An Hour with /SCTV/'s Rick Moranis

Top cat: Moranis as Elton John

"SCTV has a lot of devotees," marvels Rick Moranis about the cult TV show he cut his teeth on. "It has a degree of pent-up demand because it's been out of circulation for so long." Indeed, fans have been waiting impatiently to blast back into the Second City Television Network galaxy - and Shout! Factory has rewarded them handsomely with a five-disc box set of the first SCTV Network 90 season, which aired on NBC in the summer of 1981. (The second installment of the projected five-set series arrives in October.)

Moranis granted S&V an exclusive interview to talk about the wonders of SCTV and its pioneering spirit. An abbreviated version of our hour-long chat appeared in the September 2004 issue, but here Rick gets the room to fully expound on things like how downloading is passé, the infamous Michael McDonald sketch, and why he stopped making movies. Beauty, eh?

"Inventing" MTV

Before SCTV, you were a DJ at CHUM-FM in Toronto in the 1970s. On SCTV, you created the world's first VJ, Gerry Todd. How did that come about?I had spent years working in radio at different stations in Toronto; I wasn't in the stage company of Second City. CHUM was an early progressive FM station, the kind that would play Side 2 of Abbey Road very frequently, but years before I'd worked as an operator at MOR, middle-of-the-road stations. Well, a lot of my sketches were technology based . . .

There were always a lot of monitors in your sketches.Yeah, that's what [SCTV cast member] Joe Flaherty said [in Joe voice]: "Another bank of monitors! Every sketch has monitors in it!"

Mark Giacomelli, the postproduction supervisor on SCTV who eventually became the producer of the McKenzie brothers album, [1981's] Great White North [Anthem/Mercury], showed me a couple of early music videos. One was by the Plastics out of Japan, and another was a Talking Heads video, "Once in a Lifetime." I remember thinking, "Wow, this is the future of music. Everybody is going to do this. And there will be VJs instead of DJs." So I conceived this quasi-radio show on TV with promos and bumpers and jingles, and we even made some music videos of our own. It was pretty primitive, but [SCTV cast member] Catherine O'Hara always gave me credit for inventing MTV. [laughs]

The name came from two guys in radio whom I absolutely loved. One was Todd Russell, the other Gerry Herbert. I put their names together, and I did the little goatee because in those days, every DJ had one. And [affects radio-announcer voice] they were both radio guys who could fill all kinds of dead air basically saying absolutely nothing.

Four minutes to fill? No problem!No problem!

I enjoyed the songs you "adapted" for another character of yours, Tom Monroe, to cover in his videos that aired on The Gerry Todd Show.We did some cover versions there: some Petula Clark ["Downtown," from Tom Monroe Sings Petula Clark in Episode 6 on DVD 3], and an early Police song ["De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," from Tom Monroe on a New Wavelength in Episode 2 on DVD 1].

I also loved all the little details on Gerry Todd. You'd pull up the levers, and the hue on the supers wouldn't be quite right, and you'd say, "Well, we've gotta adjust this."Right. He was announce-opping. It was only in the bigger-market stations that a DJ would have his own operator.

Was all of that scripted, or did you improvise any of it?Well, whether it's on film or on TV, you don't want to throw too many curves at your audio and video guys. You have to set what you're going to do, and then, within those parameters, you can move around a little bit. It was pretty scripted. I might have improvised the dialogue around the line, "Well, let me adjust this here," but my board wasn't functional. When I was adjusting my knob, the guy in the booth was adjusting a knob to affect it onscreen.

How did you see what was going on around you? Did you see what was happening on a screen in front of you?I had a monitor where I could see what was coming up. So when I moved the toggle forward, I could see the super coming up that said "The Gerry Todd Show." And when I futzed with the little hue control, I wasn't controlling it, but I could see that the color was being changed.

There were things done in postproduction that weren't done at the time [of filming]. But that's no different from acting with [a blue screen], something that isn't there until three months later.

If Gerry Todd were to surface today, what would he be doing?Gerry would have crossed over to Web-based streaming, and he'd be involved with satellites and broadband. He might still be doing some TV, and hopefully he'd have a very lucrative contract with somebody like Samsung.

My favorite Gerry Todd bit, which isn't on this box set, was the one where he talks about the importance of not watching too much video and getting out of the house. ["PSA: Video - Don't Abuse It; sponsored by concerned parents of Melonville," from Episode 95; first aired February 12, 1982.] He winds up going to an appliance store to look at the inner workings of a dishwasher that has a glass front. He goes to a pet store to look at an aquarium. He goes to a car wash and sits in a car going through it. And the whole sketch is all through glass. All of his descriptions about the experience are all television-related. When he's in the pet store, he refers to Jacques Cousteau. I loved doing that one. It was so much fun.

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