in outdoorsy activities with its host. Within recurring sketches like The Sammy Maudlin Show and Farm Film Report, this concept was frequently spoofed with cast members playing various celebrities or Expies thereof.
- Christmas Episode: Several, which took plenty of potshots at Christmas programming tropes.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Both Guy Cabellero (who ranks up with Mr. Burns) in all-around venality and Melonville Mayor Tommy Shanks (involved in bribery, but his corruption is more along the lines of him being too stupid to know any better than any inherent vice.)
- Dead Air: During an episode about an up-and-coming boxer who was slated to fight the champ on their station. The entire episode is spent hyping up the underdog, even making a short film about him. At the end, when the fight begins, the underdog is knocked out by a single punch, leaving SCTV with nothing but dead air for the remainder of the program as they desperately looked for something, anything they could fill it with.
- Deconstructive Parody: Everything from Ingmar Bergman classics to old Canadian movies.
- Excited Kids' Show Host: Mr. Messenger
- Executive Meddling: The level of influence NBC tried to impose upon the show during its run on the American network is the stuff of legend.
- They sent executives up to Edmonton to provide input into the show's development (which the cast and crew often ignored because it was stupid), gave them minimal budgets for each episode, and aired the show at odd hours (11:30 PM??? on a Sunday?). It's a wonder the show survived, and even thrived, because of these setbacks.
- When the CBC picked up the show, they demanded a segment of "identifiably Canadian content," despite the fact that the show was already a fully Canadian production. So, they created a sarcastic reply in the form of "The Great White North", with Bob and Doug McKenzie.
- In another instance, after the cast spent most of the production budget in "Doorway To Hell" on a several-minute long crane shot, the network cut their budget to almost nothing for another episode, "SCTV Staff Christmas Party". The end result is half an episode mixed with fifteen minutes of John Candy (as washed-up star Johnny LaRue) speaking about his memories of Christmas and lamenting his career on a street corner in the middle of winter. This is also one of Candy's finest acting moments.
- A few instances of Executive Meddling in the creation of the NBC Network 90 series worked out OK, such as the idea of "wraparounds," or thematic station-based storylines connecting the various sketches, and the inclusion of musical guests.
- Some of the network's contemporaneous ideas weren't so good, though, like a suggestion to move "sex bits" to later in the broadcast, and "drug humor" up front for "youth appeal." This didn't make much sense, though. SCTV was, by and large, a lot more conservative in that regard than the Saturday Night Live crowd. There were relatively few sex references on the show, and practically no "drug humor" whatsoever.
- Glorious Mother Russia: The entirety of the CCCP1 episode.
- Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death: Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, and some of the "movies" featured thereon, such as the oft-promised-but-never-screened Bloodsucking Monkeys from West Mifflin, Pennsylvannia and Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Meat.
- Greatest Hits Album: parodied with 5 Neat Guys' Neatest Hits, for a group of incredibly dorky pop crooners from The Fifties.
- The Igor: Recurring character Woody Tobias, Jr. is an actual hunchback who aspires to be a serious actor but usually plays this character type to Mad Scientist Dr. Tongue in his 3-D epics. Not only that, but he is far more capable then he would seem.
- Juggling Loaded Guns: In a parody of Captain Kangaroo called "Captain Combat", Gunny Rabbit is shot by an accidental discharge. (Captain Combat's lesson to the kiddies at the end of the sketch: "Never be in a room with a loaded gun unless you're holding it.")
- Kaiju: Grogan on The Tim Ishimura Show and Johnny Nucleo (and Godzilla (!)) on "Towering Inferno."
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Most of the episodes from the show's first three seasons (which were filmed in Canada) and the sixth season (which aired on U.S. pay station Cinemax) are unavailable on DVD, possibly due to rights or music issues.
- Laugh Track: The show never taped before an audience, so most episodes used a sprinkling of very polite canned laughter. According to Dave Thomas, the man responsible for adding the laugh track was a sound technician notable for his lack of any discernible sense of humor, so not only was the existence of the laugh track annoying in itself, it was also poorly executed.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Loads and Loads of Roles: The whole cast of course, but some of the recurring characters played more than one role for the station:
- Newsman Floyd Robertson also portrayed "Count Floyd" on Monster Chiller Horror Theater (a not-uncommon practice at Real Life stations in the heyday of locally-produced kiddie shows and horror hosts.)
- Cleaning woman Perini Scleroso had several star turns in SCTV productions including My Fair Lady, earning her the coveted People's Global Golden Choice Award for "Best Foreign Personality."
- Bill Needle not only hosted a variety of "critic" shows, but turned up once or twice as an actor in SCTV productions.
- The Movie: Strange Brew, which continues the stories of Bob and Doug McKenzie.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Lin Ye Tang, as he demonstrates, not only on Doorway To Hell, but even on Chinese Fairy Tales ("Happy endings! I don' believe in them!").
- Nightmare Retardant: Count Floyd is often frustrated by the tendency of the movies featured on Monster Chiller Horror Theatre to have this, if the films are actually horror films at all.
- No Fourth Wall
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Bittersweet parody in the sketch about the show Oh That Rusty!
- Obfuscating Disability: Used by Guy Cabellero, the owner of the TV station, who used a wheelchair even though he could walk, apparently "for respect".
- Parody Commercial
- Parody Episode: Once the longer formats came into play, the wraparound storylines of several episodes were examples of this.
- Post Modernism
- Psychopathic Manchild: John Candy as Pepi Longsocks
- Punny Name: Many of the character names were puns:
- Tommy Shanks, mayor of Melonville, was named after musician Tommy Banks.
- Floyd Robertson and Earl Camembert after Canadian newsreaders Lloyd Robertson and Earl Cameron.
- Guy Caballero after the movie The Gay Caballero.
- Groundbreaking proto-VJ Gerry Todd's name came from two radio DJs Rick Moranis once worked with, whose first names were Gerry and Todd.
- "Neil Jung, Psychiatrist".
- Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: "Jaws 23"
- Riding the Bomb: Red Rooster in the CCCP 1 episode.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Two 1982 examples: "The People's Global Golden Choice Awards"'s wraparound story is based on the Golden Globes/Pia Zadora scandal. The titular segment of "3D Stake from the Heart" sends up Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart debacle.
- Shown Their Work: The writers generally display a lot of knowledge about what they're parodying, but the "Three-C-P-One" parodies of Soviet television (where CCCP-1 takes over the SCTV satellite) are particularly spot-on and informed by good research.
- Show Within a Show
- Sketch Comedy
- Soap Within a Show: The Days of the Week.
- Something Completely Different: While many of the parodies were straightforward, others placed already established recurring characters in the key roles; Ocean's 11 became Maudlin's 11 by incorporating the Sammy Maudlin Show gang, for instance.
- Springtime for Hitler: Bob and Doug McKenzie were a Take That (see below) that backfired, creating the most popular characters in the show's history.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The Farm Film Report critics like movies with this trope the best. ("Blowed up real good!") Even when reviewing art-house fare. They love Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (where everything blows up at the end), but are sadly and ironically disappointed by Blow Up — in which nothing blows up!
- Stunt Casting: Several musicians also acted in skits, including Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Hall & Oates, and The Boomtown Rats. Several actors also appeared, including Sir John Gieguld, Al Jarreau (who starred in a parody of The Jazz Singer) and John Marley (Jack Woltz from The Godfather, playing the exact same character as the one from the film).
- Subverted Kids Show: Mrs. Falbo's Tiny Town, Pre-Teen World, Happy Hour, and Muley's Roundhouse. And Mister Science with Johnny La Rue.
- Officer Friendly's segment was a very specific one, a parody of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Like the other show, it featured interviews with special guests and cartoon segments. Unlike Mr. Rogers, however, Officer Friendly was a real police officer, and his guests were in jail. When they didn't want to talk to him right away, he'd smile, and introduce the cartoon. After the cartoon ended, the guest had bruises and cut lips, and whimpered, but was much more forthcoming.
- Subverted Trope: Generally portrayed any "show" with all the worst hallmarks, flipped on their end and sprayed with graffiti.
- Take That: Bob and Doug McKenzie were created to mock a CBC requirement that the show contain at least two minutes of "distinctively Canadian content." And yes, the Stylistic Suck was also intentional, the thinking being that this is what the CBC deserved for making such a demand.
- Violent Glaswegian: Angus Crock, in such segments as "Sunrise Semester: Conversational Scottish."
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Guy Cabellero and Bill Needle, critic at large
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Andrea Martin's Perini Scleroso and Mojo each had bizarre and unplaceable foreign accents (but different ones!)
- Supposedly Perini Scleroso was Turkish according to one sketch, but who knows
- White Dwarf Starlet: Lola Heatherton.
- Zoom In Zoom Out: A method of simulating "3-D" effects on the cheap. Averted by the makers of the "Dr. Tongue" series, who were apparently too cheap or incompetent even for that. Instead, the actors simply thrust objects toward the camera, then pulled them back again, to the tune of zoom-in-zoom-out music.
- You Say Tomato: John Candy and Eugene Levy as Yosh and Stan Schmenge each pronounced their last name slightly different (which was part of the joke). Candy pronounced it "Shmen-gee", while Levy's pronunciation sounded more like "Schman-gee."