Top row, left to right: Eugene Levy as Bobby Bittman, John Candy as Johnny LaRue, Andrea Martin as Edith Prickley. Bottom row, left to right: Catherine O'Hara as Dusty Towne, Joe Flaherty as Guy Caballero, Rick Moranis as Bob McKenzie and Dave Thomas as his brother Doug.
"There were six people who loved to watch television, but they didn't like what they saw—so they decided to do something about it..."
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 a television station in 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. Add in latecomers Rick Moranis
and Martin Short
, and you have a veritable who's who of '70s-'80s Canadian comedynote
. 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:
- 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.
- And You Were There: The Fantasy Island episode, and later with Lola Heatherton in the "Bouncin' Back To You" sequence.
- Berserk Button: Mayor Tommy Shanks seems to live in his own loopy world. He even shrugs off accusations that he's corrupt. Then, a drunk Floyd Robertson makes comments about his mother. Shanks is NOT amused AT ALL.
- Bill Needle DOES NOT like to be corrected.
- 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 Caballero 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 that is so bad that Guy Caballero orders the broadcast halted in the middle of an atrocious sketch with Bob and Doug as the Festrunk Brothers (Two Wild and Crazy Guys).
- Breakup Breakout: Linsk Minyk after he left The Happy Wanderers.
- Canada, Eh?: Taken to a truly extreme length in the episode "The Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary Show", where the station has to pipe in programming 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?
- The Caper: Thoroughly spoofed in "Maudlin's Eleven".
- Catch Phrase: Both straight (Bob and Doug, Count Floyd, Mayor Tommy Shanks) and subverted (Lola Heatherton, Bobby Bittman)
- Caustic Critic: Bill Needle, big time.
- 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.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Many characters, with Bob and Doug being notable examples.
- Corpsing: In a sketch where a Scotsman and a rabbi exchange stereotypical insults at each other, Rick Moranis, who plays Rabbi Karlov, is clearly stifling his laughter directed at the insults he comes up with for the Scotsman.
- Possibly, but it could also be the character of Rabbi Karlov stifling his glee at coming up with (what he thinks are) brilliant insults.
- Harold Ramis, in his sketches from season 1, corpses constantly. See, for example, Do-It-Yourself Dentistry, in which he constantly looks off screen and smiles at the crew, because that's real rum in that bottle, which he didn't know until he took a drink. He ended up legitimately plastered after this sketch. and this scene from Ben-Hur, where he again grins and glances off camera while John Candy barks at him.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Guy Caballero ranks up with Mr. Burns in all-around venality.
- Corrupt Politician: Melonville Mayor Tommy Shanks, who was involved in bribery, though his corruption is more along the lines of him being too stupid to know any better than any inherent vice.
- Dark Reprise: Parodied in Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice. The early scenes in The Maritimes are set to the sprightly "To It And At It" by Canadian folk-country icon Stompin' Tom Connors. Once they get to Toronto, it's replaced by a slower, grittier hard rock Cover Version.
- 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.
- Death Trap: Used in the Talking Projector sketch and the Six Gun Justice sketches.
- Deconstructive Parody: Everything from Ingmar Bergman classics to old Canadian movies.
- Downer Ending: Subverted in "CCCP 1", where Edith Prickley assures the audience that nobody died when the Russians retaliated against SCTV, but since The Cold War was going on at the time, the future between North America and Russia is uncertain at that point.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first season is remarkably different from the later seasons:
- Actors appear as themselves instead of their characters
- Dr. Tongue was a children's show host instead of an actor in a movie.
- Johnny LaRue was a part of the SCTV News and was a children's show host.
- Excited Kids' Show Host: Mr. Messenger
- Fake Band: Yosh and Stan Schmenge and "The Happy Wanderers", the Lemon Twins.
- Food Porn: Used in "Emergency Caterers".
- 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.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: The Pre-Teen World band The Recess Monkeys and their rendition of "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" (originally by Canadian band Chilliwack).
- Horror Host: Count Floyd.
- Humor Dissonance: In-universe in Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite ("SCTV Staff Christmas Party"). In The Sammy Maudlin Show leading up to the film's debut, Simon makes a quip about something being "an uplifting experience, not unlike Dolly Parton's Cross-Your-Heart Bra" that has trouble getting laughs from the host and sidekick, much less the audience. In the film itself, the main character — a Simon Expy — makes much the same quip while trying to check into an overbooked hotel, and the staff thinks it's so funny that they find a room for him and his wife on the spot.
- 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.
- It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: Reporter Tawny Beaver (played by Andrea Martin) insists her surname is pronounced “bea-VAY”
- 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 Ishimuni Show and Johnny Nucleo (and Godzilla (!)) on "Towering Inferno."
- 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.
- Goes beyond even that- the cast would sometimes play impressionists playing famous actors in movies (think Frank Caliendo's bit as Robin Williams as all the characters in The Wizard of Oz).
- Mind Screw: "Walter Cronkite's Brain".
- Minsky Pickup: A lot of the Schmenge Brothers' polkas ended with one. The "Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka" ended with variants on the theme that went on for half a minute.
- 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 even horror films at all, as opposed to old Rat Pack movies or Ingmar Bergman films.
- No Fourth Wall
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Bittersweet parody in the sketch about the show Oh That Rusty!
- Obfuscating Disability: Used by Guy Caballero, the owner of the TV station, who used a wheelchair even though he could walk, apparently "for respect".
- Only Sane Man: The male secretary in "The Millionaire".
- Overly Narrow Superlative: Count Floyd claims that The Blood-Sucking Monkeys From West Mifflin, Pennsylvania won the "Western Pennsylvania Fright Award" in 1978.
- Parody Commercial
- Parody Episode: Once the longer formats came into play, the wraparound storylines of several episodes were examples of this.
- Post Modernism
- Psychopathic Man Child: Pepi Longsocks (played by Candy).
- 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".
- Billy Sol Hurok is a double pun, referencing Billie Sol Estes and Sol Hurok.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The cast wrote a few episodes based on what's happening behind the scenes. Some episodes include:
- "Lunchtime Street Beef"
- "Moral Majority"
- "The Great White North Palace"
- Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: "Jaws 23"
- Riding the Bomb: Red Rooster in the CCCP 1 episode.
- Ripped from the Headlines:
- "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.
- The episode where Guy writes a bad check to Fred Willard is based on the David Begelman/Cliff Robertson incident, which had been the subject of the recent nonfiction bestseller Indecent Exposure.
- The CBC episode was inspired by NBC's decision to show Canadian Football League games during the 1982 NFL players' strike.
- 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.
- Especially evident in the 30 minute episodes, which would often do a full day's worth of shows in 30 minutes (and in the proper order, at that). See here for a list of the most common programs.
- Show Within a Show
- Single Tear: David Brinkley sheds one as he watches over the infant Walter Cronkite on the planet Krypton in "Walter Cronkite's Brain".
- 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.
- Straw Feminist: "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Right, And No Guy's Gonna Tell Me It Ain't", a short-lived play created by the feminist character Libby Wolfson, pushes the envelope on this trope.
- 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 Blowup — in which nothing blows up! But they loved Scanners.
- 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 were 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. To use the absolute minimum effort and resources, all the bits for a season were improvised and recorded late in a single night with only a camera operator for a crew. The segments were always exactly 2 minutes long, the minimum required by CBC.
- Violent Glaswegian: Angus Crock, in such segments as "Sunrise Semester: Conversational Scottish."
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Guy Caballero 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?
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The show is set in a town called Melonville, with a location only ever pinned down to the country: the United States of America, and that's only because the show's default currency seems to be American dollars and various P.O. boxes are located in the U.S.
- The fact that they piped in content from the CBC in one episode and Earl Camembert goes down to San Francisco in another seems to point to Melonville being somewhere in the far northern U.S., near the Canadian border, but this doesn't really narrow it down much (anywhere from New England to the far northern Midwest to the northern reaches of the Rockies to The Other Rainforest). Much like the trope namer, Melonville is everywhere and nowhere.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Lola Heatherton.
- Widget Series
- World of Ham
- 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."
- Earl Camembert always pronounced his last name "Cannonbear", the subtle joke being that he's so dense he doesn't know how to say his own name!
- However, Floyd Robertson also pronounced Camembert as "cannonbear," so either that's how it's really pronounced or they are both just that dense!
- Earl's name is actually mentioned in a season 1 news sketch. Floyd asks why "Camembert" is not pronounced like the cheese but like "Cannonbear," and Earl replies with "That's just how I say it, Floyd."
- 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.