Sunday, August 16, 2020

Count/Counting: SCTV's Count Floyd

My last post, about the TV show The Great has, so far, turned out to be one of the least popular things that I’ve ever submitted to this blog, so it seems like a really, really good idea to follow that up with another TV related post. 

I’m not sure why The Theme Picker chose this theme, and frankly, I argued against it, but because I’m only a Theme Suggester and Backup Theme Picker, I lost this round. The first thing that popped into my head was to write about the SCTV character Count Floyd, memorably portrayed by Joe Flaherty. And when I read the Wikipedia article about the character, I was laughing out loud, which I think we can agree is unusual when reading Wikipedia, and that convinced me to follow this route, even it ends, like my last TV related post, with almost universal indifference. 

I’ve written about SCTV before, so I won’t repeat all of the background stuff about the show, but you are, of course, welcome to read that post before continuing.  And I'm still doing this after reading the article in Sunday's New York Times about the racism in the Second City organization.

One of the basic conceits about SCTV is that it is about a generally low budget TV network. There was a time, which I’m old enough to remember, when local TV stations ran shows featuring usually bad , low budget horror movies and/or cartoons, hosted by someone who might be vampire, a clown, an astronaut, or something else. Usually, to save money, these characters were portrayed by employees of the station. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the “horror host” tradition, and here’s the recent obituary for Bob March, who portrayed “Captain Satellite” in the Bay Area for decades. And here’s an interview with the late Frank Avruch, who was a staff announcer at a TV station in Boston before becoming probably the most widely seen Bozo the Clown. 

Count Floyd was created to host SCTV’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater, and was the alter ego of (fictional) SCTV newscaster Floyd Robertson, also played by Flaherty. Although Count Floyd was a vampire, his lack of commitment to the character often led to him howling like a werewolf. The main running joke in the sketches was that the movies tended to be awful, and often unrelated to the horror genre, forcing Count Floyd to struggle to make them seem scary, and often ending in him getting frustrated and breaking character. Count Floyd also tried to sell his supposedly young audience overpriced items, maybe hearkening to the time when Soupy Sales, a children’s show host in New York, on New Year’s Day, 1965, asked his viewers to send him “little green pieces of paper” from their parents’ wallets. 

In addition to the fact that Flaherty was hysterical, SCTV used these sketches to show bits of movie parodies, often badly executed “3D” films. such as Tip O’Neill’s 3-D House of Representatives, Dr. Tongue's 3D House Of Stewardesses, Dr. Tongue's House Of Cats, or Dr. Tongue's Evil House Of Pancakes. (Dr. Tongue was played by John Candy, and his sidekick, Bruno, was played by Eugene Levy, who has been nominated for an Emmy this year for Schitt's Creek).  And even when the movie failed to show up, Count Floyd simply made up a plot and described it. They also used the character in a “Siskel & Ebert” style review show called Scary Previews. There was even a Count Floyd album, featuring, among other songs, “Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania.” It was the only non-Bob & Doug McKenzie album related to SCTV

Like the vampire/werewolf that he was, Count Floyd didn’t die when SCTV went off the air. Rush used a Count Floyd video to introduce “The Weapon,” on tour in the early ‘80s (see the video above). And fellow SCTV alum Martin Short included new Count Floyd segments in his late 80s animated series, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. But that’s not all. There’s a funny Count Floyd video about how to make funny videos. A Count Floyd video about smoke detectors. And the character popped up elsewhere, mostly in Canada, promoting various things. 

Flaherty, who played Harold Weir in the great series Freaks & Geeks, wore a vampire costume in one episode, which you can see about 24 seconds into this compilation clip, and that had to be a callback to Count Floyd. 

As recently as 2014, Canadian band The Wet Secrets used Count Floyd in their video for “Nightlife,” although strangely, he looks a little like Grandpa Munster in some of the shots.

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