- You Can't Do That on Television
You Can't Do That on Television
Scene from the third opening
Genre Comedy Format Live action, Variety, Sketch comedy Created by Roger Price Starring See Cast Country of origin Canada Language(s) English No. of seasons 10 No. of episodes 143 (List of episodes) Production Producer(s) Roger Price Location(s) CJOH-TV Studios
Running time 45 minutes (1979)
30 minutes (1981-1990)
Broadcast Original channel CTV
Original run February 3, 1979 – May 25, 1990
You Can't Do That on Television is a Canadian television program that first aired locally in 1979 before ultimately airing internationally in 1981. It primarily featured pre-teen and teenaged actors in a sketch comedy format in which they acted out skits based on a theme for that episode.
- 1 History
- 2 Trademarks
- 3 Water, slime and pies
- 4 Cast
- 5 References
- 6 External links
You Can't Do That on Television debuted in 1979 on CJOH-TV in Ottawa as a low-budget variety program with some segments performed live. The show consisted of comedy skits, music videos (usually three per episode) and live phone-in contests in which the viewer could win a variety of prizes (transistor radios, record albums, model kits, etc.). The format also included performances by local disco dancers and special guests such as Ottawa-based cartoonist Jim Unger. Every week the show took its "Roving Camera" to hangouts around town, recording kids' jokes or complaints about life, which would be played on the following week's broadcast. The show's disco dance segments were emceed by Jim Johnson, a DJ on Ottawa's leading pop music radio station, CFGO (which at the time was co-owned with CJOH). Also, after a music video aired, Johnson would tell the viewers interesting facts about the artist featured in the video.
Veteran comedy actor Les Lye played numerous recurring characters and was initially the only adult to perform in the show's sketches, although actress Abby Hagyard later joined the show to become "the other grown-up" in the cast roster, and frequently played "Mom" opposite Lye's role as "Dad." Occasionally the older children in the cast (such as Christine McGlade or Cyndi Kennedy) played adult characters.
The show's trademark green slime dousing prank was introduced in 1979, as was the practice of using the phrase "I don't know" as a trigger for the prank.
The show was meant to offer a program for children on Saturday mornings. It made no attempt to be an educational program. The idea was successful. Only three full episodes from the first season are known to exist; the studio masters no longer exist. However, the episodes can now be downloaded and viewed via several websites.
National television in Canada
After a successful first season, a national network version of the program entitled Whatever Turns You On was produced for CTV and debuted in September 1979 (having already aired an hour-long pilot episode in May). The format was shortened to a half-hour, removed local content, added a laugh track and replaced music videos with live performances from popular Canadian artists at the time, including Trooper, Max Webster, Ian Thomas and disco singer Alma Faye Brooks. Ruth Buzzi joined the cast and the 22 children from the first season were whittled down to seven: Christine "Moose" McGlade, Lisa Ruddy, Jonothan Gebert, Kevin Somers, Kevin Schenk, Rodney Helal, and Marc Baillon (another first-season cast member, Elizabeth Mitchell, only appeared in the pilot episode). The show was placed in the 7 pm timeslot on Tuesday nights, and had poor ratings as a result. The show was canceled after one season.
In January 1981, production on YCDTOTV resumed, and a new batch of episodes aired locally on CJOH through May of that year. The format of the 1981 episodes as aired on CJOH was similar to that of the inaugural 1979 season, with the differences being that each show featured skits revolving around a certain topic (something that carried over from Whatever Turns You On) and that the disco dancers were replaced by video game competitions. The season proper ended in May, but cast members were asked to come back in May and June 1981 to film some additional scenes for the syndicated version of the show (including re-writes or re-shoots of already-filmed sketches to filter out Ottawa-centric or Canada-centric content). At the time the season ended, it was uncertain whether the show would continue. In the meantime, some YCDTOTV cast members continued to hone their on-camera skills through appearances in Bear Rapids, a Price/Darby pilot film that was never picked up, and Something Else, a local game show on CJOH with a format somewhat similar to the live and local episodes of YCDTOTV.
Later in 1981, the new American youth-oriented cable network, Nickelodeon, took an interest in YCDTOTV. Nickelodeon originally aired a handful of episodes in edited half-hour form during 1981 as a test run, since producer Roger Price and director Geoffrey Darby had edited the entire 1981 season of You Can't Do That on Television 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 entire edited season and YCDTOTV quickly became their highest rated show.
Production on new episodes of YCDTOTV resumed full time in 1982, with all episodes from that point onward made in the half-hour all-comedy format. Also in 1982, Nickelodeon and CJOH had then become 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 first five times a week and, eventually, every day.
In 1984, You Can't Do That on Television became Nickelodeon's highest-rated television program, lasting until mid-1986. Kids across America were making slime and water sounds with their mouths and sending in their own entries for the Slime-In, a contest hosted by Nickelodeon that flew the winner to the set of You Can't Do That On Television to be slimed (which was later replicated by Canada's YTV, with their version being called the Slime Light Sweepstakes).
Changing of the guard and controversies
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. Longtime hostess Christine McGlade ("Moose") had departed the previous year, as had Alasdair Gillis (who had been promoted to co-host with Moose in 1985 before leaving towards the end of the 1986 season); Lisa Ruddy ("Motormouth"), Moose's longtime sidekick on the show, was also gone, having left at the end of the 1985 season. Only five episodes were filmed in this season, the shortest season of You Can't Do That on Television's 15-year span on the air, and one of the episodes (Adoption) proved so controversial that it was banned after being shown twice (a "DO NOT AIR" sticker was reportedly placed on the master tape at CJOH). (Adoption) is the only episode that was banned in the U.S, and the second one banned in Canada (Divorce was the other one).
In addition, Nickelodeon had removed the half-hour edits of the 1981 episodes of You Can't Do That on Television from its daily time slot rotation, along with the 1982 "Cosmetics" episode. The 1981 episodes were supposed to air for the last time ever during a week-long promotion in 1985 called "Oldies But Moldies", which featured contests where Nickelodeon viewers could win prizes like "tasty, fresh 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 six-year contract to air the 1981 season expired in 1987, 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. Allegedly, Nickelodeon removed the "Cosmetics" episode from rotation for the latter reason as well (although the "Addictions" episode from that same season was not dropped).
Roger Price moved to France in 1988. CJOH decided not to make new episodes without him due to lack of ideas, and production was suspended. When Price eventually returned to Canada, he wanted to resume production of You Can't Do That on Television from the city of Toronto, but was convinced by the cast and crew to return to Ottawa and CJOH.
You Can't Do That on Television 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.
Opinions on the 1989 and 1990 episodes of YCDTOTV are mixed among longtime fans of the show, particularly regarding the new episodes' increasing reliance on bathroom humour 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 stage producer on the show). Gillis also appeared briefly in the "locker jokes" segment during the "Fantasies" episode, and Adam Reid, who by this time had become an official writer for YCDTOTV, also appeared (and was slimed) at the very end of the episode "Punishment."
The show's ratings declined throughout 1989 and 1990, ranking fifth on Nickelodeon. The network's desire to produce more of its own shows at its new studios at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, coupled with the poor ratings, caused production of You Can't Do That on Television to officially end in 1990. Though ratings declined, Nickelodeon continued to air reruns until January 1994, at which point it was only being aired on weekends.
In July 2004, a reunion special called Project 131 was produced at CJOH-TV starring five members of the original cast. These included Brodie Osome, Marjorie Silcoff, and Vanessa Lindores (pregnant at the time), with cameos by Justin Cammy and Alasdair Gillis. It was directed by David Dillehunt and executive produced by Josh Yawn.
Episodes of YCDTOTV included recurring gimmicks and gags. The following is a partial list.
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 the 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". There was no preempted episode for the Success and Failure episode (1989) because the producers failed to come up with a preempt.
Opening animation: The Children's Television Sausage Factory
Originally created by Rand MacIvor (under Art Director - John C. Galt), who was inspired by Terry Gilliam's "gilliamations", the opening animation sequence was a sequence of surreal images set to 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 (1979–1990), the opening animation itself changed in different ways.
- The Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament complex was used in the first season and in the original hour-long versions of the 1981 season episodes. In this animation sequence, a person pulls the roof off one side of the building, releasing three balloons bearing the likenesses of the three party leaders at the time: Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, and Ed Broadbent. Then, a hand from off-screen ignites the bottom of the Peace Tower with a match and it takes off like a rocket. The start of the animation features a likeness of 1979 cast member David Halpin.
- There are two versions of the "Children's Television Sausage Factory" animation. In this sequence, children are "processed" in the "sausage factory" and deposited onto a school bus at the bottom of the factory that transports them to the TV studio (a likeness of the CJOH studios on Merivale Road in Nepean, Ontario). The first version was created for the half-hour, internationally syndicated versions of the 1981 episodes. The second version, which featured larger images and cleaner (albeit less fluid) scene animation than the first version, was introduced in the beginning 1982 season and used for both the U.S. and Canadian broadcasts of You Can't Do That on Television until the end of the show in 1990.
- Both versions of the "Children's Television Sausage Factory" animation feature likenesses of Jonothan Gebert, Kevin Somers, Marc Baillon and Christine McGlade exiting the school bus, as well as a likeness of Les Lye as the security guard at the door of the TV studio. This footage was re-used from the opening sequence of 1979's short-lived Whatever Turns You On.
- The ending of the introduction saw Lye's face in a sketch with his mouth opening up, leading to a stamp put on his face reading You Can't Do That on Television, followed by the screen cracking and finally splitting in 2 pieces which the cast are seen.
Each episode had an "opposites" segment, introduced by a visual effect of the screen flipping upside down, shifting left to fade to the next sketch, and then righting itself. Right before this happened, one of the cast would generally be giving a monologue (or several would be having a group conversation) that was interrupted by another cast member with something that would (generally) be opposite what the monologue (or dialogue) was about, all present cast would say, "It must be the introduction to the opposites", and then the inversion fade would happen; several sketches would follow that were a tongue-in-cheek reversal of the show's subject of the day, and also in which the normal principles of daily life were reversed, often with children having authority over adults or with adults encouraging children to behave badly (for example, eating sweets instead of vegetables, or wasting money on something frivolous rather than putting the money in the bank). A show on marketing, for instance, would also have a sketch or four of how not to market something.
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, or sometimes not fall at all. Also, an opposite sketch in Heroes (1982) had Lisa Ruddy slimed for saying "I know," rather than "I don't know" (while other cast members said "I don't know" in that same sketch without anything happening to them).
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." These would sometimes occur in the middle of a sketch, resulting in the characters inverting whatever they were doing just prior to the conclusion of the sketch.
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.
Most episodes included one or more firing squad sketches, where Les would play the part of a Latin American military officer with a sword in hand preparing to order a firing squad to execute one of the children actors, who were standing in front of a post. The kids would usually find a way to trick Les Lye into walking in front of the post and saying the word "fire", thus getting shot by the firing squad himself, which was a trademark, and happened almost every time.
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, which is when the squad would fire, but it wasn't shown. There is also one episode in which the cast member cries out to the commander: "Hurry up, hurry up, start the execution!" This, of course, draws the executioner's attention, and they commence fire.
During the famous "locker room" segment of You Can't Do That on Television, cast members, residing in gym lockers with You Can't Do That on Television painted on them, 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 well-known "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 in 1990, with the lockers themselves undergoing a few minor physical makeovers during the show's early years.
Used in a few episodes in the first two seasons and almost every episode in later seasons, the closing credits of You Can't Do That on Television are followed by an announcement of the "company" that produced the program, with the name generally tying in with the episode's main subject. These announcements are given in the form of "'You Can't Do That on Television' is a ______ production." For example, the 1982 "Bullying" episode was a "Black Eye" Production; the 1984 "Marketing" show was a "Can't Give It Away" Production; the "Divorce" episode was a "Split Down The Middle" Production;"Project 131" was a "Changing Day" Production; The "Malls" episode was a "Hang Out to Dry" production. The announcement of the production company generally followed by one final sketch, usually taking place on the link set.
Water, slime and pies
Certain key words would have the major result in cast members having substances poured on them from off-camera. This skit came on throughout every episode (along with the Slime, too). When someone said "water" or "wet", a large amount of water would mysteriously cascade onto him 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" had then no longer triggered the water to spray down, thus leaving the job to just the word "water" itself. This, too, was an homage to Laugh-In. Often at times, cast members would try to "dodge" getting hit with water by saying it in Spanish or French, only to still get hit with water.
Likewise, when someone said "I don't know", green slime, a gooey substance, would pour on him from above. This prank 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. In this episode, Lisa Ruddy was the victim of six slimings (a YCDTOTV record). This was a result of continually being asked "What is the largest lake in Canada?", which was the Great Bear Lake. She is then asked how many fish are in it, to which she says "I don't know."
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. On the link set in Episode 9 (the "Executive Washrooms" episode), Iain Fingler was slimed after saying "I don't know" after being asked how many goldfish the current Members of Parliament in Ottawa have. After he is slimed, Iain went so far as to say "Ouch!".
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:
- Christine McGlade is slimed in blue in the ending link to the 1982 "Justice and Injustice" episode, because, as Ross (Les Lye) tells her, they ran out of green slime.
- Christine is slimed in green, red, blue, yellow and "stripes" (red, blue, and yellow at once) in rapid succession in the 1982 "Television" episode, while trying to explain about green slime to then-newcomer Vanessa Lindores. This sketch was later seen in the opening to the hit 1987 film Fatal Attraction.
- In the 1982 episode "Cosmetics", Lisa Ruddy is slimed with "mud" (like brown slime) for saying "I don't know."
- Kevin Schenk and Kevin Somers were both hit with white slime in the 1981 "Safety" episode, as part of a recurring series of gags in this episode about "wearing white at night." In this same episode, Christine McGlade was drenched with whitewash.
- In the 1983 "Media" episode, Lisa Ruddy is slimed with the "new and improved, whiter-than-white" white slime.
- In the "Enemies and Paranoia" episode from the 1986 season, the studio is taken over by Russian Communists. Uttering the word "free" (as in "freedom") would send a cascade of red slime pouring over whoever said it.
- The 1989 "Time" episode, which was filmed largely in black and white, featured Chris Bickford doused in white slime and Christian Tessier slimed with black slime.
- In the 1989 episode "Losing Things", Ted Wilson and Amyas Godfrey are dumped with black slime because they lost the formula for green slime.
- Les Lye said the famous line when Tony Danza asks him what happens if he takes the wrong cave backstage at the start of the inaugural Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.
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. Actors who were scripted to be slimed or have water doused on them would usually appear barefoot in the scene.
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, where slime was heavily used, along with several variations such as 'gak' or 'gooze'. Mattel even sold Nickelodeon slime and gak in the 1990s. Nickelodeon's former studios in Orlando had a green slime geyser and green slime is still dumped on the host of the annual Kids Choice Awards at the end of the ceremony, and on at least one celebrity during the ceremony. It is also still used in ads showing the network's current stars getting slimed from all sides in slow motion, and is used to slime the winner at the end of the Nick game show BrainSurge, which debuted in 2009.
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. One whole episode, 1981's Drugs, was constructed completely around the pie-in-the-face gag: to avoid the wrath of the censors, the episode showed the cast getting "high" by pieing themselves continuously over and over, comparing the stupidity of hitting oneself with a pie to the stupidity of taking drugs. Unlike the slime and water, pies were not triggered by any certain word or phrase.
Over 100 child actors appeared on YCDTOTV between 1979 and 1990. Some of the most notable cast members included:
Name Year(s) First Appearance Notes Stephanie Bauder 1989–1990 Episode 114: Choices Nick Belcourt 1989 Episode 114: Choices Chris Bickford 1989–1990 Episode 114: Choices Third and final host. Jennifer Brackenbury 1989–1990 Episode 114: Choices Carlos Braithwaite 1989–1990 Episode 114: Choices Justin Cammy 1983–1985 Episode 49: Classical Music Stephanie Chow 1984–1987 Episode 74: Families Angie Coddett 1981–1984 Episode 17: Dating Eugene Contreras 1982–1985 Episode 29: Popularity Roddy Contreras 1982 Episode 35: Television Ian Fingler 1979 Jonothan Gebert 1979–1981 Episode 1 Alasdair Gillis 1982–1986 Episode 31: Vacations Second official host. Amyas Godfrey 1986–1989 Episode 89: Fairy Tales, Myths, & Legends Matthew Godfrey 1986–1987 Episode 91: Know-It-Alls Abby Hagyard 1982–1990 Adult cast member Adam Kalbfleisch 1984–1986 Episode 62: Moving Martin Kerr 1981–1983 Episode 25: Nutrition Pauline Kerr 1984 Episode 60: Foreign Countries Kevin Kubusheskie 1981–1984 Episode 16: Strike Now Vanessa Lindores 1982–1987 Episode 35: Television Les Lye 1979–1990 Adult cast member Christine McGlade 1979–1986 Episode 1 First official host. Alanis Morissette 1986–1987 Brodie Osome 1981–1983 Episode 15: Transportation Doug Ptolemy 1982–1987 Episode 30: Fads and Fashion Adam Reid 1984–1987 Episode 78: Wealth Lisa Ruddy 1979–1985 Episode 1 Sidharth Sahay 1989 Episode 116: Communication Vik Sahay 1986–1987 Episode 105: Sleep Kevin Schenk 1979–1981 Episode 8 Klea Scott 1982-1984 Sariya Sharp 1989–1990 Episode 122: Fantasy Marjorie Silcoff 1984–1985 Episode 56: History Kevin Somers 1979–1981 Episode 1 Amy Stanley 1989–1990 Episode 133: Celebrations Jill Stanley 1989–1990 Episode 115: Chores Christian Tessier 1989–1990 Episode 116: Communication Ted Wilson 1989–1990 Episode 114: Choices
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