Oh, Canada!

Remembering “You Can’t Do That On Television”

Devin D. O'Leary
3 min read
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American television is a dominant force worldwide, sending reruns of “Dallas”, to the far-flung reaches of the globe. But the United States isn’t the only source of entertainment over the airwaves here in North America. We can’t simply forget the televised contributions of our neighbors to the north. Without the CBC, CTV and other Canadian-born corporations of which I have no actual knowledge, the world would never have had access to such classic TV shows as “SCTV” or “Degrassi Junior High” or … um, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”.

But the greatest Canadian show of all time (Yes, even better than “The Red Green Show”, hard as that may be to believe, PBS viewers.) is the seminal sketch comedy series “You Can’t Do That on Television.”

“You Can’t Do That on Television” debuted in February of 1979 in Canada and was imported to America a few years later. In 1981, it aired on the fledgling cable channel Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon was one of the first major nationwide cable networks and garnered attention for being aimed exclusively at kids. By 1984, “YKDTOT” was the network’s highest-rated program. The show wasn’t necessarily notable for its format. It was essentially a note-for-note recreation of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” with kids instead of beatniks. But with its diverse young stars and slightly subversive slapstick, it felt like a TV show produced for kids by kids.

“You Can’t Do That …” ran for 11 years, dropping and replacing cast members as puberty saw fit. Canadian songstress Alanis Morissette did make her debut on the show, but she only appeared in 18 episodes. The show’s longevity crown (aside from the only two adult actors, Les Lye and Abby Hagyard) went to host Christine “Moose” McGlade, who lasted from 1979 to 1986. Sadly, McGlade (on whom I had a little puberty crush, I’m not afraid to admit) gave up acting after the show. (She became a TV producer and occasionally blogs on her website, www.christinemcglade.com.)

The show trafficked in dumb jokes, gross-out humor and a complete lack of moral and/or educational content. Nickelodeon ended up banning at least 15 of the more “controversial” episodes from the show’s Canadian run, including an infamous 1987 episode which concludes adoption is cheaper than buying a dog. But the show’s trademark gag was undoubtedly the bucket of green slime that got dumped on the head of anyone unfortunate enough to utter the catchphrase “I don’t know.” (Water was dumped on anyone using the words “water” or “wet.”)

The gimmick was so popular it launched a mini slime craze across the United States, inspiring other messy Nickelodeon shows like “Super Sloppy Double Dare” and culminating in the “Slime-In”–a contest that flew a lucky kid to the “YKDTOT” set to be personally slimed. To this day, Nickelodeon’s annual “Kid’s Choice Awards” feature celebrities getting covered in green slime.

Currently, the show remains unavailable on DVD and unseen in reruns. It lives on only in our fond, slime-covered memories.
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