TV, eh? Rewind: SCTV

By Dexter Brown

What look back at Canadian TV would be complete without SCTV? So grab your Shower In A Briefcase and fling your TV out the window, we’re taking a trip to Melonville.

SCTV (Global 1976-1979, CBC 1980-1983, Superchannel 1983-1984) played out like a warped funhouse mirror to the television landscape of its day. Satirizing everything from Hollywood blockbusters, campy B-movies, network news, overly dramatic soap operas, idiotic children’s programming, bland talk shows to commercials and network bumpers, SCTV is probably one of the most versatile TV shows to hit the airwaves. Each episode consisted of sketches intended to mimic programming from a typical broadcast day from a low-budget station in a town called Melonville.

Characters from the show have turned into Canadian icons; Bob and Doug McKenzie are perhaps the most popular, spawning a movie and an animated sitcom long after SCTV bit the dust. Guy Caballero, the president of SCTV, local celebrity Johnny La Rue, and news anchor Floyd Robertson (yes, named after CBC/CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson) all could be characterized as jerks with short fuses. These characters are in addition to a wide array of impersonations, including Bob Hope, Tammy Faye Bakker and Divine.

With a host of characters striking a chord with the public, it would only be logical to think that SCTV would’ve launched its stars into the mainstream, and it did. Many of the stars went on to bigger and better things on television and the big screen. John Candy appeared in Home Alone, Cool Runnings and JFK. Eugene Levy has appeared in the American Pie film series as well as A Mighty Wind and more recently Goon. And Martin Short went on to become a cast member on Saturday Night Live (as did fellow cast members Tony Rosato and Robin Duke), starred in Primetime Glick and was a judge on Canada’s Got Talent.

Memorable episodes of SCTV include The Battle of the Networks Stars parody “The Battle of the PBS Stars,” where Julia Child and Mr. Rogers, for example, competed in athletic events. Another episode consisted of a spoof simulcast of the CBC due to a writer’s strike at SCTV. Also memorable was the show’s Towering Inferno parody, “Top of the Reactor,” where the SCTV studios were moved into the world’s tallest and thinnest building and a nuclear reactor was placed on top.

With its brilliant satire of late ’70s and early ’80s TV, you can’t help but imagine what SCTV would be like in today’s world of 500+ channels, the majority owned by three or four large corporations. The essence of SCTV did carry over to the YTV series That’s So Weird. Both SCTV and That’s So Weird consist of a series of sketches meant to be taken as television shows or commercials airing on a fictional low budget television network. Sadly however, That’s So Weird’s writing feels lazy compared to SCTV, the actors don’t seem nearly as versatile, and overall it feels less inspired. Still, those are points that could be made when comparing many of the shows today to ones from yesteryear and you have to take into consideration That’s So Weird is a kids’ series airing on basic cable in Canada.

CBC’s long-running series This Hour Has 22 Minutes also shares a bit in common with SCTV. Although 22 Minutes is largely a satirical news show (SCTV did have fake news sketches but they were not as prominent as the news bits of 22 Minutes), it did have television and ad parody sketches that are very SCTV-esque. CTV’s Canada AM was regularly satirized as “Canada in the Morning” and Nancy Grace as “Panic Room with Betty Hope” for example. The television show and ad parody sketches are brief and typically appear as bumpers to commercial breaks leaving their presence limited.

Perhaps there won’t ever be a show quite like SCTV again. Catch reruns on The Comedy Network and Comedy Gold.