SCTV has the cleverest format of any show I can think of. Designed to be a spoof television station broadcasting from the fictional Melonville, every episode would nestle commercials and promos around fake TV shows of all varieties, usually just as SCTV itself was about to give way to real commercials and promos. The result was extremely surreal and very effective, as it allowed SCTV to be successfully syndicated year after year, it's malleable format (clip a 30 fake commercial here, cut a bumper there) the dream of late-night programmers everywhere.
With a lifespan that moved from a syndicated series filmed in Toronto, to a network gig in Edmonton, and finally to cable, the volume of material generated within the SCTV franchise is huge, and while some made it to video, none has made it to DVD until now.
Following their excellent Freaks and Geeks discs, Shout! Factory has turned their attention to detail towards Second City TV by putting together the first nine-show cycle of SCTV Network 90. Network 90 ran on NBC for two years and was so named because the show was intended to be an SNL-like format of comedy and musical performers over 90 minutes. Proving themselves to be the Criterion of TV DVDs, the nine episodes on this set are complete to the extent that even the out-going and in-coming "station ID" bumpers for Network 90 are preserved.
At first it might seem a shame that the seventy-plus programs that preceded Network 90 are leapfrogged in order to put out the Network 90 shows, but given the convoluted history of who has rights to what, there seems to be a certain logic that Shout! Factory went after the NBC shows first. In any case Network 90 heavily borrowed segments from the Toronto shows, so the old is represented along with the comparatively new.
As well, it might also seem a bit pricey, this DVD set. At around ninety bucks a pop for nine episodes, that's a lot of money, but it's not for nothing. Besides the preservation of all the musical rights, from the musical guests to Rick Moranis doing his lounge interpretation of The Vapors' "Turning Japanese" (which always costs a pretty penny), and over twelve hours of episodes, Shout! Factory went out of their way to produce some fine original materials. It might be too much for the average Joe, but it's well worth it for any SCTV fan.
That crisp, high-contrast magic that is early 80s video technology is perfectly preserved in this set. Occasionally you'll spot quality errors as they shot a short film in 16mm or a portable black and white security camera or a cheesy video effect - heck, even a change in camera would produce questionable results - but that's not something Shout! Factory has any control over. In general, the quality is acceptable and the transfer onto disc as good as it's ever going to get. Given what our TVs were like in the 80s, you've probably never seen these materials these good.
Mono! And lots of it. Except in a couple of surprise places (I'll let you listen for them), for no really good reason, except that I'm assuming that when you go to the trouble of tracking down music rights, someone, somewhere may decide or insist that a better version of the music be used. However, the dialog is clear and crisp. It's a shame that if we're going to get to hear performances by various musical guests that it's all going to be on one channel, but again, Shout! Factory could only work with what they had. One major omission however is that there are no subtitles, not even any closed captions.
Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy sit down to talk along with not just one, but two episodes. Considering it's tough to get anyone to sit down for a single half-hour episode on most TV DVD sets, that two of the stars of the show sat still for two 90 minute shows is an accomplishment. After 18 years, their recollections often consist of trying to remember details, the two have a high level of friendly ribbing going on (which spills over into their interviewed segments as well), and Joe just can't stop laughing at the show. But in-between all that they share a lot of behind the scenes info on how the segments were written, how they were conceived, and how much they loved and/or hated working in Edmonton (Joe loved it, but Eugene could take it or leave it).
SCTV Remembers (30:45)
Flaherty and Levy, along with Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin talk about the making of the show. Producer Andrew Alexander also appears.
Origins of SCTV (25:30)
Harold Ramis, as the oldest Second City alumni to work on the show, and one of Second City's founders, Bernard Sahlins, talk about the formation of the Second City troupe and it's history, including SCTV. Some excellent information and photos, but what really makes the segment is the old 60s footage of the Second City performing, including then member Alan Arkin.
The Craft of SCTV (29:00)
Costume designer Juul Haalmeyer (who often made notable appearances on the show), make-up artist Bev Schechtman, and hair stylist Judy Cooper Sealy share stories about how they got involved in the show, working to get the best bang for very little budget, and working with the cast. Juul actually shows off some surviving costumes and all three of them provide a lot of behind the scenes photos.
Remembering John (27:05)
One of the saddest things about the set is that John Candy didn't live to see it. It would have been nice to have heard his thoughts on the making of what remains one of the greatest TV comedies. Instead we get to listen to his friends and co-workers talk about their pal John.
SCTV Reunion (1:03:00)
In 1999 SCTV was honored at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival and a reunion of the cast was hosted by big fan, Conan O'Brien. Notably absent were Rick Moranis (who couldn't attend) and John Candy who had died five years earlier. If you liked watching the interactions between two or three of the cast in the previous features, watching almost the entire cast interact is hilarious. Conan O'Brien can't help but gush about being influenced by SCTV and the cast is relaxed (excepting at one point when O' Brien brings up a sore point about the pay differences between the guys and the gals in the first couple of years). The only annoying thing about this feature is that when originally aired on HBO, they would often cut away to clips, and then talk about them. These clips are omitted on the DVD. If you' re on the ball, some of the material they look at is in this set, but in many cases it's not and you're left in the dark a little.
24 page booklet
The review copy of the set I revieved came sans booklet, so I can't comment to its content, but nobody makes a 24 page insert unless it has something to say or show, so I would imagine it will be a lot like the mini, TV version of Patinkin and Klein's The Second City: Backstage at the World's Greatest Comedy Theater.
Freaks and Geeks DVD trailer (1:06)
Not so much a proper trailer as part of a scene, featuring Joe Flaherty explaining virginity, Korean cat-houses, and the value of five bucks. An obvious addition, what with the whole Flaherty theme, and a effective Freaks and Geeks introduction to those who may have missed it on TV originally.
I kind of like where this set is going. I've always been a big proponent of presevation of popular culture over simple repackaging. For example, I applaude the full Scooby-Doo season sets over the pick-a-mix single discs originally released. Another example is that I wish season sets would acknowledge the accomplishments of the shows they are presenting - did they win awards? Could we maybe talk about that a bit?
The SCTV Network 90 set does embody that sense of totality - from beginning to end, you know that each episode was exactly how fans saw it on TV in 1981 and the features let the cast talk at length about how it all came together. It's true, that preserving every film score or pop song used in the show does affect the price point of a set, in this case the set was never targeted at casual buyers (who can get it everyday on TV anyhow). This set is for the fans. While there are a few raised eyebrows over things like the lack of subtitles (now how's my dad going to watch the show without turning the sound way up?), overall it delivers some quality TV history.
"Gee, Babe. Will you eat a hundred hot-dogs for me?"
"A hundred hot-dogs!? Where am I going to get a hundred hot-dogs from?"