Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

The Last SCTV

I think it was film critic Roger Ebert who once said he felt sad after watching his last unseen Marx Brothers movie, because it meant he would never again experience a film of theirs that was new to him. I know exactly how he felt, because earlier this week—and nearly 33 years after the fact—I finally watched the last episode of my favorite television program of all time, the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV. And just like Roger, after the end credits played out, and I knew it was over for good, I too felt a little sad.

sctv-photo-cinemax-blackSCTV—the acronym for Second City Television—aired its final installment on the pay channel Cinemax (and on Superchannel in Canada) on July 17, 1984, ending a seven-year run that saw it go from 30-minute syndicated programs to two seasons of 90-minute shows on NBC, and then finally to an 18-episode stint on the above-mentioned pay cable channels, where the show’s length was cut to 45 minutes and the cast was cut to four. What began with a team of Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, and Harold Ramis, and would later see the addition of new cast members Rick Moranis and Martin Short, had been whittled down to just Flaherty, Martin, Levy, and Short for that final season.

My friends and I had discovered the half-hour shows when they first aired here in the US, during our freshman year of high school, and I soon introduced SCTV to my brother Scott, who became hooked along with the rest of us. At last, we’d found a television show that understood our sense of humor! Many late-night Fridays and Saturdays were spent watching this goofy little comedy, and when NBC announced that they’d soon be televising the show—an hour-and-a-half of it—every Friday night at 12:30 am, we were ecstatic. And we loved these new SCTV Network 90 shows; the production value had gone up, the writing had improved, and the skits were not only funnier, but smarter and more complex. Every Friday night I’d race home from my nighttime job at a local supermarket to sit down with Scott and enjoy our weekly dose of comedy heaven, not once thinking it would ever end.

sctv-note-from-scott-final-90Sadly, thanks to the numbnuts at NBC, it did come to an end, on a June night in 1983, after two short but glorious seasons on the air. I was in shock; I remember the exact day when I looked in the TV Guide to check on that week’s episode, and in the synopsis saw these words: Last show of the series. Say WHAT! And then I noticed the episode was a repeat…how in the world did I miss it the first time around, back in March? As you can imagine, the news of the cancellation was devastating to me, and at that point, I thought I’d truly seen my last SCTV.

But less than a year later, after I’d arrived home from another late shift at work, I found a note from Scott which contained some surprising news: he’d somehow stumbled upon a brand-new episode of SCTV earlier that night on Cinemax! At the time, our family couldn’t afford the luxury of pay channels, but for those of you old enough to remember, what we did have were cable boxes, and with careful manipulation of the box dial, the scrambled signal could be somewhat straightened, and the picture thus watchable. And so whenever we could find an episode, that’s how we’d watch it: through a fuzzy haze of bent lines and twisting images.

That summer our family moved to a small country town where cable wasn’t available, and though I’d been able to catch most of the eighteen Cinemax episodes that aired before our departure, I never did have the chance to see the final one. It would be another twenty years before I’d be able to watch any episode of SCTV again, when the NBC seasons were released on DVD, and though I was grateful for having those two seasons in my possession, I still eagerly awaited the release of that final season on Cinemax. Which unfortunately never happened.

sctv-photo-cinemax-wide-2So, you must be asking yourself by now: how and when did I ever watch that last episode? Well, jump forward to 2014, when I did one of my semi-annual searches on-line for anything SCTV, and found that someone had taken his original collection of Cinemax episodes, transferred them from VHS to disc, and was now selling the entire set for a mere twenty bucks! I jumped on that offer like white on rice, and over the next two years I slowly savored every one of those first seventeen episodes, in all their faded, tracking-lined, warped-over-time glory. Though the season—now called SCTV Channel—wasn’t quite up to par when compared to the NBC offerings, there was still a lot to be loved, including Canadian Gaffes and Practical Amusements, the Oliver Twist take-off Oliver Grimley, and the wonderful mash-up of the German U-boat film Das Boot and the teen sex comedy Porky’s, called Das Boobs.

And that eighteenth and final episode? Well, it took me another year, but I finally caved in and sat down to watch it, late on the night of my birthday…one last present to myself for the day. And trust me, it was quite strange to be watching an episode that was so new, and yet so old; a missing link awakened from a long hibernation. Interesting, too, was that the entire episode concentrated on a pledge drive for the SCTV station, with different station characters—including Bobby Bittman, Count Floyd, and a surprise appearance from Catherine O’Hara as Lola Heatherton—begging viewers for money. There were no skits, but instead a comically dubbed presentation of the Bette Davis movie Of Human Bondage, here titled The Steve Bashekis Story, which played throughout the drive.

sctv-photo-bye-highAnd then—all too suddenly—it was over. With only $111 pledged, the station was kaput, and when station owner and president Guy Caballero hurried off to take a call from his mistress, station manager Edith Prickley remained to give a short speech and say goodbye. The familiar end credits rolled, the familiar end credits music played, and it was done.

At the very end of Dave Thomas’s book SCTV: Behind the Scenes, fellow cast member Joe Flaherty makes a statement that, to me, sums up what it was like to be a part of that show. He said, “We will never have that chance again. We will never get that kind of shot at it.” And like my final viewing, I will never have that chance again to watch a ‘new’ episode of SCTV. Thankfully, I’ve got all those seasons on disc to enjoy whenever I want; in fact, I think I’ll watch an early episode tonight, and start the cycle all over again.

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12 comments on “The Last SCTV

  1. Dracula
    2/5/17

    Even though it has been decades since I have last seen an episode of SCTV your story brings back memories of the comedy series. Most of the crew became household names as they went on to star in film just like the original cast of Saturday Night Live. NBC should do away with SNL these days as I can hardly get through 10 minutes of it and bring back SCTV. Maybe we can start a GoFundMe account for the series!

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      Has it really been decades since you last saw an episode? I’ll have to bring some over next time I visit, and get you reacquainted. But then again, I haven’t watched SNL in decades, either, so I guess we’re even. In that SCTV book I mentioned, there’s talk about getting the cast back together, but since John Candy wouldn’t be a part of it, none of them really want to. I’m guessing a GoFundMe collection would probably have to reach into the millions to change some minds and make it work. And do you remember the first episode of SCTV you and I ever saw?

  2. Beautifully written and surprisingly touching. In my opinion, this is the best tribute to SCTV I’ve ever read.

    Thank you so much for joining the blogathon and for treating us to this insightful essay.

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      Ruth, thank you for starting my Sunday off on such a high note! What a wonderful thing to say…I truly appreciate it. And thank you for allowing me to take part in a fun blogathon!

  3. Kristina
    2/5/17

    Love this and agree, got many laughs and quotable lines from this gang and loved your tribute! Thanks so much for joining us!

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      Yes, a million quotable lines from that show, that my brother and I have used for years! “Maybe you didn’t hear me so good…I said TOWERING INFERNO!” I always have a blast with your blogathons, Kristina…thanks again for letting me take part!

  4. Best review yet Todd – wonderful tribute indeed! I know how much you love / loved SCTV and this is a great reminder – of you and the hilarious series that should be replayed indefinitely. Thanks!

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      Thanks, Julie! I can’t remember if you’ve ever seen an episode, so in case you haven’t, click here for a little preview of what you’re missing!

  5. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. SCTV means so much to so many of us who share that wry, yet strangely in a way, sentimental sense of humour. No matter how biting or clear-eyed be the spoofs, the sense of understanding underlies everything. The cast was/is brilliant; no one else was ever as clever and versatile.

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      This is what’s so great about a blogathon devoted to Canada: everyone knows and loves SCTV! I never grow tired of watching these shows and sketches; just now I went to YouTube to copy a link to a clip, and spent an hour watching SCTV skits I’d seen dozens of times already!

      And you hit it on the head when you mentioned its sentimental sense of humor; watching the show never fails to take me back to the early ’80s, and waiting with anticipation for Friday nights to arrive. As always, thanks for the visit and the kind words, Patricia!

  6. Great job on a personal story which of course I always love relaying as well from my own movie and TV experiences. I remember discovering it on late night TV and my parents basically saying, “What the hell are you watching?” They just didn’t get it. I have some of the shows on DVD and really should revisit them. Have a feeling my own sons would love the skits. They know the actors from other roles and many of the films they parody so maybe I should round them up for a viewing. Well done!

    • Todd B
      2/5/17

      Thank you, o blogging friend of the north! Yes, I’d say it’s definitely time for a revisit…and do bring your sons along for the ride, they seem to enjoy the things that you like. You can guide them through any of the late-70s/early-80s references they don’t understand! My brother and I were lucky that my Dad liked the show too, although he usually didn’t stay up that late when it was first on. And maybe you and I should ditch the review writing and stick to talking about our movie-related memories instead!

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