Thursday, December 17, 2009

"SCTV Golden Classics" should bring back some of the funniest stuff ever on TV


Ohmygosh, they're . . . Canadian! Early-career SCTV troupers (clockwise from left) John Candy, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, and Andrea Martin. A special SCTV Golden Classics airs tonight at 9, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Chicago's legendary Second City improv-comedy troupe (which was last night, actually), on Long Island public television station WLIW and perhaps other PBS stations, with regular broadcasts beginning in March. This is one of those deals where you really do have to check your local listings.

by Ken

I must have heard both Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, and probably other of the SCTV-ers as well, tell the story of how two burdensome TV realities led to the invention of "Great White North." It was, first, the spread of the originally Canadian show -- it was spun off from Second City's branch in Toronto -- to the U.S., which meant separate U.S. and Canadian editions of each show, thanks to all those splendid U.S. commercials. Somehow the extra Canadian air time had to be filled, and filled with content that wasn't going to be seen in the U.S. At the same time the troupe was under pressure from the Canadian TV powers-that-be to ramp up the show's "Canadian content." It must have been either Moranis or Thomas, the future McKenzie brothers (Bob and Doug, respectively), who wondered aloud what the heck "Canadian content" was -- two guys sitting around in lumberjack shirts drinking beer and saying "eh?"? Voilà "Great White North."

Of course it quickly became so popular that it un-solved the first problem; there was soon no question of leaving it out of the U.S. edition. Here the boys, having heard about a guy who found a mouse in his bottle of beer and got a whole free case, explore the topic of "How to Get a Mouse in a Beer Bottle."

Then there's the sublime team of John Candy and Joe Flaherty as Billie Sol Hurok (maybe my favoritest name in the history of nomenclature; if you young-uns don't get it, look up "Billie Sol Estes" and "Sol Hurok") and Big Jim McBob of "Farm Film Report," where good entertainment is defined as seeing stuff -- ideally people, better still celebrities -- get blowed up, blowed up real good.

Here's a "Farm Film Report" in which Big Jim and Billie Sol, after disposing of the porkbellies, review -- hold your breath -- European movies, and it turns out that Big Jim has a favorite director: that Michael Angelo Antonioni. Of course at the end of his Zabriskie Point everything blows up. A big disappointment, however, was Antonioni's Blow Up, where nothing blows up -- Big Jim got his money back on that one.

One of the things you learn in the 1969-78 volume of Michael Palin's diaries, which covers most of the Monty Python period, if you didn't already know it, is that one area of tension that developed among the Pythongs was over "thematic" shows, which MP and Terry Jones thought would give the more scope and focus while John Cleese was adamantly opposed. (In the Cleese-less fourth season, they did more of it.) SCTV was theme-bound from the outset, telling sketch-comedy tales of life at fictional TV station SCTV in fictional Melonville, owned by the super-sleazy and sinister Guy Caballero (another Flaherty character) and overseen by station manager Edith Prickly (sorry, no pair of adjectives I can think of will convey this protean character portrayed by the great Andrea Martin), and featuring a cast of semidemiluminaries written and portrayed by the high-power team of writer-performers pictured above (joined later by Martin Short).

The folks at comedy-friendly WLIW are pretty juiced about SCTV Golden Classics. Here's their précis:
SCTV, or Second City Television, followed the exploits of an aspiring fictional television station, led by Owner and President Guy Caballero (Flaherty), and the inimitable personalities who starred in its local programs. Spoofing TV programming staples like game shows, talk shows and film shows, famous sketches featured in SCTV Golden Classics include “The Great White North” with Canadian brothers Bob (Moranis) and Doug (Thomas) McKenzie; “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre” Host Count Floyd (Flaherty) previewing “Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Stewardesses” starring mad scientist Dr. Tongue (Candy) and hunch-backed servant Bruno (Levy); hillbillies Big Jim McBob (Flaherty) and Billy Sol Hurok’s (Candy) “Farm Film Report” blowing up Neil Sedaka (Levy); and parodies of Jeopardy! (“High Q with Alex Trebel” with Levy as host), The Merv Griffin Show and The Dick Cavett Show, both featuring Moranis as host. Laugh-out-loud celebrity impersonations and musical numbers include Candy as Pavorotti in a chewing gum ad; Levy as Perry Como singing disco hits; O’Hara as Katherine Hepburn and washed-up singer/actress Lola Heatherton; Martin as Ethel Merman and Indira Gandhi; Short as Jerry Lewis and pointy-haired nerd Ed Grimley; Leutonian polka stars The Happy Wanderers featuring the Shmenge Brothers (Candy and Levy); and barbershop-style vocal group 5 Neat Guys (Candy, Flaherty, Levy, Thomas, and Moranis) singing their neatest hits “She Does It,” “Who Brought the Egg Salad Sandwiches” and more.

Labels: ,


At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Lee said...


It was my favorite tv..Its where I fell in love with Andrea Martin

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous wjbill said...

That crew was great! I remember going to Chicago SC years ago and seeing the routine about the guy who died because he got his head stuck in an industrial sized baked bean can ...... and some at the wake could not keep from breaking down with laughter.

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous empressmitzi said...

Nice to see that SCTV love is still alive and well out there. Every time I see a TV clip of Luke Russert I think of the classic Earl Camembert bit where he lets his son Earl Junior fill in for him reading the news, prompting this exchange:

Earl: The boy's a budding media journalist, Floyd...

Floyd Robertson: He's a budding moron!

At 9:03 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

That's wonderful, Mitzi! I'm still laughing!



Post a Comment

<< Home