Harold Ramis: Revisiting the laughs on 'SCTV'
Before Ghostbusters, before Caddyshack, before Animal House, Harold Ramis, who died today at age 69, had a place in the hearts of TV comedy fans from his years on SCTV in the late ’70s. Along with Ramis, its cast included future familiar faces John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, and Joe Flaherty. In time, the show would get picked up by NBC (when it would introduce U.S. audiences to new cast members Rick Moranis and Martin Short) for a run of classic episodes, but Ramis had moved on by then to a career in movies that would include contributions as writer, director, and actor in a run of perennial favorites. But for fans of ’70s TV satire, his brief run as a performer in SCTV will remain a golden memory. Here’s a selection of clips that offer a taste of Ramis’ work in those years.
One recurring bit was a send-up of old-style late-night local TV called “Dialing for Dollars,” hosted by Ramis’ Moe Green, manager of the ”station” whose “programming” was the framing device for SCTV‘s sketches. The movie within one episode of ”Dialing for Dollars,” seen below, was a show-length version of Ben-Hur; along with his appearance in the “Dialing” wraparound, Ramis is prominently featured in the “movie” as well. At approximately 16:25, you’ll see an example of Moe’s sketchy “Dialing” segments — here offering a whopping $22 jackpot to the first random person Moe calls to ask if they can name the title of the movie (the prize increases by $1 with every incorrect answer — oh, and the “old clock on the wall” says it’s 4 a.m. when the first call is made. P.S. Moe will do just about anything to not have to send out the prize):
Another popular bit for SCTV in its early days was ”Sunrise Semester,” based on the learning programs local TV stations would run to burnish their image and provide some evidence TV wasn’t just a “vast wasteland.” Here’s a group of instructional-TV parodies featuring Ramis, starting with a session on Bookkeeping:
And one on Do-It-Yourself Dentistry:
And then there’s yoga instruction with Swami Bananananda, who returns for a second segment at around 7:28 (”if my brain was connected to my body, I’d be in great pain right now…fortunately, it’s not”). Ramis also appears as Mr. Green Fatigues in the Captain Kangaroo kiddie show parody that follows in the same clip:
Ramis features in this parody of ads aimed at TV viewers looking for a jump-start into a new career. Have you considered exploring the burgeoning field of Stethoscopy?:
This bit brings a show aimed at keeping kids on the straight and narrow, starring Ramis as ”Officer Friendly” — but who invited Miss Taylor, the Social Worker and the punk’s dad to get in the way of justice, boys and girls?:
And finally, Ramis is part of the ensemble in this memorable sketch that anticipated the reunion of Leave It to Beaver, with Ramis as ”Whitey,” serving up the advice — and the firearm — that gets the Beave in a whole mess of trouble: