The funniest network on television began beaming out its signals in 1976, not from the major U.S. metropolises of New York or Los Angeles, but from Toronto—or, as the show claimed, from a hick town called Melonville. SCTV Network, a 90-minute comedy show satirizing the banality of conventional broadcast fare, won two Emmy Awards and widespread acclaim. NBC cancelled it in March, 1983, because it was too expensive to produce for its late Friday night time slot. Since November a shorter 45-minute version, called SCTV Channel, has appeared twice a month on pay TV in Canada and in the United States. Critics have continued to praise the show for maintaining its high standards, despite the departure in recent years of talented performers John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (“Bob and Doug McKenzie”). With remaining veteran cast members also eager to pursue separate careers, however, the show’s future is once again uncertain.
Whatever happens to the show on pay TV, fans of the old SCTV Network will be able to see the zany cast of characters when the program goes into reruns across Canada and the United States this fall. Four television stations—in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and To-
ronto—have already begun broadcasting the original half-hour shows first produced for Global Television in 1976. Eventually, the 90-minute shows, which ran for two seasons on NBC at 12:30 a.m., will be split into 30-minute segments. By September executive producer Andrew Alexander hopes to syndicate an inventory of 156 programs in all major Canadian cities, and in 70 per cent of the U.S. market. He expects that the reruns, which will air in various primetime slots, will greatly expand the audience for SCTV. Said Alexander: “In the United States the show was always something of a well-kept secret. Certainly, it was not on the lips of every American. Now, it will hit a whole new audience that may not have seen it because of the late-night time slot.”
If sales go as well as Alexander says he expects, syndication will also generate substantial financial rewards. He predicts that sales could reach $25 million. The bulk of the profits would go to co-owners Alexander, Len Stuart, an executive producer, and Charles Allard’s Edmonton-based Allarcom Broadcasting Ltd. The performers and writers also stand to gain between $100,000 and $500,000 each. Said Alexander: “It has been a long time coming, but it looks as if we will finally get our return.”
Alexander, 40, has been the principal
force holding SCTV together since it evolved from his successful Second City cabaret theatre in Toronto eight years ago. He hopes to continue the show on pay TV next season, perhaps with greater emphasis on longer parodies of feature films instead of short sketches. Said Alexander: “There comes a point when it is time to say goodbye, but I am not sure that we are there yet.” Still, the tightly knit group of cast members—Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and Martin Short—who have worked together since the early days of Toronto’s Second City, are restless to explore new directions. Many of the stars are frustrated by the limitations of the satiric format. Said Short: “There is a natural tendency to want to go from parodying other people’s work to creating the original model yourself.” Short, celebrated for his brilliant impersonations of Pierre Trudeau, of comedian Jerry Lewis and of syndicated show-business talk-show host Brian Linehan, plans to go to Los Angeles in August to look for movie work. Andrea Martin, 35, whose most memorable character is the tart-tongued SCTV station manager, Edith Prickley, hopes eventually to work in New York theatre. Said Martin: “We think of this as our last season of SCTV. On the other hand, the history of the show has been that we think every season is the end, and we
always end up back together again.”
The individual hopes of the cast are partly due to the successes of SCTV alumni. The most successful so far has been the bulky, moon-faced John Candy, 33. Penthouse magazine carried a profile of him in its March issue, and Playboy featured him dressed up as popular singer Boy George in April. After Candy appeared in 17 films to little fanfare, he has won critical raves for his performance as an amiable buffoon in the Walt Disney Productions hit film Splash, which also featured SCTV’s Eugene Levy. Candy’s triumph has led to a writing and acting contract with Touchstone Films, Disney’s new adult division, and to a costarring role with Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions, a Universal Pictures film that just went into production in Los Angeles.
Perhaps the most direct offshoot of SCTV was the 1983 film Strange Brew, a $5-million MGM production which Thomas and Moranis wrote and directed and in which they also starred as
Bob and Doug McKenzie. Strange Brew, in which the beer-guzzling, half-witted brothers try to prevent an evil scientist from taking over the world by spiking beer with mind-controlling drugs, was the top-grossing Canadian film of 1983 but it generated disappointing returns in the United States. Moranis and Thomas plan to team up this year for another Bob and Doug record in an effort to repeat the runaway success of their 1981 Great White North album, which has sold 800,000 copies in North America.
Despite their ongoing relationship with Bob and Doug, both Moranis, 30, and Thomas, 34, have branched out beyond sketch comedy. Moranis has parts in two major upcoming movies, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire and Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters. Thomas is co-writing and starring in a science fiction comedy series that Toronto-based Nelvana Ltd. and Orion Pictures plan to start filming this summer. Earlier this year he was a regular performer on The New Show, a comedy and variety series, which Saturday Night Live’s founder Lome Michaels produced for NBC and which was dropped after only 10 episodes. Said Thomas: “Having done The New Show, Saturday Night Live and Twilight Theatre (a comedy show starring Steve Martin), there is no question that SCTV is the best of all of them. The performers and writers are unequalled.”
The close ties and mutual admiration within the SCTV group help explain why such veterans as Thomas, Candy and O’Hara have continued to return to SCTV for guest appearances. The performers, who frequently write and produce their own material, also enjoy a high degree of creative control, which is rare in the entertainment industry. Candy believes that independent spirit threatens movie studios and explains why they have not given the performers the recognition they deserved. As well, Candy contends that the earlier success of Saturday Night Live overshadowed SCTV. At Touchstone Films, Candy hopes to exploit those creative talents more fully. SCTV’s Alexander also hopes to reunite the SCTV alumni in a featurelength film, and he recently hired two of the show’s writers, Paul Flaherty and Dick Blasucci, to prepare a script by mid-August. If the project succeeds, it could well give new life to the comic genius of SCTV.
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