The Second City comedy troupe opened in Chicago in 1959. But it was the Toronto version of The Second City franchise, and more notably the launch of the SCTV Network in 1976, that gave theatrical satire a North American profile, and turned The Old Fire Hall on Toronto's Lombard Street into a Canadian institution.
In 1973, Second City co-founder Bernard Sahlins and producer Joyce Sloane came to Toronto to open a Canadian version of the successful Chicago company. The first Toronto company included Valri Bromfield, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jayne Eastwood, Joe Flaherty, Gilda Radner, and Gerry Salsberg.
From the beginning, Second City was a critical and box office success, but the theatre was forced to close after six months because Sahlins could not get a liquor license. Enter local theatre producer Andrew Alexander.
Alexander saw the potential of Second City in Toronto, bought the Canadian rights to the company, and re-opened in February of 1974 across the street from the original theatre, at The Old Fire Hall. In 1985, Alexander and his partner Len Stuart bought the Second City name and Chicago operation from Sahlins.
In 1976, Alexander, Stuart, and Sahlins decided to launch Second City on national television. The Chicago company had already experienced success in 1963 producing a sketch comedy special for British television. This project was far more ambitious; a show satirizing television.
The Second City Television Network premiered on Global Television in the fall of 1976. The name was changed to just SCTV in 1978. The program was syndicated in the United States before moving to NBC. The original cast became a showcase of famous Canadian talent including John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, and later, Martin Short.
In SCTV's impressive seven-year run, the program has received 13 Emmy award nominations and two Emmys for best writing. One of the most successful programs in the history of Canadian television, SCTV produced 185 half-hour episodes and is still seen in syndication in major cities throughout North America.
Canada's Walk of Fame Trivia: In 1998, SCTV alumni, John Candy received a posthumous star at the inaugural Canada's Walk of Fame induction ceremony.
Second City first transferred its hallmark sketch format to television in 1963 with a series of specials produced in England for British television.