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Up the Creek
Written September 13, 2021


Let's start way back in 1975.

When NBC launched a live late-Saturday-night comedy show, it didn't air on the network's affiliate in Pittsburgh.  Why couldn't NBC get clearance?  For a dozen years, Channel 11 had “owned” that time slot.  Chilly Billy's scary movies drew a devoted audience.

Instead, Saturday Night Live was picked up by local independent station WPGH.  That's where I watched it during the first few seasons.  And before long, WPGH began preceding SNL at 11:00 with a Canadian import called Second City Television.

Two full hours of sketch comedy at the midpoint of the weekend?  I popped some corn and happily settled in on the couch in front of my 12-inch Trinitron!

Among the SCTV cast members were Eugene Levy, seen above as a newscaster with a cheesy name he pronounced “Cannon-Bear,” and Catherine O'Hara.

Skipping forward nine years, Christopher Guest was one of the stars of the movie This is Spinal Tap.  Five similar Guest mockumentaries would follow, of which my favorite turned out to be 2003's A Mighty Wind (below).

Levy and O'Hara played a pair of past-their-prime folk singers, reluctantly persuaded to reunite as part of a public-TV concert.

I enjoyed hearing the music of the faux folk groups.  I even bought the CD.

However, I particularly enjoyed seeing the interior of the TV production unit.  As mentioned in the film's credits, the truck had been rented from National Mobile Television.  I've combined three movie frames into the panoramic view you see below.

This control room looks extremely familiar, because I actually worked in it — or one exactly like it — for several live productions during the era when the film was made.  Standing and kibitzing are producer types played by Bob Balaban and Ed Begley Jr.  Among the four crew members who are actually working, the yellow arrow indicates the guy at my position in the second row. 

Skipping forward another dozen years, a TV comedy series once again paired Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.  It was titled Schitt's Creek, the name of the fictional small town where it takes place.

According to Levy, “My wife had an idea for a television show about boomers not having money or moving in with their kids. Their situation was described as being up sh-'s creek.”  When Eugene's son Dan recalled that Kim Basinger once purchased all of Braselton, Georgia, population 400, the concept became “formerly rich people own a town” — but little else.

The series debuted in Canada in 2015, but here in the States it was on Pop TV, a cable channel I rarely watch.  Also, the title made it sound like something I didn't care to see.  Who wants to watch a show about sewage treatment?

However, in 2020 I sat up and took notice when the sixth and final season of Schitt's Creek was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmy Awards and swept the four acting categories!  Beginning that October, reruns began appearing on a more popular cable channel (Comedy Central) as well as in syndication.  If the show was that good, it behooved me to begin watching.

Playing Levy and O'Hara's adult children were Dan Levy, who was a writer for all 80 episodes and directed four of them, and Annie Murphy.  With much complaining, the family members moved into two rooms in the town's less-than-luxurious motel.  (At one point they opened a drawer and were confounded to find a spare 60-watt light bulb.  I remember that exact experience from the Fifties, when I was on vacation with my parents.)

The family all had their quirks, as did the townspeople with whom they were now forced to interact.

One of the locals was motel desk clerk Stevie Budd, played by Emily Hampshire and seen here with Dan Levy.

Most of the time, I found Dan's character rather annoying, but Emily's was oddly adorable.

She was talked into performing in the local production of Cabaret.  (I can't resist mentioning that the musical was composed by my fellow Oberlin alumnus John Kander '51.)  In the final episode of the fifth season of Schitt's Creek, Stevie somehow got up the nerve to sing “Maybe This Time.”

The actress told Lea Palmieri of decider.com, “I have huge musical aspirations, but I'm aware that I can't sing or dance remotely like professionals can do.  So I definitely wanted it to be how Stevie would emotionally connect to the song — in a way that Stevie has never really let herself connect emotionally to anything, or anyone.  Even when she does, she's kind of defensive about it.

I wanted to let her have the moment I get as an actor, where you can actually let yourself feel something through a performance that you can't feel in life because you're too embarrassed or ashamed.  I felt like Stevie got that magical moment.”

She certainly did.

“It's gotta happen, happen sometime.
“Maybe this time I'll win!”



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