Forgotten Freshness: You Can’t Do That On Television

Man, how the times have changed. Back in the 80’s, it was totally okay to have children’s sketch comedy show where families were so poor that their children got repossessed, it was okay for middle-aged man dressed as a scuba diver to share a bathtub with an underage girl, and there was even a recurring sketch about children being sentenced to death by firing squad.

You Can’t Do That On Television: Poverty & Unemployment Pt.1

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkP-DSVJRy4]

Originally a low budget children’s sketch comedy show in 1979 for local Ottowa, Canada station CJOH-TV, You Can’t Do That On Television was picked up by Nickelodeon in 1981. Each episode’s sketches always centered around a main theme and the show is most known for its “slime” gag where green slime fell from the sky onto the actors’ heads every time they said “I don’t know.” To this day, green slime is a staple of Nickelodeon’s brand identity. In addition to the slime if any of the actors said “water,” water would fall on them.

You Can’t Do That On Television: Poverty & Unemployment Pt. 2

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUal1r1_-5k]

YCDTOTV was definitely a pretty edgy show, even by today’s standards. Episode themes centered around things like poverty, fashion, and the future, but some episodes were banned. An episode about adoption was banned in the U.S. and Canada and an episode about divorce was banned in Canada.

Once Nickelodeon picked up the show and tried aiming it toward a younger demographic, it kind of started going downhill. While originally made for teens and pre-teens, episodes about things like sexual equality, peer pressure, and drugs were replaced by more kiddy-ish potty humor.

The show lasted until 1990 and reruns were aired until 1994. In 2004, there was a reunion special called Project 131 and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.

You Can’t Do That On Television: Poverty & Unemployment Pt. 3 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUfE2sB2hMk]

Watching these old episodes, it’s definitely hard to imagine this sort of thing flying on TV today. As much as people complain that TV is too violent or oversexualized, I think they tend to forget how things used to be. Not saying anything was wrong with the good old days of children’s entertainment, though. If anything, this show deserves respect for not talking down to kids and talking about real issues.

And, come on, could you even imagine how if there was a children’s program where kids were being shot by a firing squad this day and age? Uptight parents would have a fit!

Maybe that’s the main divide between kids and grown-ups. Kids have the ability to see the humor in everything while grown-ups tend to take everything way too seriously.

Trivia:

  • Canadian singer Allanis Morrisette was on the show when she was just 5 years old in 1979 and was on again in 1986 for an episode about pop music. Dave Coulier was also working for Nickelodeon around this time on the show Out Of Control. Alanis Morisette’s song You Oughta Know is about Dave Coulier!!! Coincidence?
  • The show’s opening animation, The Children’s Television Sausage Factor was inspired by Terry Gilliam‘s “gilliamations.” That’s the same Terry Gilliam from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He also directed some movies you’ve probably heard of like 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
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