Green Slime and You Can’t Do That On Television
If you grew up in the 1980s and had access to cable television, you probably remember with great fondness, the early days of Nickelodeon where TV shows were always a bit on the rude, crude, and outrageous side. Shows like Danger Mouse, Turkey Television, Double Dare, Hey Dude, Count Duckula, Out of Control, Nick Rocks: Video to Go, Today’s Special, Pinwheel, and Eureeka’s Castle added up to zany television for kids that was outside of the box of the usual fare found on other networks. Of course, the epic granddaddy of them all was You Can’t Do That on Television, a sketch-comedy show with minimal production values, and a cast for teens with whom we could identify and who made us laugh.
No one can forget the opening credits of You Can’t Do That on Television, a cacophonous combination of animation and cast photos set to a wildly frantic “William Tell Overture”. Kids are assembled at the Children’s Television Sausage Factory, then put on a bus and shipped to a television studio where they overrun a doorman and wreak havoc. It perfectly set up the show to come.
You Can’t Do That on Television, which was produced in Canada, was reminiscent of the great sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and The Carol Burnett Show. Each episode explored a theme (things that were on kids’ and teens’ minds), and the cast would play out short scenes that related. There were regular favorites such as Barth’s burger joint where the proprietor served up rats and other revolting dishes. There was detention where the teens were put through unspeakable torture for speaking their minds. There was even a dungeon where youth were chained up for the simplest of infractions. Humor was always delivered with a great deal of tongue-in-cheek wit, and a heaping helping of inappropriateness (on a kid’s level).
One of the show’s central conceits was to envision the world from a kid’s point of view. Young people always feel like they must have the answers or they will be in trouble, so the admittance of any cast member of “I Don’t Know” resulted in their being deluged with a bucket of green slime (a metaphor for the shame felt). The almost phosphorescent mixture would go on to become one of Nickelodeon’s trademark stunts, as green slime began to appear on program’s like the game show Double Dare. A similar downpour resulted if you said the word “water”, leading to a bucket of H20 raining on their heads.
Another regular item on the show tipped its hats to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, with a row of brightly-colored lockers used to similar effect as Laugh-In utilized windows in its scenery. Both shows had its cast pop in and out, delivering corny jokes, bad puns, and wacky exchanges. It was all done with high energy and an unapologetic nature (no one felt bad if there was a groaner or two in the batch of jokes).
The best part about You Can’t Do That on Television was the cast. The kids were always typical kids, not polished Hollywood types. Even so, they shined brilliantly. They were led by the dry-witted and practical Christine McGlade (known as Moose), and featured many regulars such as Lisa Ruddy, Doug Ptolemy, Vanessa Lindoris, Adam Reid, and of course, Alisdair Gillis (who didn’t have a crush on Alisdair?). Though many believe she was a mainstay of the cast, musician Alanis Morrissette appeared in only seven episodes of You Can’t Do That on Television.
Two adults, Les Lye and Abby Haygard, played most of the grown-up characters on the show. Adults were depicted as comedic stereotypes, often judgmental, harsh, embarrassing, and gleeful over torturing children. Lye and Haygard were wonderful and embraced their characters with verve.
You Can’t Do That on Television was produced between 1979 and 1990, for a total of 143 episodes. It wasn’t until it premiered on Nickelodeon in 1981 did it really take-off and become the definitive TV show for a generation of kids. Yes, You Can’t Do That on Television was juvenile. Yes, it was sometimes corny. Yes, it painted adults in an unflattering light. And, yes, it wasn’t perfect. It was just everything a show for kids should be, and that’s why we loved it so much.