Second City Television is the coolest 40 year old in 2016.
Humor is subjective. That’s the rule. It targets people differently with different reasoning, often completely missing its mark. Much like advertising, humor has to have a target audience in order to survive. It’s the reason we have television ratings. It’s the reason we track DVD sales. It’s the reason we have polls before elections.
But for some of the most historic in humor, the rules of subjectivity simply do not apply. For instance, The Marx Brothers. If you don’t find them funny, you are at fault, not them. Another on that short list of historic giants in the world of comedy turned 40 years old this year, Second-City Television.
SCTV, as it was known, was created by Andrew Alexander in 1976 as a faux television station in made up Melonville, USA. The series was extremely low budget ($35K for the first seven episodes), aired at times when the majority of viewers would have no idea it existed and was already a year behind the popular, fledgling and live sketch comedy program, Saturday Night Live. No matter, the cast was perhaps the greatest ensemble collection of talent in comedy. All but Rick Moranis coming from the stages at Second City.
The cast listing reads like a who’s-who of inspirations to those at work today. Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis. Later the series changed titles to SCTV Network and added Martin Short, John Hemphill, Mary Charlotte Wilcox and others. The series should be required viewing for anyone hoping to get into comedy, or a job in entertainment of any kind.
The characters were works of art, from the phony reporters and news anchors to the president and owner of the network, Guy Caballero. The cast members were all so versatile, they were able to play multiple of characters within a single week, many as impressions of stars at that time. The show took a Mad Magazine style approach to its comedy with the realism of the costumes and voices mixed with the absurd, placing celebrities in parts they would never play, or in movies they’d never take. The rip-off TV shows, commercials, game shows and program bumpers were done so well that, at times, it was hard to remember you were only watching a parody.
The strength of the show also was the embrace of the fact that the show wasn’t well known. It was like the audience was “in on the joke” that the rest of the nation didn’t get. The characters went on far beyond the series itself, as some had their own Saturday morning cartoon series (The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley — which featured the great character, Count Floyd), some took their characters to the big screen, as we saw with the McKenzie Brothers and their show The Great White North in the movie Strange Brew. There was even a McKenzie Brothers comedy album.
There was a revolution of writing for women in comedy during that time that SCTV brought about, as well. Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin were undoubtedly 2 of the funniest women television could have asked for. While other shows were having problems figuring out how to create characters for women in comedy, O’Hara and Martin were creating hilarious originals like Edith Prickley, Lola Heatherton and Perini Scleroso.
The series won multiple Primetime Emmys, among other awards, and changed names multiple times, because NBC never embraced the show, nor got behind it the way it should have. Some things never change at the network. The series ran for 6 seasons and lived on in reruns and syndication, as well as the DVD release by Shout! Factory.
Unlike the worn out SNL that has lasted 10 years too long, NBC did nothing to notate the 40th anniversary of the comedy that ended 10 years too early. Imagine what would have been possible if the series would have been offered a decent budget and a regular time slot. Regardless, those of us who did watch it enjoyed it in spite of NBC and the processed junk they were feeding us in the early 1980s. We celebrate the contribution SCTV and the incredible cast and writers made to TV and humor.
Though humor is subjective, if you don’t think John Candy and Eugene Levy are funny, you are the problem, not them.