Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: You Can't Do That On Television

Nickelodeon was still trying to get full recognition of being a great kids' network. But other networks were dishing out great cartoons during that time, so it was hard to compete against that. So around 1981, Nickelodeon acquired a Canadian sketch comedy program called You Can't Do That On Television.

The show was created by Geoffrey Darby and Roger Price. It was originally a low budget local program based on another program called Whatever Turns You On that debuted in 1979. Then afterwards, they shortened to only 30 minutes, minimized the kids from 22 to 7, removed the local content, added a laugh content from actual kids' laughs, and rereleased it.

The show consisted of kids and adults focusing on a theme to do their comedy based on. Think of it like Saturday Night Live for children. Some of the themes were pretty normal to be discussed for kids such as bullying, malls, fashion, and parties.

Others themes seem more like for adults such as marketing, wealth, romance, divorce, and poverty.

Then there were some that were a bit controversial, yet gutsy at the time such as drugs, addiction, war, and censorship.

The most controversial episode that You Can't Do That on Television ever aired was one about adoption. Viewers were so insulted with that episode that after it was aired twice, it was banned from ever showing on TV again. The co-creator of You Can't Do That on Television Geoffrey Darby even admitted that this was a terrible episode according to an interview done by Mathew Klickstein at

"I think the “Adoption Show” went too far. We ourselves didn’t understand what buttons were being pushed about an episode dealing with adoption. And that was our mistake. None of the kids were adopted, we didn’t know anybody who had been adopted. That was really us just not being cognizant of the world of adoption. And so that was a bad show. That was just not being respectful. I think it only ever aired once. Maybe".

There were a lot of recurring sketches that happened in almost every episode. Some of the them included the kids hanging out in a disgusting diner called "Barth's Burgery" where the chef Barth would cook some gross looking food.

Another one involves a soldier and his firing squad having a kid tied up at the post ready to be killed. But the kid would outwit the soldier and escape while making the soldier look like an idiot.

Another one is a segment known as Locker Jokes in which the kids would have conversations while being inside in lockers. Geoffrey Darby had mentioned in that same interview with Klickstein that he hated doing the Locker Jokes since they were nothing but language jokes and that they were really hard to write.

But the one that everyone remembered the most was when the kids were slimed on. Everytime someone said "I don't know" would get the green slime poured on their head. But where did the slime come from? Well, Geoffrey Darby answers the question that many people had been wondering for over 30 years.

"Slime was an accident. Honestly, it was an accident. We used to save stuff like pies and water until the end of the day so that we wouldn’t be waiting around with an expensive crew while we waited for the kid to get showered and cleaned up. We were in the dungeon set and what happened was we had this joke, which was, “Whatever you do, kids, don’t pull on that chain.” We went to the cafeteria and got them to give us a bucket of slop. We said, “We want you to take all the stuff that’s left on plates over the whole day and put it in this bucket.” And then we were going to dump it on the kid so that it looked like if he pulled the chain, sewage would come out. We didn’t get around to shooting the scene because you can’t go into overtime with children. It’s against the law. If you don’t get the scene, you don’t get the scene. We didn’t get it shot.

So we put the set up again the following week to shoot that one scene…The prop man came to me – literally, this is a completely true story – and said, “There’s a problem.” The problem was that he didn’t get a new bucket of slop. He just kept the old one back stage. There was about eight to ten inches of green crud. Growing. It had grown on the top of this bucket of… stuff. There was mold. So, we had to get the scene, right? We couldn’t get more slop, because we couldn’t! I said, “Dump… it… on… the… kid… anyway.” And that’s how green slime was invented.

This slime alone would help make Nickelodeon have an iconic substance. But that wouldn't be 100% confirmed until another show would cement that years later. But we'll get to that another time.

Some of the people that acted on the show were Canadian kids and actors such as Les Lye and Abby Hagyard, the only adults in the show, Matt Godfrey, Doug Ptolemy, Vanessa Lindores, Adam Reid,  Christine "Moose" McGlade, Alasdair Gillis, Lisa Ruddy, and many other kids.

One of the Canadian actors who would be the most famous out of the group was a person who was only there for one year, Alanis Morissette.

You Can't Do That on Television was the #1 rated show in 1984 and had kept that rating until mid 1986. That was when the show was slowly going downhill. You Can't Do That on Television did themes that targeted more for children than teenagers and the ratings began to drop. Also, the actors that had been on the show for years such as Christine "Moose" McGlade and Lisa Ruddy were too old to be on the show and were replaced by other kids that weren't nearly as good. Also, Roger Price had decided to retire and moved to France. It was up to Geoffrey Darby to hold the show together. But during that time, more and more popular Nickelodeon shows were being featured. So Nickelodeon pulled the plug on airing any more new You Can't Do That on Television episodes in 1987, while Canada was still airing them until the show officially ended in 1990.

All the actors and actresses had moved on to other projects. Some of them became well known actors and actresses in Canada, while others had faded into obscurity. Geoffrey Darby, for example, is the director of Martha Stewart TV. How ironic is that! The man who created slime is directing a show starring a woman known for lacy sheets and decorative towels. For people who grew up with this show, they wanted to see them one last time. Well, thanks to a convention called Slimecon, they did. On 2002 and 2004, some of the cast and crew of You Can't Do That on Television reunited for the first time in many years recollecting memories, taking pictures with fans, having interviews, and recreating sketches like they did all those years ago.

Overall, looking back at this show, the jokes are mostly hit and miss now. Some of the jokes are just so bad, it falls flat. Others are still a bit funny, but not much laugh out loud. Also the show had a very low budget look, some of the Canadian accents are a bit noticeable, and some of the kids weren't as funny compared to the other kids they were acting with. But, in my opinion, that's what makes it so charming. Yes, the jokes are tongue-in-cheek, but I love those jokes if it's presented right and it was. For some people who don't get it or who don't think it's funny, that's fine. Everyone has their opinion on what's funny.
I feel that people should be shown different styles of humor to really appreciate them, especially today. Today, it has gotten to a point in which raunchy, adult humor is the dominant comedy form such as Family Guy, South Park, American Dad, and pretty much every Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow movie.

Every once in a while, it's nice to get a refresher when watching another form of comedy whether it's physical, dry, standup, or tongue-in-cheek. Check it out if you're interested. If you're not interested in that, then watch it anyway to know that this was the show that put Nickelodeon on the map and that it should be appreciated for what it did.

That's all for now. Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.


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