In their latest project, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara play a riches-to-rags couple forced to live in an unfortunately named small town in the new comedy series Schitt’s Creek, which will make its American debut on Wednesday. If you know who Levy and O’Hara are, then you definitely know the names John Candy, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin, their co-stars on the legendary and influential sketch comedy show SCTV.
But even the biggest comedy fans might not know everything there is to know about the show Conan O’Brien once said was “perfect out of whole cloth.”
1. SCTV HAD FIVE DIFFERENT OFFICIAL TITLES, NONE OF WHICH WERE SCTV
For the first two seasons, the half hour show was Second City Television. For season three it became SCTV Television Network. To acknowledge the now 90-minute runtime for seasons four and five, it was rechristened SCTV Network 90, then later SCTV 90. For its sixth and final season, and now with 45-minute episodes (with commercials), it was SCTV Channel. No matter the title, the premise of each episode was that the audience was being shown programming from the fictitious channel SCTV, airing out of the equally fictional Melonville. So, just calling it SCTV is fine.
2. THE TOTAL BUDGET FOR THE FIRST SEVEN EPISODES WAS $35,000
Working with the then-regional Canadian network Global, the show only had $5,000 to produce each of the first 30-minute episodes, which were aired one month at a time.
3. NOT EVERYBODY ON THE SHOW WAS CANADIAN
Even though all but one member of the original cast came from the Second City improvisational group in Toronto, there were some comedians from the States. Harold Ramis, season one’s head writer, was born and raised in Chicago, where he performed in that city’s theater. Joe Flaherty was born in Pittsburgh and performed at the Chicago Second City before working with the Toronto group. Andrea Martin was born in Portland, Maine. Season three cast member Tony Rosato was raised in Ottawa, but born in Naples, Italy.
4. ONE SEASON WAS TAPED IN EDMONTON, AND EUGENE LEVY WASN’T HAPPY ABOUT IT
After two seasons of shooting in Toronto, SCTV was off the air for one year and struggled to find funding or a willing network to keep it going. The city of Edmonton was willing to fund 26 episodes if they taped them at the CBC studios in Alberta. As the Hamilton, Ontario born Eugene Levy explained, “People didn’t want to move to Edmonton because it was Edmonton.” Fortunately for him, production would move back to Toronto after a year.
5. BILL MURRAY GUEST STARRED IN AN EPISODE
Murray appeared in three sketches on the season four episode “The Days of the Week/Street Beef,” including the fake commercial “DiMaggio’s on the Wharf,” as Joe DiMaggio himself.
6. THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN FROM 'THE X FILES' MADE HIS TV DEBUT ON SCTV
Toronto-born William B. Davis was an artistic director and acting teacher before making it as a television and movie thespian himself when he was in his mid-forties. Naturally, he appears in the sketch wearing a suit.
7. ABC THOUGHT THAT THE SHOW WAS TOO SMART FOR THEM
SCTV was almost on ABC. The network's late night decision maker “loved” what he saw of the pilot, but ABC President Fred Silverman overruled him, saying the show was “too intelligent.” Around the time that Silverman made that decision, Time proclaimed in a cover story that he was a man with a “golden gut” for knowing what American TV audiences wanted to see.
8. THREE (OR FOUR) SCTV CAST MEMBERS ENDED UP ON THE CAST OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
It’s four if you count Catherine O’Hara. O’Hara left SNL after one week in 1981 to go back to SCTV without appearing in an episode of the American show. Robin Duke, who replaced O’Hara for the Edmonton season of SCTV, then replaced O’Hara on SNL. Tony Rosato, who, like Duke, joined SCTV for season 3, followed Duke to New York. Martin Short joined SNL for the 1984-85 season and brought his SCTV characters Jackie Rogers Jr. and Ed Grimley down south with him. SCTV and SNL’s worlds would collide often.
9. THE SEASON TWO WRITING SESSIONS WERE VERY ROWDY
In the summer of 1977, Second City CEO and SCTV executive producer Andrew Alexander rented a five-bedroom house near Bel-Air where Candy, O’Hara, and Levy took up residence. The cast and writing staff wrote season two of the show during the day and partied at night. At one shindig, John Candy kept Chevy Chase in a headlock for 90 minutes, or the length of an SNL episode. Coincidence?
10. SCTV AND SNL ALMOST ALTERNATED TIME SLOTS
While unthinkable now, Saturday Night Live was consistently on the cancellation bubble in the early to mid 1980s, with middling ratings and little support from critics. Meanwhile, NBC picked up critical darling SCTV as a 90 minute show (as SCTV Network 90) in 1981, airing it on Fridays from 12:30-2 in the morning. An NBC Vice President went as far as to publicly say that SCTV was the “best comedy show on television” and deserved a better time slot, and floated the idea of it sharing the Saturday night 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m. block. That network executive soon lost his job, and the idea was never brought up again.
11. JOHN CANDY WAS UPSET AT NBC’S TREATMENT OF THE SHOW
Because SCTV couldn’t make new, 90-minute episodes (with commercials, like SNL) fast enough, NBC would occasionally put together “Best Of” installments from the first three years without input from the cast and producers. This annoyed Candy, because every episode had a well-considered theme, but the compilations were put together out of order without any consideration for even the thinnest of narrative threads. When NBC’s final offer to change time slots was the Sunday hour opposite the popular 60 Minutes, the show and the network mutually agreed to part ways, and the sixth and final season aired in the U.S. on Cinemax.
12. RICK MORANIS WAS THE ONLY CAST MEMBER TO NOT COME FROM THE SECOND CITY IMPROV GROUP
Moranis didn’t go to McMaster University with Dave Thomas like Martin Short and Eugene Levy did, but he earned his job as a stand-up, a DJ, and a writer for the CBC who hit it off with Thomas at a party. Thomas brought him on beginning in the third season.
13. THE MCKENZIE BROTHERS WERE CREATED TO ANNOY THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING COMPANY
Bob (Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Thomas), the knit cap-wearing, beer-loving Canadian stereotypes that hosted the extremely popular The Great White North segments, were borne from CBC executives’ insistence that two minutes of each episode be dedicated exclusively to its Canadian audience. Thomas claimed in 2000 that it was “a mean-spirited joke to mock the incessant demands for Canadian content programming.”
14. THERE WAS A MCKENZIE BROTHERS ALBUM, A MOVIE BASED ON HAMLET, AND A PARADE
The 1981 comedy album Bob & Doug McKenzie: The Great White North was #1 on the Canadian music charts for five weeks and was nominated for a Best Comedy Album Grammy. That album’s success led to the 1983 movie Strange Brew. It only made $8.5 million, but that was a little more than double its budget. Bob and Doug were meant to be the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with the character Pam, the daughter of the owner of the brewery factory who died under mysterious circumstances, as Hamlet. Bob and Doug were so popular that Toronto’s Yonge Street hosted a parade in their honor.
15. TONY BENNETT’S CAREER COMEBACK WAS PARTIALLY THANKS TO HIS ‘THE GREAT WHITE NORTH’ APPEARANCE
After his son Danny took over as his manager in 1979, Tony was booked on SCTV, Late Night with David Letterman, The Simpsons, and on Howard Stern’s radio show to successfully introduce himself to a new generation.
16. BEN STILLER HAS BEEN A FAN FOR HIS WHOLE LIFE
Stiller recalled to Dave Thomas that he had attended a McKenzie Brothers record signing as a kid at Rockefeller Center. As an adult almost two decades later from that cold day, he admitted that his short-lived but Emmy-winning sketch comedy show The Ben Stiller Show was an attempt to “rip off” SCTV.
17. ALICE COOPER THANKED COUNT FLOYD ON ONE OF HIS ALBUMS
Joe Flaherty’s Count Floyd character was an over-the-top horror film host dressed like a vampire that was himself an alter-ego of Floyd Robertson, an anchor for the fictional SCTV Network’s news division. Alice Cooper gave him a “special thanks” on his 1981 album Special Forces.
18. MILTON BERLE AND SCTV HAD A FEUD (SCTV WON)
When Flaherty accepted SCTV’s 1982 Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program, the famed comedian kept interrupting him. After Berle said that a joke of Flaherty’s wasn’t funny, Flaherty jerked his head sideways and told the then 74-year-old Berle to “go to sleep,” which put an end to the heckling. Not fully satisfied, a future SCTV sketch had Eugene Levy as Berle getting a punch in the face from Joe Flaherty, as Kris Kristofferson.