Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The Puck Crisis"

A recent commenter, Zaraya by name, made mention of “The Puck Crisis”, a nine-minute mockumentary I wrote for a CBC (Canadian National Television) special that Lorne Michaels produced, in partnership with my brother, on what was called The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. Zaraya seemed to think that “The Puck Crisis” was pretty good. I liked it quite a bit myself.

As Zaraya noted, “The Puck Crisis” in not available on YouTube, or anywhere else. This is not my only disappointment concerning the CBC’s undervaluing of broadcast material. There was a Public Affairs program called Of All People that, hearing that I had failed twice before, sent a camera crew to film my upcoming Driver’s Test for network television. I passed.

I would have liked to have a record of both things. Unfortunately, the CBC is notoriously frugal. They probably taped over my efforts with coverage of the annual Governor General’s “Speech From the Throne”, or whatever. Either that, or the producers cut the videotape into little strips they could slip under their spinning tires during snowstorms.

Most people know that, other than Anne Murray the “Canadian Songbird”, Canada’s primary claim to international fame is hockey. Canadians take the game extremely seriously. I don’t know about now, but when I lived there, Canada’s Number One-rated television show was Hockey Night In Canada. The second highest rated program was Wednesday Night Hockey.

I had once seen a mock documentary called “The Spaghetti Harvest”, where, with a totally straight face, a short documentary-style film was presented, featuring happy, Italian peasants, harvesting their spaghetti crop. The film showed them cheerfully severing long, thickly growing strands of spaghetti hanging earthward from well-tended groves of “spaghetti trees.”

I took the same format and I adapted it to hockey.

It started with a two-minute commentary I concocted for a show I was doing regularly on CBC radio. I later showed it to Lorne, certain the idea might work even better on television. Lorne agreed, and off we went.

Time has relieved me of some of the specifics, but I believe it went something like this.

We opened at a news desk, where a seriously looking anchor announced the catastrophe to the nation:

The puck crop is desperately imperiled, endangering the imminent future of hockey in Canada, specifically the upcoming NHL season.

“Stock footage” showed Canadian puck farmers, in happier times, gathering their crops, ala “the Spaghetti Harvest.” The crops were flourishing. Healthy. Fecund. And gloriously abundant.

And then, tragedy struck.

Its name:

“Dutch Puck Disease.”

The virus had been inadvertently imported to Canada on the sticks of a touring Dutch hockey team. The lethal germs infected all the crops in their path, bringing the Canadian puck farming industry to its knees.

The formerly burgeoning puck farms are now revisited. But this time, the once vigorous pucks, droop limply from the trees, no longer their vibrant black color, but sickeningly gray, decayng and desiccated. Think: leprosy, but with hockey pucks.

We then cut to the Canadian equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, where expert scientists weighed in on the situation. Using microscopic blowups, Canadians were told that, as the Dutch hockey teamed barnstormed the country, the “pucktacocci” spores from their sticks took to the air, ultimately penetrating the fundament of the deteriorating pucks. There is, as yet, no way to reverse the infestation, no protocol for keeping the virulence in check.

Actual hockey players were then interviewed, all of them understandably concerned. Without pucks, the game that they love is in terminal jeopardy. One player reminisced,

“When we were kids, we used to play hockey without a puck. But at the end of the game, we never knew who won.”

Also included were a series of unscripted “Person-In-The-Street” interviews. A camera was set up on the corner of a busy Toronto intersection, and random passersby were asked how they felt about the endangerment of our national game. One teary-eyed hockey fan could only say,

“It’s terrible.”

It appeared he might need to be sedated.

A beleaguered puck farmer is then shown, wondering where his future livelihood lay. He tried to diversify, planting a crop of lacrosse rackets, but his heart, he explained, just wasn’t in it.

Finally, the news anchor turned to the camera and made an appeal, soliciting donations to help find a cure for “Dutch Puck Disease.” In the end, the “Dean of Hockey Broadcasting”, the iconic “Voice” of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Foster Hewitt, sitting behind a large, oak desk in his office, injected his own heartfelt plea:

“Send a buck, and save a puck.”

And that, more or less, was that.

Words cannot do justice to the presentation. I wish you could see it. But even if you could, its impact would be considerably watered down unless you were able to think like a Canadian.

And I’m not sure if that’s even possible.


Unknown said...

I bet if you added Rush songs (apparently eclipsing even Anne Murray at this point in history as Canada's #1 music export) this mockumentary would have a glorious resurgence.

Neil Peart (drummer and lyricist of said rock band)introduced Hockey Night in Canada to the United States by recording a drum-heavy update of the theme song.

Think what Rush could do for your TV special!

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; thank you so very much for the summing up. I'd forgotten about Foster Hewitt (Americans, think Madden here) and the poor puck farmer's heart not being in lacrosse sticks. Lacrosse was a very nice touch (think like a Canadian time) as lacrosse was the sole national sport when the show was broadcast.

Alas, you didn't mention the test for determining if an apparently healthy puck had the disease - exposing the pucks to tulips. In a brief scene you see a small group of women holding pucks over a tulip. They then move the puck to the side and down from the tulip bulb. If the tulip bends to follow the puck it is infected. Completely lunatic, but done deadpan.

Dear Mr. Blonski; Rush might make this palatable for a foreign audience, but there are some nuances that would be lost. You really do need to think like a Canadian from that time to get some of the jokes - lacrosse sticks, eh?


Earl Pomerantz said...

i forgot about the tulips. That was a nice touch. It must have come from one of the brain cells I don't have anymore, as I do not remember making that up.

GRayR said...

The puck you say!
Get the puck outta here!
That was puckin' great, eh.

*I'll stop now.* (Poor attempt at humor by an engineer.)

Bruce said...

Once again, shear delight. I've been away for awhile, very busy at work, and haven't been able to keep up but just happen to have had a minute and so very funny!

Anonymous said...

Every time my tulips droop I think of that little mockumentary. Wish I could see it again.

VanBossFan said...

Mr. Pomerantz,

I clearly remember watching that sketch on CBC in the mid 1970s (CFTK-TV in Terrace/Kitimat). I thought it was very funny at the time. I recall some people taking Dutch Puck Disease seriously! Really? Most unfortunate it's not on You Tube.

All good things,

Paul Barriscale

ALC said...

The programme was circa 1971-72. I know because I was working at an Ottawa Valley TV station. We had a staff of four that night and we taped four quarters onto a card and mailed them to the Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. I still have a wire copy which came over our teletype a few days later. Lorne Michaels said they received play money and monopoly money, but the biggest donation was one dollar from the staff of the TV station. The pucks were infected when they were mixed with dutch pucks in a puck bucket. The programme showed pucks grew on trees and women wearing hair nets were working on assembly lines throwing the bad pucks into a huge pile. Outside Maple Leaf Gardens, actual NHLers were interviewed. Derek Sanderson wondered without pucks "How am I going to score goals?" while Johnny Bower declared "I don't care if I ever see another puck again!" The show was pure genius but as one post noted, you really have to be Canadian to appreciate the humour.

Grimsby On

Anonymous said...

This may be the funniest sketch I've ever seen on TV, and I still remember it 40 years later. Shame it's not available anywhere. Johnny Bower was great, as was the desperate farmer: "My brother wants me to try apples, but, I don't know, I've been a puck man all my life". But the funniest bit was the man-on-the-street interviews: "I think it's terrible. I'd like to know how it got over here in the first place." Only one person reacted correctly "We GROW pucks??", but who knows how many of those were edited out. It was classic. "Send a buck to save a puck". Genius!

Hawaii, eh

Charles Gauthier said...

Just uploaded some short "Terrific Hour" excerpts from two CBC anniversary specials. Some footage from the Dutch Puck Disease included. I really wish the CBC would release those shows on DVD!

Thank you for a great blog!

Ken said...

Living in Detroit, we were able to see the Wayne and Shuster material on the Windsor stations. This was epic. I lived in Trenton, a huge hockey town, and this short was the talk of school for a week or more. I wish dearly I could find this somewhere to show to my kids. I know it would be as funny today as it was then.

Unknown said...

I saw the Dutch puck mockumentary, it cycles through my mind, one of the very best. Was living in northwestern Ontario at the time, and as I was a southern Ontario transplant, had so many people ask me anout the puck farms.