NBC can take heart. Even as the network gets steamrollered this season by Survivor over on CBS, it's building up some fine karma for itself after midnight. Having finally put the woeful Later out of its misery, the Peacock has filled its 1 to 1:30 a.m. time slot, Monday through Thursday, with the greatest North American TV sketch comedy of all time, SCTV.
Buzz on the Internet is that the show -- which, criminally, is not currently available on video, except for one tape of John Candy's highlights -- will run at least through the end of March. Hopefully it will become a post-Conan fixture.
SCTV (short for "Second City Television"), which started in Canada in 1976, eventually wormed its way onto U.S. late night, and lasted, with various shifts in personnel, into the mid-'80s. It's a collage of movie and TV parodies, built around the conceit of a small-potatoes TV network in the town of Melonville. It is, I suppose, not for everyone. The humor, though often broadly physical, is nonetheless conceptual, sometimes almost disturbingly attenuated. It's rarely topical and hardly ever risqué, yet even the finest vintage of Saturday Night Live has never come close to it for sheer daring of approach.
Every now and then I meet a fellow SCTV-head, and the next couple of hours are shot. We'll start competitively rattling off our favorite characters -- Gil Fisher, Edith Prickley, Guy Caballero, Count Floyd, the Shmenge Brothers, Dr. Tongue and Bruno, Bill Needle, Cheaplaffs Johnson, Libby Wolfson, Lola Heatherton, the kids from Preteen World, Sammy Maudlin and William B. Williams, Bobby and Skip Bittman, Bob and Doug McKenzie and far too many more to mention. My own favorite is Happy Marsden, the tippling, tittering, cheerfully inappropriate host of "Happy Marsden's Happy Hour," a kids' show broadcast straight from Happy's favorite watering hole. There are times when Happy has made me laugh so hard I thought I'd need medical attention.
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My advice: Set your VCR. If you don't get it, no harm, no foul. If you do, you'll have found a source of joy.