You Can't Do That on Television (YCDTOTV) was a Canadian children's television program, created by Roger Price and aired from February 3, 1979 to May 25, 1990. It primarily featured child actors in a sketch comedy format, acting out short scenes based on a theme that served as the topic for the episode. Connecting scenes based on the theme would often serve to create a story arc that lasted the length of the episode. Nickelodeon became known for its iconic green slime that was originally used in this show. The series is known for featuring future pop recording artist Alanis Morissette as a cast member.
In 2002, and again in 2004, YCDTOTV cast members reunited alongside fans of the show at SlimeCon, a fan-produced convention in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. YCDTOTV was a children's comedy show, but for those now in their twenties and thirties, it is identified now as a nostalgic cult classic. During the 2004 event, a Top Secret reunion special had its premiere.
The only adult actor on the show was veteran comedy actor Les Lye (Abby Hagyard, who played Mom and the librarian, among other adult female roles, did not join the cast until 1982), though occasionally the older children in the cast would play adult roles. The show's trademark green slime was also introduced this season, as was the practice of using the phrase "I don't know" as a trigger for the slime. The show was meant to offer a fun, Canadian-made program for children on Saturday mornings that made no attempt to be educational. It worked. CJOH had a hit on its hands, and the show became a formidable competitor for American shows in the same time slot. Only three full episodes from this season are still in existence, due to home video recordings being made the day the episodes were broadcast. These episodes were once extremely rare and considered collector's items with YCDTOTV fans, since the studio masters no longer exist. However, the episodes can now be downloaded and viewed from several websites.
Later in 1981, the new youth-oriented American cable network, Nickelodeon, took an interest in YCDTOTV. Nickelodeon originally aired the "Work, Work, Work" episode several times during 1981 as well as some other edited episodes from the 1981 season. Price and director Geoffrey Darby had edited the entire 1981 season of episodes into a half-hour format similar to Whatever Turns You On for national and international syndication. Toward the beginning of 1982, Nickelodeon began airing the edited season and YCDTOTV quickly became their highest rated show.
Due to the program's high ratings, production on new episodes of YCDTOTV resumed in 1982, with all episodes from that point onward made in the half-hour all-comedy format. Also in 1982, Nickelodeon and CJOH became production partners on YCDTOTV. Over the next few years, the ratings gradually declined in Canada (by 1985, it was seen only once a week in a Saturday-morning time slot on CTV), but YCDTOTV continued to go strong in the U.S. on Nickelodeon, where it aired five times a week and eventually everyday.
In 1984, the show became the network's highest-rated television program. Kids across America were making slime and water sounds with their mouths and sending in their entries for the Slime-In, a contest hosted by Nickelodeon that flew a lucky kid to the set of You Can't Do That On Television to be slimed (which was replicated by Canada's YTV later with their version being called the Slime Light Sweepstakes).
By 1987, many of the "veteran" cast members such as Matt Godfrey, Doug Ptolemy, Vanessa Lindores, and Adam Reid had grown too old for the show. Christine McGlade ("Moose"), who was probably the most well-known cast member and the show's longtime hostess, had departed the previous year, as had Alasdair Gillis (who had been promoted to co-host with Moose in 1985) left before the end of the 1986 season; Lisa Ruddy ("Motormouth"), Moose's longtime sidekick, was also gone, having left at the end of the 1985 season. Only five episodes were filmed in this season, and one of those (Adoption) proved so controversial that it was banned after a single airing (though some sources state it aired twice, despite a "DO NOT AIR" sticker on the master tape at CJOH).
Also by this time, Nickelodeon had removed the half-hour edits of the 1981 episodes from its rotation, along with the 1982 "Cosmetics" episode. The 1981 episodes were supposed to air for the last time during a week-long promotion in 1985 called "Oldies But Moldies", which featured contests where viewers could win prizes like chocolate syrup. However, the episodes continued to air until the end of 1987 but were not played very often. Reportedly, this was because Nickelodeon's five-year contract to air the 1981 season expired in 1986, and since Nickelodeon was beginning to aim for a younger demographic and many of the 1981 episodes dealt with topics more relevant to adolescents (such as smoking, drugs, sexual equality, and peer pressure), the network opted not to renew the contract. Apparently, Nickelodeon removed the "Cosmetics" episode from rotation for the latter reason as well (although the "Addictions" episode from that same season was not dropped).
Price moved to France in 1988. CJOH decided not to make new episodes without him and production was suspended. When Price returned to Canada, he wanted to resume production on the show from Toronto, but was convinced to return to Ottawa and CJOH.
The program resumed production in 1989, but the only child cast members to make the transition from 1987 to 1989 were Amyas Godfrey and Andrea Byrne, although a few minor cast members seen in 1986, including Rekha Shah and James Tung, returned for an episode or two. According to YCDTOTV.com, 1984-87 cast member Stephanie Chow was given the option of returning for the 1989 season, but chose not to in order to focus on her piano playing. Thus, an almost entirely-new cast of children was assembled, including new host Chris Bickford (whose trademark was the leather jacket he always wore), Christian Tessier, Ted Wilson, Jennifer Brackenbury, Carlos Braithwaite, Sariya Sharp, Stephanie Bauder, Patrick Mills, Kevin Ward, Chantal Tremblay, and sisters Jill and Amy Stanley.
Opinions on the 1989 and 1990 episodes of YCDTOTV are mixed among fans of the show, particularly regarding the new episodes' increasing reliance on bathroom humor and flatulence jokes to attract a younger audience than the show had targeted in years past. In any case, the show did not completely sever ties to its past, as many former cast members reappeared during the 1989 season in cameo roles, most notably in the "Age" episode, which was hosted by Vanessa Lindores and also featured cameos by Doug Ptolemy, Alasdair Gillis, Christine McGlade, and Kevin Kubusheskie (who by that time had become a producer on the show). Alasdair also appeared briefly in the locker jokes during the "Fantasies" episode, and Adam Reid, who by this time had become a writer for YCDTOTV, also appeared (and was slimed) at the end of the episode "Punishment."
Nevertheless, the show's ratings fell throughout 1989 and 1990, and due to this and also to Nickelodeon's desire to make more of its own shows at its new theme park in Orlando, Florida, production ceased at the end of the 1990 season, which, like 1987, lasted for only five episodes. Nickelodeon continued to air reruns until January 1994, at which point it was only being aired on weekends.
In January 2007, the special was released to the public on YouTube. Yawn's lines in the opening scene were overdubbed.
Similarly, according to YCDTOTV.com, the "Divorce" episode from 1984 was banned by YTV in Canada when it began showing YCDTOTV in 1988 (see: http://www.ycdtotv.com/faq/index.html). The plot of this episode involved the producer of the show and his wife getting a divorce, and the producer's wife demanding half of everything in the studio - including wardrobe, food and drink, and green slime. "Divorce" was not banned in the United States.
The replacement sketches for this episode were:
Some examples from this episode include whether or not to execute Luke McKeehan (yes), slime Vanessa Lindores in a dungeon scene (yes), and let Lisa Ruddy lose her voice and be unable to talk (yes). The viewers did "vote" to restore Lisa's voice, but only to introduce the opposite sketches, and the viewers "voted" for Lisa to lose her voice again once the opposites were over.
The next example involved going to a commercial. Lisa was to introduce the commercials, but could not because she was still unable to speak, and Lisa informed Christine (via writing notes, which was the only way she was able to communicate) that if there were no commercials, no one would get paid. This was all the prompting Christine needed to initiate the vote, but the vote failed to pass twice, thus forcing Christine to resort to a sort of bribery, including promising that Vanessa would get watered (of course, Christine got watered herself while explaining this) and Eugene Contreras would have "something really bad" happen to him if the vote went through. It worked: Vanessa was drenched, and the "really bad" thing turned out to be a pie in the face for Eugene. And of course, Lisa was able to talk again, and she chirped, "And now it's time for a commercial."
Another example allowed the viewers to "vote" on whether or not the locker jokes scene would go on. The viewers voted NOT to go through with them, which made Christine say, "Boy, the viewers of this show have a brain after all." Then she turned towards the camera and said, "Then again, if you really did have a brain, would you even be watching this show?"
One final vote at the end of the episode involved letting the viewers vote on whether the show would be allowed to end. Surprisingly, the viewers "voted" for the show not to end - which convinced Ross that the technological gizmo was broken. He and Christine were further convinced when they held another vote on whether to take Lisa's voice from her again, and vote came back in favor of Lisa keeping her voice.
In 2004 for Nickelodeon's Old Skool Pick, the Enemies and Paranoia episode was picked; however, after the commercial break, Nickelodeon switched to an episode of an unrelated series. The reason behind the sudden substitution was never given; however, the anniversary fell shortly after the death of former president Ronald Reagan, and the episode chosen featured some content that made light of President Reagan and his policies. YCDTOTV was never seen again after that airing.
At the beginning of each show aired after the 1981 season, a title card would appear featuring a parody title of a TV show, with a silly (often macabre) picture and the announcer making the following announcement: "(TV show) will not be seen today in order for us to bring you this (adjective in character with the picture) production." The pre-empted shows were parodies of current TV shows (i.e. The A-Team Makes One Cup of Coffee Last Five Hours, "Hanging Out" or "Malls", 1984), movies (i.e. Top Gun Gets Put on Latrine-Cleaning Duty, "Discipline", 1986), or other pop culture icons (i.e. Boy George Without Make-up, "Halloween", 1984), and were often relevant to the theme of current episode (i.e. the pre-empted show for "Safety" (1981) was "Hit and Run on Sesame Street"). The pre-empted show announcement concept was borrowed from Saturday Night Live, which introduced their shows with similar announcements in the late 1970s. You Can't Do That On Television has preempted itself on three occasions (Television, Media, and Priorities). The Generation Gap episode did not begin with a preempted episode, instead a disclaimer read "The following program contains certain scenes which may not be suitable for mature audiences. Juvenile discretion is advised". And there was no preempted episode for the Success and Failure episode because the producers failed to come up with a preempt.
Created by opening animator Barry Blair who was inspired by Terry Gilliam's "gilliamations", the opening animation sequence was a sequence of surreal images set to the wacky music of Rossini's William Tell Overture, performed in a Dixieland jazz arrangement by The National Press Club and Allied Workers Jazz Band. Though the theme music stayed the same throughout the entire series run, the opening animation itself changed.
Sometimes opposite sketches involved cast members not being hit with slime or water after saying the "trigger phrase" (see below section), as in City Life (1987) or Excess (1989). The slime or water would not fall until after the opposites were over. Also, an opposite sketch in Heroes (1982) had Lisa Ruddy slimed for saying "I know," rather than "I don't know."
A return to the show's daily subject was hallmarked by another of these inversion fades, and usually accompanied by one of the cast members saying, "Back to reality."
Opposite sketches were used in the inaugural season of the show on CJOH in 1979, but it was not until Whatever Turns You On that they became an integral part of the show.
During the "locker room" segment, cast members, residing in gym lockers, would tell jokes to each other. The person telling the joke would open their locker, sticking their head out to call another cast member to tell the joke to. For the duration of the joke, those cast members would be the only ones seen with open lockers. When the punchline was delivered, there would be a laugh track and the actors would close their lockers, allowing the process to start again with different people and a different joke. This was almost certainly an homage to the "joke wall" segment on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. This feature of the show was also introduced during its first season in 1979 and continued until the end of the series, with the lockers undergoing a few physical makeovers during the show's early years.
Certain key words would result in cast members having substances poured on them from off-camera. When someone said "water" or "wet", a large amount of water would mysteriously cascade onto them from above. In the early years of the show, cast members (especially Christine) were frequently nailed with pails of water physically thrown on them, but starting in 1981, this began to change to the much more mysterious motif of water falling down on the victim from above. By the 1984 season, the word "wet" no longer triggered the water, leaving the job to the word "water" itself. This, too, was an homage to Laugh-In.
Likewise, when someone said "I don't know", green slime would pour on them from above. This was known as being "slimed." (The first episode in which "I don't know" was used as a trigger phrase for the green slime was one of the local episodes seen only on CJOH, broadcast on March 17, 1979 - fittingly, St. Patrick's Day. In some early episodes an actor might say "I don't know" as part of the scripted dialogue with no repercussion.) Conversely, the first episode ever to use the slime gag was Episode 6, dated March 10, 1979. In the Detention/Dungeon scene, Tim Douglas is told NOT to pull on his chains by the principal. After he leaves, Tim does just that. A "toilet flushing" sound is heard, and the first YCDTOTV sliming occurs.
Nickelodeon quickly adopted "slime" as a feature in several shows it produced, and used it heavily in its marketing. Other colours of slime were occasionally used on the show, as in the following instances:
Several different recipes of slime were used during the series' decade-long run, some resulting in thin, watery slime and others in thick, chunky slime. In an interview with YCDTOTV.com, longtime YCDTOTV crew member Bill Buchanan explained the origin of the slime in 1979:
"...one script called for this kinda disgusting slimy green stuff - but with no real indication of what it was going to be used for. ... The description was that it was just something green and slimy and disgusting ... Anyhow, [properties man Paul Copping] mixed up a whole green garbage can ... with slime. I know he'd colored it with green latex paint. God knows what else was in it, but it was disgusting. And it was parked inside the studio door, and everyone was kinda avoiding it because it was really foul looking. I mean, he had like sausages floating in it. ... Then, all of a sudden, we get to the point of the day where it turns out that it's going to be used. It turns out that it's going to get dumped on some kid! ... It was like, "Jeeze, this stuff is probably toxic! You can't dump that on somebody!" So I guess the whole green slime thing was deferred to such time when we had something that wouldn't kill somebody if it were to fall on them. That first stuff never got used. ... Then, I remember being kind of involved in the first attempt to make a green slimy material that would be actually ... not too offensive. When you dumped it on a person's head, you were liable to get it in their eyes, in their mouths and anywhere else. So we concocted some stuff made out of green Jell-o, or gelatin. We made it by the bucket. We bought hundreds of packages of lime Jell-o or gelatin over the years."|||Bill Buchanan|
For several years afterwards, the slime consisted of this mixture of lime green gelatin powder and flour; eventually, oatmeal was added to the recipe, as was baby shampoo so that it would wash out of the actors' hair more easily. Especially in the later years of the show, cast members who were slimed frequently looked upward into the slime as it was falling so that it covered their faces (the same was also true of the waterings).
To avoid damage to the set from water or slime, a clear tarpaulin was placed over the main portion of the set for scenes in which an actor was to be hit with either. The tarpaulin can occasionally be seen and/or heard underneath the actors in these scenes, and in fact the loud splatter sound usually heard during a watering or sliming is due to this tarpaulin. The people involved in the slimings and the waterings always went barefoot when they were gunged with the slime or water. You could occasionally see this and the tarp whenever a person was slimed or watered.
Green Slime grew to become a trademark image for Nickelodeon. They later introduced Green Slime shampoo, which was a frequent parting gift for contestants on Nick's popular game show Double Dare.
The classic slapstick pie-in-the-face gag was also frequently used on YCDTOTV, although pie scenes were most common during the early years of the show. In fact, one whole episode, 1981's Drugs, was constructed around the pie-in-the-face concept: to avoid the wrath of the censors, the episode showed the cast getting "high" by pieing themselves, comparing the stupidity of hitting oneself with a pie to the stupidity of taking drugs (an example of how the show could educate young viewers without being preachy or overly didactic). For several years, pies took a back seat to the green slime, although they seemed to make a comeback on YCDTOTV in the 1989 season (particularly in the aforementioned Time episode, in which the children got into a massive silent-film-style pie fight at the end of the show).
Every scene had the same basic format.
Captain- "Ready, aim..."
Cast Member- "Wait a minute, stop the execution!"
Captain- "What is it this time?"
The cast member would then make some attempt to stall or stop the execution. Most of the time, the cast member would be successful, however, occasionally, Lye's character would "successfully" complete the scene. On these occasions, the scene would end with "Ready, Aimm..." and the cast member flinching. There is also one episode in which the cast member cries: "Hurry up, hurry up, start the execution!" This, of course, draws the executioner's attention.
Over 100 actors appeared on YCDTOTV between 1979 and 1990. The following is an abbreviated list. It includes actors appearing in 10 or more episodes.
You Can't Do That on Television was the first post-modern children's program of my generation. It subverted all recognizable forms and deconstructed the pre-teen's understanding of such important institutions as the family, the school and the video arcade. When the schoolteacher did not know any better than to call Milton's masterpiece "Pair of Dice Lost", the program functioned as an ideological clarion call to future college students like you who would go on to demand the displacement of an ossified Western canon with more relevant investigations of low culture.
Between the 1981 and 1982 seasons of YCDTOTV, several of the show's cast members, including Christine McGlade, Lisa Ruddy, Jonothan Gebert, and Kevin Somers, served as hosts on a short-lived Saturday-morning live game show on CJOH titled Something Else. Something Else was developed and directed by the Price/Darby team, and Christine McGlade was credited as a producer. Like the early episodes of YCDTOTV, Something Else incorporated elements of musical variety, with a female DJ from radio station CHEZ-FM as a guest host and performances by local bands; the chief difference was that comedy sketches took a back seat to the games and competitions. According to Geoffrey Darby, the chief purpose of the show was to keep the hosts' acting skills in shape while he and Price got to work writing the 1982 season of YCDTOTV; thus, the series lasted only about ten episodes.
Some time later, after YCDTOTV had established itself on Nickelodeon, Price and Darby made a YCDTOTV-like series called Don't Look Now! for PBS in the U.S. in 1983. Don't Look Now!, made at WGBH-TV in Boston, featured a format very similar to the local 1979 and 1981 seasons of YCDTOTV, with taped comedy sketches interspersed with live call-in competitions (though, due to PBS regulations on prizing, the only prize that could be given away was a T-shirt with the show's logo on it) and music videos. The show also had its own version of YCDTOTV's green slime, called "Yellow Yuck," which was triggered by the phrase "Don't Blame Me!"
As Geoffrey Darby told YCDTOTV.com, Don't Look Now! was made after production on the 1982 season of YCDTOTV had wrapped up, when they were unsure whether Nickelodeon would renew the series for another season. Although the show was highly rated, it did not fit in with PBS' largely educational program roster and was condemned by parents and critics alike, thus leading to the cancellation of the show after only about ten episodes.