by Keith Garebian
SCTV was created by self-admitted "children of television", steeped in North American pop culture. Its original cast members, some of whom were alumni of McMaster University, did some of their purest work at the beginning of their careers. Never as anchored in current affairs as Saturday Night Live or as slyly witty and visually innovative as Monty Python's Flying Circus, SCTV parodied the very medium it used in impressions (Thomas as Bob Hope, Martin as Liza Minnelli, Short as Brock Linehan, O'Hara as Kate Hepburn, Candy as Johnny LaRue, etc.) and in multi-layered sketches that combined two different premises (Anton Chekhov melded with Star Wars, or Fantasy Island fused with Casablanca and the Hope-Crosby pictures).
SCTV: Behind the Scenes (McClelland & Stewart, 272 pages, $29.99), by Dave Thomas (with Robert Crane and Susan Carney), shows how this sort of success was not achieved in an instant. Problems with the first director, the first producer, changes of locale from Toronto to Edmonton to Los Angeles, and chauvinism among cast and crew made for some trying times. Thomas's book is a collage of reminiscences (with cross-cutting commentaries by various participants), but its demotic, oral style stamps it as a book for all those diehard fans who don't like to read except in snippets. Thomas has collected two hundred photographs (many in grainy colour), along with trivia quizzes, and a listing of every skit ever performed in the history of SCTV. Because of reticence on certain matters-such as cast members' embattled egos-the book has very limited value as a documentary report. Its one incontestable value-apart from its appeal as grist to the trivia mill-is the implicit story of how artistry can be diluted by commercial success, as when the intellectually stunted McKenzie Brothers became a media phenomenon, much to the chagrin of some cast members and the embarrassment of Dave Thomas himself.