Although writers have more influence in television than in the film medium, directors can still make or break a show no matter how great the script is. This is particularly true in comedy. One of the reasons that SCTV stood head and shoulders above other TV comedy shows is because they had John Blanchard, a director who, despite doing only cooking shows in Canada beforehand, had a genius for recreating the visual style and cinematography of the various movies and television series they were parodying.
Perhaps Blanchard’s most impressive achievement was his staging of The Godfather episode (originally broadcast on Dec. 11, 1981), a parody of the Francis Ford Coppola film which perfectly duplicates Gordon Willis’ Technicolor photography and Mario Puzo’s plot with SCTV station owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) standing (or sitting) in for Marlon Brando.
The episode opens with a commercial called My First Time in which an elderly Katherine Hepburn (Catherine O’Hara) candidly describes… her first cup of Twillings tea. We then join producer Johnny LaRue (John Candy) who is caught rifling through Caballero’s desk by programming manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin who is celebrating her 63rd birthday today). Guy is at his mansion presiding over the wedding of his daughter Connie (Martin again) which none of the SCTV staff has been invited to. As Prickley wonders what’s going on there, we hear Nino Rota’s familiar theme.
Guy has granted an audience to Mayberry’s Floyd the Barber (Eugene Levy doing a wicked impersonation of actor Howard McNear). That juvenile delinquent Opie Taylor has broken his barber pole and he wants Opie’s arm broken in revenge. When Guy agrees and warns Floyd that he may be asked to lay down his life in return, Floyd backtracks: “He didn’t really break it, he just bent it.” As Floyd exits, he puts in one last request: “Could you kill Howard Spague? He owes me for a haircut.”
While Guy meets with his sons Ricky (Rick Moranis doing Al Pacino) and Sonny (Levy doing James Caan), opera singer Johnny Pavarotti (Candy) shows up at the reception. He is rudely interrupted from devouring the lasagna by women asking him to sing. He acquiesces and proceeds to do an area from Il Trovatore. (What is it with comedians and Il Trovatore? It was featured prominently in both the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera and Danny Kaye’s Wonder Man.) When Johnny gets to a high note, the bandleader stops conducting to try out some calzones forcing him to sustain the note for several minutes until his face turns crimson (a gag taken from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon).
Johnny confesses to Guy that he’s being denied a career-making role in a “war opera” by conductor Leonard Bernstein (John Marley lampooning his role in the original Godfather). Guy promises to send his lawyer Tom Hagan (Dave Thomas doing Robert Duvall) to make Bernstein “an offer I think will be to his liking.” Hagan goes to Bernstein’s country estate where Bernstein introduces him to his talking horse, but the horse won’t talk in front of Hagan making a fool of him. Hagan asks Bernstein to reconsider casting Pavarotti, but the conductor throws him out. That night, Bernstein is awakened by the voice of his talking horse whose decapitated head is in his bed.
Later that week, Guy meets with the heads of NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS who, it seems, are all made men. They want to cut a deal with cable TV magnet Turk Ugazzo (Thomas) and they need Guy’s cooperation because of his political connections. Turk shows a demo-tape of his network Ugazzo Vision which consists of low-budget movies like Bollywood musical-comedy Another Funny Film Set in Bombay and sci-fi turkey Zontar: The Thing from Venus (which SCTV had parodied a few weeks earlier), reruns like Fibber McGee and Molly and sports like curling and soccer. Disgusted, Guy turns them down. Of course, he knows, this means network war!
The next day, Guy rolls up to his favorite newsstand in his wheelchair (he can walk, but he uses the wheelchair for respect) to buy the latest copies of Mad Magazine, Cracked and Swank. All of a sudden, Turk and his goons pull up and open fire on Guy with their tommy guns. After taking several hundred rounds, Guy collapses. Next, as co-anchors Floyd Robertson (Flaherty) and Earl Camembert (Levy) are doing the SCTV News, another gunman walks in and shoots up the set.
Guy survives the hit and, as he takes the “Broadcasting Oath” (which actually existed at the time), his goombahs make retaliatory strikes against the big three networks NBC, ABC and CBS, shooting up the sets of Today (Levy as Gene Shalit and O’Hara as Jane Pauley), Three’s Company (Thomas as John Ritter and Martin as Joyce DeWitt) and The NFL Today (Moranis as Brent Mussburger and Candy as Jimmy the Greek). Finally, there is a truce between the networks and SCTV. Asked why by his sons, Guy reveals that he cut a deal with Turk himself!
It would be hard to top this half-hour gem, but the next few sketches aren’t too shabby either. On a special episode of The Great White North, inebriated hosers Bob (Moranis) and Doug MacKenzie (Thomas) cover two topics, long underwear and back bacon, but are too polluted to pass on any real information.
Next up is the Grand Opening of Dr. Tongue’s 3-D House of Beef hosted by Dr. Tongue (Candy) aided by head waiter Woody Tobias Jr. (Levy) and MC Count Floyd (Flaherty). Neither Floyd’s intro or the performance of acappella singing group The Polyesters go over with the crowd, so they ask musical guest James Ingram to perform his hit single “Just Once.” (Costume designer and “dancer/choreographer” Juul Haalmeyer does acting double-duty in this episode as a trigger-happy wiseguy and the head singer of The Polyesters.)
This is followed by a commercial for Birkney’s Diamonds featuring Holly Faun (O’Hara) and her “special friend” Susan (Martin). Then, after all this sublime material comes perhaps the single least funniest skit in the history of SCTV: The Vikings and the Beekeepers, written by Thomas and Brian McConnachie. The one-joke premise is that the ancient Vikings have hired beekeepers for the purpose of tormenting the English with bees. Hilarious, it ain’t. (According to Thomas in his book SCTV: Behind the Scenes, the filming of this sketch was a logistical nightmare that vexed the cast so much that it only added to the drudgery of the piece.) And, on that note, the episode mercifully ends.
SCTV: The Godfather is available from Netflix (Vol. 2, Disc 3) and Amazon.