Second City Television (SCTV)

“Don’t touch that dial! Don’t touch that one either!
Stop touching yourself! SCTV is on the air!”

Everyone remembers Second City Television (SCTV) a little differently. Some of us caught it in its earlier years; others, thanks to word-of-mouth, caught on a little later. The one thing we can all say for sure was that the show was solid and if you were watching it, you were guaranteed a good laugh by the time the credits rolled around. Second City Television featured the best of the best in Canadian comedy, with most of the cast going on to big careers in television and film, and it is fondly remembered by millions to this day.

SCTV started off in 1976 as a half-hour show on Global in Canada, running for two years. After taking the 1978 TV season off, the show moved to CBC for its third season. It also caught syndication in the U.S. and was picked up by NBC as a 90-minute season replacement show under the name SCTV Network 90, then shortened back to its original name SCTV.

The idea behind the show was that it was a TV station for the city of Melonville. The station, SCTV, was ran by the greedy Guy Caballero (played by Joe Flaherty), who sat in a wheelchair so that he could “gain respect” and get leverage in his business deals. The station stayed away from the usual fare, and only put on a strange array of cheap local programming, from game shows like “Shoot the Stars” to soap operas like “The Days of the Week.” They also provided other programming, such as Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Bob!” and “Monster Horror Chiller Theater.” The station was filled with lively characters, like Johnny La Rue, critic Bill Needle, newscaster Earl Camembert and Ms. Edith Prickley.

The show originated out of the comedy troupe involved with the Canadian Second City stage show. Since it was not a live show, much attention and care was given toward the premise, going as far as to support its ‘programming’ with commercials, not once losing the premise that it was a low budget television station. The real show had a moderate budget and few resources outside of the immense talent of the cast of characters, and participation above and beyond the norm by crew members, but it made the most with what it had. All told, SCTV was a launching pad of epic proportions, much like its American counterpart, Saturday Night Live.

Its original cast included a who’s-who of Canadian comedy. John Candy would go on to fame in on the big screen in a number of films, including Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Joe Flaherty would later appear as the pop to a couple of Freaks and Geeks. Eugene Levy is known as much for his role in the American Pie film series as he is for his numerous turns in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries where he often appeared alongside fellow SCTV alumni Catherine O’Hara, who has appeared in numerous pop culture favorites, including Home Alone and Beetlejuice. Harold Ramis would go on to write a long chain of notably quotable movies, with Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Stripes leading the pack. In later seasons, they would be joined by the honey who shrunk the kids, Rick Moranis, and Mars Attacks! press secretary (and SNL alumni) Martin Short.

During its run from 1976 to 1984, SCTV picked up a respectable thirteen Emmy nods, taking two of them home for Best Writing. The show has influenced numerous shows we’ve seen through the years, such as The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The Kids in the Hall, and even The Simpsons, making it a seminal part of the comedy of yesterday, as well as the comedy of today.

If you have fond memories of watching SCTV, or have a favorite sketch you would like to mention, we’d love to hear all of your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Canadian comedy at its finest.

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