Retrontario’s Cable TV Throwback: April 1986


We’re pleased to present another look back at Canadian movies on TV by our friends at Retrontario.

Canada’s canary into the Pay TV coal mine was a riveting pop culture jolt when it arrived in early 1983. Competing services FIRST CHOICE and SUPERCHANNEL were forced to combine resources just over one year later as FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL, now fondly remembered as the era’s primary delivery system for big ticket Hollywood titles, rare-as-hen’s teeth Can-con, and boobies. Here’s a taste of some of the more exciting moments this $15 per month service offered to content starved ‘80s eyeballs.

APRIL 1986



In its heyday FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL broadcast a raft of cool Canadian flicks that have shamefully passed into the ether over the last 30 years. Even the gluttonous content orgy in which we now exist thanks to the Internet cannot abide, and many of these films have simply vanished. Had they not been fully or in part recorded on VHS tapes back in the day, there would be no trace of them at all beyond error-ridden, tumbleweed infested IMDB listings.


One such title is surely LISTEN TO THE CITY (1984), a bizarre Toronto-based soft sci-fi/musical scored by Gordon Deppe of The Spoons (the amazing LP soundtrack also featured the debut appearance on an album of the band’s massive singles “Romantic Traffic” and “Tell No Lies”). To date, the film remains the sole fiction film by local documentary maven Ron Mann, his legacy buttressed by the likes of GRASS, TWIST and COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL rather than this oddball curio. The film starred HALLOWEEN’s P.J Soles as a crusading reporter, but also features “smiling” Jack Layton in a cameo as a hospital patient (you can see him in the above clip). In spite of continued interest in The Spoons, this title seems likely to remain exiled in home video limbo.


Another long lost Cancon gem which aired frequently in April of 1986 was BREAKING ALL THE RULES, a mostly forgotten “last day of summer holiday” sex-comedy which is much smarter than its mid-’80s stable mates SCREWBALLS or ODDBALLS (or any of the other “balls” variants).

Those boffin programmers at FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL always appreciated horror films, and their deft scheduling kung-fu surely played a part in fostering a life-long attachment to that genre for many young viewers. In April of 1986, FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL ran horror double or triple features under the “Sleepless Saturdays” banner, which included the Canadian TV premieres of staples like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, COMPANY OF WOLVES, and Stephen King’s criminally underrated CAT’S EYE anthology which above all else contains the greatest anti-smoking tale (“Quitters, Inc.”) this side of Allen Carr.



The cheery fanfare which greeted the arrival of a new issue of FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL’s listing magazine PRIMETIME, the glee at poring over all the amazing new titles was often offset by the sadness at seeing “Final Showing” printed next to many a beloved title. This particular month saw the last ever showings of THE LAST POLKA, an incredible faux documentary about the Shmenge Brothers (played to utter perfection by John Candy and Eugene Levy). Where is Shout Factory on this abandoned goldmine?! Thankfully YouTube has it (for now anyways)…

And for those who can’t commit to the full hour, here is Gord Martineau’s movie stealing cameo:



Other classic Cancon this month included Patricia Rozema’s electric debut PASSION: A LETTER IN 16MM, TERROR TRAIN, SEIGE, LATTITUDE 55 and the Don Cherry-fronted hockey doc SKATING ON THIN ICE (another film unbelievably M.I.A. considering Canada’s unquenchable thirst for everything hockey).


FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL also supplied an amazingly eclectic and international selection of programming for young people, something which in the current billion channel universe seems strangely alien. Spooky kid’s shows from Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and Japan littered the early morning programming blocks, spliced in innocently enough with North American series like INSPECTOR GADGET, MR WIZARD and FAIRIE TALE THEATRE. Those who saw some of these TV tot terrors (GATHER YOUR DREAMS, anyone?) will never forget.


  1. Aaron says:

    Interesting that Jim Carroll made an appearance in “Listen to the City”.

  2. Aaron says:

    Also- the “First Choice” tune is now used in Leon’s radio ads.

  3. James Burrell says:

    It was through First Choice/Superchannel that I first saw such Canuck horror classics as SHIVERS, RABID, HUMONGOUS, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and so on.

    And I fortunately managed to hold on to several of the PRIME TIME magazines (including the one displayed above with THE KILLING FIELDS cover), and still have them to this day.