Last week’s 10-minute interruption by a state-run Russian television network of the CSPAN 1 television feed of Rep. Maxine Waters speaking from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives reminded me of SCTV’s prescient programming back in 1981.
First, here is what happened a week ago (Thursday, January 12).
And now some background: SCTV was about a low-budget local television station that, thanks to satellite distribution to cable systems, underwent an unlikely transformation to first a “superstation” and later a network (inspired, I assume, by Ted Turner’s WCTG Channel 17 superstation). Located in the fictitious Canadian town of Melonville, SCTV spoofed everything from Canadian Broadcasting rules requiring a certain percentage of Canadian-originated content (hence Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Great White North,” a comically rambling show about beer and sibling resentments) to cheesy local TV programming, current events, and popular culture in general.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite SCTV storyline or episode. This was one of my favorite television series ever, a show that gave us great actors like John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, and Joe Flaherty. But if I had to choose just one ongoing storyline, it would be CCCP 1 (or as they say it on the show: Three C P One).
The CCCP 1 “network” is SCTV’s Soviet counterpart, a decidedly low-budget Russian television station featuring 1950s-era technology like huge microphones hanging from cords around people’s necks and giant cameras requiring operators with brute strength to dolly forward and back. (Historic aside: Despite Soviet technological advances in military and space exploration, the USSR domestic sectors affecting ordinary, day-to-day life did not keep pace, so the heavy, outdated television-production equipment was a nod to that sorry fact.) Somehow CCCP 1 knocks out SCTV’s satellite (portrayed by a vintage lunch counter broiler with those rotating rows of hot dogs) . . .
. . . and takes over the SCTV feed, treating us to an incomprehensible Scrabble-like game show and a series called “Hey Giorgi!” about a happy guy who walks around his rural Russian town and solves everyone’s problems. (Again, the show demonstrates its smarts by incorporating local prejudices into the “Giorgi!” narrative: Car won’t start? Giorgi raises the hood to discover a cluster of straws in one corner. Hmm, looks like Uzbeks have been drinking your battery fluid again.)
So here is the CCCP 1 episode in its entirety. It opens with an ad for Perry Como’s concert (in which the singer’s famously “relaxed” style is taken to an extreme) and features most of my favorite characters. UPDATE: The clip I originally embedded got taken down. For a while I couldn’t find a CCCP 1 episode online, but today (12/23/2020) I found a new one.
The first CCCP 1 interception appears shortly after the 15-minute mark. (UPDATE: around the 2:20 mark in the new clip, immediately after Julius Caesar is stabbed. Et tu Brute???) With today’s uncertainty over Russia and possible election hacking and now this unexplained interruption of the CSPAN 1 feed, it seems an ideal time to look back—both to laugh at and reflect upon the clunky reality of everyday Soviet life versus the frightening spectre of our Cold War enemy.