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The Shmenge Brothers: 2 Polka Dots On The Rise


Ready for some hot news? Nerves steady? Sitting down? Holding on to something for support? All right. . . .

The Shmenges are back!

Would I kid you about these two wild and crazy guys? Of course not. Yosh (on the clarinet) and Stan (on the accordion) are the nation's polka princes, two extraordinarily nerdy brothers in lederhosen who are so square that they make Lawrence Welk look like Motown.

Yosh and Stan: "Let's dance!"

Yes, it's a put-on. In reality, the Leutonia-born Shmenges are John Candy and Eugene Levy. They are members of the famed SCTV comedy group whose satire in syndication and on NBC and Cinemax in recent years was the most brilliantly conceived, written and executed comedy on TV, tops in howls and creativity while lighting the screen like a Bethlehem star.

The schmoey Schmenges were created by those master absurdists Candy and Levy during SCTV's NBC term as throwbacks to earlier and cornier TV days, when local stations would feature hometown musicians playing dance music for in-studio toe-tappers.

Candy and Levy were to have co-hosted last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" on NBC, but the program was scrapped because of the Writers Guild strike. Not to worry, though: Their biggest bash comes at 8 p.m. Thursday when Home Box Office presents "The Last Polka," an often side-splitting hour on cable in which the Shmenges bid an emotional farewell to polka fanatics everywhere.

It seems that Yosh and Stan--after years of performing such exhilarating numbers as the "Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka" with their rhythm band, The Happy Wanderers--are retiring. Although, cryptic as always, they won't say why.

Written and produced by Candy and Levy, the hour is a wonderfully imaginative spoof of rock group farewells. It leaves you pining for more SCTV, whose reruns are available at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday on KHJ-TV Channel 9.

What drama when the retiring Shmenges are joined on stage by Leutonia's version of Wayne Newton, the electrifying Linsk Minyk (fellow SCTV alum Rick Moranis), whose career has been managed by the benevolent Yosh and Stan for a mere 50% commission. Listen, they have expenses.

Through newsreel footage and documentary-style interviews, the special traces the highs and, uh, lows of the Shmenges' 20-year career.

We see their rise on the Leutonian vaudeville circuit, with Stan performing on the geltkes (a Leutonian instrument made from some glass jars) and Yosh hanging upside down.

Exquisite memories flash by on the screen, such as the brothers' TV bowling and polka series, "Strikes, Spares and Shmenges."

This is a candid hour, though, that also recalls the Shmenges' scandalous extramarital association with the three singing sisters known as the Lemon Twins (Robin Duke, Mary Margaret O'Hara and SCTV alum Catherine O'Hara). And there was that ill-advised attempt by the Shmenges to expand their audience by emulating Michael Jackson (the sequined gloves may have been too much).

Yet, when watching Yosh and Stan and The Happy Wanderers in concert, you can't stop your toes from tapping. Such a gift. There's nothing left to say except. . . .

Let's dance!


"NBC Nightly News" is out. "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" is in.

Yes, Brokaw's name has finally been incorporated into the title of the evening newscast that he has been anchoring for 18 months. It used to be "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw. No quotes.

The new title gives the anchorman well-earned parity with the news he reports. The old way the news got all the publicity.

It also gives Brokaw title parity with Dan Rather, as in "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather," which four years ago succeeded "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite."

This leaves Peter Jennings of ABC's "World News Tonight" as the only network anchor omitted from the title. A bad sign?

The new title has "a nice ring to it," Brokaw says in an NBC press release. "But I have no illusions about what adding my name to the title means."

What it means, of course, is that NBC more than ever is making Brokaw responsible for news ratings. And it means that the out-of-balance celebration of anchors as hood ornaments for news continues and that the face on the screen is what most attracts viewers.

"This is a team effort," Brokaw adds. "The success of this program depends on its content and the thousands of other people all over the world--many of them working under dangerous conditions--who are crucial to the program's success."

But not crucial enough to get their names in the title.

CBS continues to lead in the evening news ratings, with NBC second and ABC third. But NBC is now blitzing TV and print with ads promoting Brokaw, and over the weekend the network hosted anchors from 45 of its affiliate stations who got to make local news promos with Brokaw, mug to mug.

And there's more. John Williams, who composed the film scores for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jaws," "E.T." and "Star Wars," is working on a theme for the NBC Brokawcast that may herald a new era of News Wars.

So what's next? Maybe this:

"The Nightly Tom Brokaw with NBC News."

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