“The Church of Unlimited Credit”: A “Second City TV” televangelist skit with Robin Williams and Martin Short

By on January 8, 2016

On November 26, 1982, Robin Williams was a guest star on “Second City TV” and in this memorable skit, one of two featured during the episode, he’s seen portraying a TV evangelist named Reverend Gene Filler, of the Church of Unlimited Credit, with Martin Short portraying his son Biff.

CHURCH OF UNLIMITED CREDIT 2

In the skit, which was broadcast on NBC in the U.S., Filler makes one last pitch for donations from his viewing audience, and then his son Biff gives testimony about his recent trip to “Club God” in Malibu, California.

Earlier in the episode the good reverend had laid out some of the church’s new plans, including a Dowry to Heaven, telling us we can “Join now and receive The New Testament from Evelyn Wood!”

Williams’s portrayal was one of many of his parodies inspired by 80s-era televangelist Dr. Gene Scott, who was then pastor of Los Angeles University Cathedral, a Protestant congregation of more than 15,000 members housed in a landmark downtown building with a huge neon sign atop it that proclaimed “Jesus Saves!” In the mid-1970s, Scott began hosting a nightly live television broadcast of Bible teaching, and by 1983, Scott’s University Network was broadcasting his sermons twenty-four hours a day via satellite, airing late night or after hours in many U.S. TV markets and to about 180 countries around the world.

Dr. Gene Scott was also profiled in Werner Herzog’s great documentary God’s Angry Man (1980), and clips of his on-air fund drives were used in the 1981 Cabaret Voltaire recording “Sluggin’ Fer Jesus”.

CHURCH OF UNLIMITED CREDIT 4

The reverend Gene Scott would be parodied again — this time he actually used the name “Dr. Gene Scott” — by Williams six years later, in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, airing on January 23, 1988, which showed Williams as Scott (and Dana Carvey as Gallagher) at the 8th annual “ACE Awards.”

Speaking of awards, “SCTV” would win Emmys in both 1982 and 1983 for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music program.” The show’s last episode on NBC aired on June 24, 1983, before it was canceled and “SCTV” then moved to the pay-cable network Cinemax for one more year.

CHURCH OF UNLIMITED CREDIT 3

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.