SECOND CITY TELEVISION (SCTV)

Canadian Comedy Program

Second City Television (SCTV) was a popular comedy television show originating from Canada that ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s in a variety of incarnations. Pulling much of its talent and ideas from the Chicago and Toronto Second City comedy venues, the show became an important pipeline for comedians, especially Canadians, into the mainstream of the U.S. entertainment market. Popular performers who moved from SCTV into U.S. television and movies include John Candy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Joe Flaherty, and Eugene Levy. Their training in live improvisational comedy has meant that they continue to appear in a variety of capacities, but primarily as writers and performers.

SCTV's early opening credit sequence set the tone for the show. As the announcer says, "SCTV now begins its programming day," a number of television sets are thrown out of an apartment building's windows, smashing on the pavement below. Using impersonations of well-known celebrities and ongoing original characters, SCTV presented a parody of every aspect of television, including programs, advertising, news, and network executives. In effect, SCTV was a cross between a spoof of television and a loose parodic soap opera about the running of the fictional Melonville television station. The station's personnel included the owner Guy Caballero (Flaherty), the station manager, Moe Green (Ramis), to be replaced by Edith Prickley (Martin), whose sister Enda Boil (also Martin) advertised her Organ Emporium with husband Tex (Thomas), in a parody of cheap late-night commercials. Other recurring figures were the bon vivant and itinerant host Johnny LaRue (Candy) and the endearingly inept Ed Grimley (Short). Over the years, the SCTV programming line-up included the local news, read by Floyd Robertson (Flaherty) and Earl Camembert (Eugene Levy), "Sunrise Semester," "Fishin' Musician," and "The Sammy Maudlin Show," hosted by Maudlin (Flaherty) and his sidekick William B (Candy), and with regular guests appearances from Bobby Bittman (Levy) and Lola Heatherton (O'Hara). Other spoofs include Yosh and Stan Shmenge's polka show (Levy and Candy), Count Floyd's "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre," whose host was played by the news anchor Floyd Robertson (Flaherty), the ersatz children's show "Captain Combat" (Thomas), "Farm Film Report" (Flaherty and Candy), and the improvised editorials of Bob and Doug Mackenzie's "Great White North" (Moranis and Thomas).

SCTV's trademark was the use of complex intertextual references to produce original hybrid comic sketches. A parody of The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) becomes a story of the Mafia-like operations of television networks. "Play it Again, Bob" takes Play it Again, Sam (Woody Allen, 1972) and pairs Woody Allen (Moranis) with Bob Hope (Thomas). Brooke Shields (O'Hara) and Dustin Hoffman (Martin) are guests on the "Farm Film Report," where they "blow up real good." In the station owner's attempt to capture a youth audience, SCTV tried to mimic Saturday Night Live, with guest host Earl Camembert, a ridiculously over-enthusiastic studio audience, and set-ups based around humorless references to drug use. SCTV's continual use of mise en abyme devices produced an intricate, layered text, in addition to a knowing fan culture. Further, this program, with its markedly satirical view of television and North American culture in general, is an important contribution to the notion that Canadian humour is ironic, self-deprecatory and parodic.

The show's history begins in 1976, when Andrew Alexander, Len Stuart and Bernie Sahlins produced the first half-hour episodes, called Second City Television for Global Television Network in Toronto, where it ran for two seasons. Filmways Productions acquired the syndication rights for the U.S. market in 1977.

A deal was struck in 1979 with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Allarcom Ltd. in which the show would move to Edmonton for broadcast on the national CBC network. In 1981, NBC bought the program, shifted it to a ninety-minute format and moved the show back to Toronto. At NBC, it became part of the "Late Night Comedy Wars" between the re-named SCTV Network 90 on Fridays from 12:30 A.M. to 2:00 A.M., ABC's Fridays on the same night from 12:30 A.M. to 1:30 A.M., and NBC's Saturday Night Live. When NBC did not renew SCTV Network 90 in 1983, Cinemax took it over. Over the years, SCTV produced 72 half-hour shows, 42 90-minute shows, and 18 45-minute shows, as well as numerous spin-offs and specials. With thirteen Emmy nominations, SCTV won two for best writing. The show has since been re-edited and repackaged into a half-hour "best of" format for syndication.

-Charles R. Acland

 


Second City Television
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable

CAST

Guy Caballero ............................................Joe Flaherty
Moe Green............................................... Harold Ramis
Edith Prickley ..........................................Andrea Martin
Earl Camembert........................................ Eugene Levy
Floyd Robertson .........................................Joe Flaherty
Count Floyd ...............................................Joe Flaherty
Dr. Tongue .................................................John Candy
Bruno....................................................... Eugene Levy
Johnny Larue ..............................................John Candy
Bob MacKenzie........................................ Dave Thomas
Doug MacKenzie .......................................Rick Moranis
Tex Boil................................................... Dave Thomas
Edna Boil ................................................Andrea Martin
Mayor Tommy Shanks .................................John Candy
The Schmenge Brothers ....John Candy and Eugene Levy
Perini Scleroso........................................ Andrea Martin
Ed Grimley ................................................Martin Short
Lin Ye Tang .............................................Dave Thomas
Sammy Maudlin .........................................Joe Flaherty
William B. ..................................................John Candy
Bobby Bittman.......................................... Eugene Levy
Lola Heatherton ...................................Catherine O'Hara
Big Jim McBob ...........................................John Candy
Billy Saul Hurok......................................... Joe Flaherty
Harry, the Guy with the Snake on His Face ....John Candy
Rockin' Mel Slurp .......................................Eugene Levy
Jackie Rogers, Jr. ......................................Martin Short
Rusty van Reddick......................................Martin Short

PRODUCERS Andrew Alexander, Ben Stuart, Bernie Sahlins

PROGRAMMING HISTORY    72 Half Hour Programs 42 Ninety Minute Programs 18 Forty-five Minute Programs

Global Television
1976-78

CBC
1976-1980

NBC
1981-1983                                             12:30-2:00 A.M.

Cinemax Cable
1983-1984                                                Various Times

FURTHER READING

McCrohan, Donna McCrohan. The Second City: A Backstage History of Comedy's Hottest Troupe. New York: Perigree, 1987.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English