SCTV Volume 4 is on the air!
In the early ‘80s, while Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo got most of the attention on Saturday Night Live, all of the cool, hipsters knew that the funniest show on television was SCTV. The talented cast and writers were creating brilliant satire and hysterical comedy. Beginning in 1976, SCTV originally aired as a half-hour in syndication but for some reason the knuckleheads at CBS and ABC were out of the loop and allowed NBC to pick up the show, illustrating once again that they were geniuses in late-night programming. It aired in 90-minute installments on Friday nights after The Tonight Show.
This 6-disc set covers Season 5 of the series, also known as cycles 4 and 5 of its NBC run. The airdates were from November 1982 to March 1983. The show should have stumbled because almost half of the cast left when this season started up. Upon their departure, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis were the most well known cast members because of their Bob and Doug McKenzie characters. When Catherine O’Hara split, it left Andrea Martin as the only female, although O’Hara did return once for the “Christmas” episode. Yet the show went ahead just as funny as before because of the talents of its writing staff and the cast of Martin, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Martin Short, who took on a bigger role after recently joining at the tail end of the cycle 3, first appearing in “Battle of the PBS Stars.” This season also includes guest stars SCTV alumnus Harold Ramis, Fred Willard, Betty Thomas and Robin Williams, who starred in a funny spoof called “The Bowery Boys in the Band” about Slip from The Bowery Boys being a homosexual and hosting a birthday party.
SCTV was a sketch comedy show that was anchored by the idea that there was a fictional channel that broadcast out of Melonville. The sketches were broken down into programming for the station, featuring parodies of film and television like Jerry Lewis in Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From An Idiot’s Marriage, and “Night of the Prime Time Stars” as well as behind-the-scenes activities at the network that provided a story to drive the show and give it a cohesiveness. These stories, called “wraparounds,” were created to give episodes a loose story that usually ran through an episode like “Sweeps Week,” where a poltergeist vaporizes staff members, election night coverage entitled “Melonvote,” and “The Towering Inferno” where the network facilities are placed in Melonville’s new skyscraper.
The show was filled with a number of reoccurring characters, such as station owner Guy Caballero, who rode around in a wheelchair for respect, station manager Edith Prickley, the polka-playing Shmenge Brothers, and albino performer Jackie Jones, Jr. There were also reoccurring sketches, programs that aired on the network like “Farm Film Celebrity Blow-up,” which blew up celebrities “real good,” the children’s show “Mrs. Falbo’s Tiny Town,” commercials for Edna Boyle’s Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium, and Count Floyd’s “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre,” which had one of the funniest bits in the entire set with the 3-D film Midnight Cowboy II, starring Dr. Tongue and Woody Tobias, Jr.
Some of the comedy is topical or obscure, limiting the humor’s potential. One wraparound had the janitors go on strike so the station broadcasts shows from the Canadian Broadcasting Channel in the same way that Canadian Football was aired during the NFL strike of 1982. During “Sweeps Week,” a poltergeist is vaporizing staff members and in the summer of '82 Poltergeist had been a huge hit. While the viewer might not know anything about Canadian television or Poltergeist, the sketches, although they are funny, might not be as humorous without the complete context of the joke understood.
NBC requested that the show include performances by musicians. Unlike SNL, SCTV found ways to incorporate the acts into the show. John Cougar appeared in a parody of The Nutty Professor as the alter ego of Ed Grimley’s character. Ben Vereen took part in comedian Bobby Bittman’s Retirement show, and Joe Walsh and his band went on a snipe hunt with the Fishin’ Musician. Other artists who appear in this set are America, Andrae Crouch, Crystal Gayle and Linda Hopkins.
Each of the six discs has extra material. On Disc 1, Short and Flaherty provide commentary that is amusing and, at times, insightful about the group’s creative process. They laugh at things, and Flaherty, like the true artist and neurotic, is still annoyed by certain errors on screen and backstage affairs. Also, there is material from the Canadian programs they spoofed to provide a context to the viewer. Disc 2 features an amazing find: 8mm film of the cast and crew playing softball, including Thomas and Moranis. Disc 3 has another commentary track by Short and O'Hara during the “Christmas” episode. It is absolutely worthless as they get caught up watching the show and don’t talk. Short tries to coax O'Hara, but she seem completely obvious to the concept, as if they interrupting. There is also an informative 30-minute interview with Short as he talks about how he started in comedy, in Toronto’s Second City and his time on SCTV. Disc 4 has a feature on Flaherty recreating his Sammy Maudlin character at Toronto’s Second City in 2004. The sketch was all right, but the world of show business that Maudlin spoofs isn’t around any more, so the character is a bit of an anachronism. Disc 5 has a brief interview with show producer Len Stuart. Disc 6 contains a snippet of the program Outdoor Adventures with Red Fisher, which was the basis for the Fishin’ Musician sketch.
This was the last season SCTV appeared on NBC before moving to Cinemax for one last season. Its peers recognized it by awarding it all five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program. Everywhere you look, the cast still appears in movies and television, and while they have all had success, SCTV is the pinnacle of their comedic achievements. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of sketch comedy should make sure they can tune into SCTV.