You Can't Do That on Television

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Hi, and welcome to sort of a... musty episode of You Can't Do That on Television. The show that makes modern history every week by continually appalling its viewers.
Christine "Moose" McGlade, the show's host from 1979 to 1986

A Canadian Saturday Morning Kids Show Sketch Comedy, running from 1979 to 1990, and rerun on and later produced by Nickelodeon, You Can't Do That on Television was heavily influenced by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, borrowing modified and age-appropriate versions of several of Laugh-In sketches (most obviously, the joke wall, redesigned as a set of locker doors; the habit of dumping buckets of water on cast members, and the announcer) and catch phrases.

First introduced at CJOH (a CTV station in Ottawa) as a kids' variety show, the show's wild success in America made it one of the defining shows of Nickelodeon's history. It would run far longer on that network than it did in Canada, and the network's trademark green slime started with this show. The show's influence went beyond Nickelodeon, as homages have popped up everywhere from the sitcom News Radio (in one episode, the cast was doused with buckets of green slime and water) to Family Guy (an episode in the 2011-12 season is titled "You Can't Do That On Television, Peter").

Brought Covered in Gunge to North America. And Alanis Morissette. No, really. The proof is here.

Now with its own Getting Crap Past the Radar page.

Tropes used in You Can't Do That on Television include:
  • Actor Allusion: Of a sort. Host Christine McGlade made the mistake of mentioning her real-life nickname Moose to the producers; it was swiftly worked into the show.
  • Adults Are Useless: Adults are usually portrayed as bumbling their best. The one who isn't--Ross, the stage manager--is despicable for all other sorts of reasons. This was deliberate on the part of creator Roger Price, who hated that adults in kids' shows tended to be reliable, helpful, Reasonable Authority Figures and wanted to teach kids that not all adults were like this.
  • Bankruptcy Barrel: Ross and Moose end up wearing these during the episode about theft, when their clothes (and most of the set) have been stolen. Moose's still has water and a rubber duck in it.
  • Broken Aesop: In one scene, Senator Prevert (Les Lye) in one sketch yelled at Alasdair for having been caught smoking cigarettes in school, and then proceeded to light up a cigar in the same sketch.

Alasdair: Wait a minute, I thought you said smoking was bad for your health!
Sen. Prevert: No, what I said was, smoking is bad for your health. I never said anything about mine.

    • There were a couple of these also in the "Addictions" episode from 1982, notably a link set skit where Lisa reprimands Christine for being "addicted" to video games, but then it turns out Lisa has her own "unhealthy" addiction - to soap operas.
  • Canada, Eh?: The show is a Canadian production. Other Canadianisms that found their way into the show: going "to university" instead of "to college", and saying "grade ten" instead of "tenth grade." Although the writers did their best to internationalize the show's content by making references to American things such as the Fourth of July, it was little things like those in the script that (even without seeing the words "Ottawa, Canada" in the closing credits) made the show's country of origin obvious.
    • "Going to university" isn't a Canadianism. University and college are separate things. Of course somebody going to Carleton College instead of Carton University will say "College" regardless of where they live.
      • More obvious in Season One and in "Whatever Turns You On" (which were never intended to be seen outside of Canada), with a number of jokes about one guy (Marc Bailon) being French, leading to the line "You don't speak Frog, eh?" ("Frog" is an offensive term for a French person [as in "from France" French], but can also be applied to someone from a French-speaking country -- in this case, Quebec.)
        • In another scene, one girl (Cyndi) talked about her first crush being "a frog." Thinking Cyndi was using the offensive slang term, Christine scolded her. It turned out Cyndi was talking about an ACTUAL frog, which she then had to dissect for school, but didn't feel bad about it because she said, "Frogs aren't human." Upon hearing this, Marc came up and announced (referring to the Quebecois separatist movement), "Any more of that, and we WILL separate!"
  • Catch Phrase: And how. Some of the more repeated ones:

"Fresh air, blue skies, Barfy Burgers, girls!"
"What do you think's in the burgers?" "Duh... I heard that!"
"She's got a point." "Don't encourage her."
"Where do they find them, and why do they keep sending them to me?"
"Sometimes it's so easy, I'm ashamed of myself."
"Wait a minute! Stop the execution!" (and if successful) "That's one sneaky kid."
Kid to Nasti: "But you can't do this, this is torture!" Nasti: "I know!"
"Ten bucks. Each."
"Roll the closing credits!"
"That means... this is Just the Introduction to The Opposites!"

  • Couch Gag: Before the opening, there was a graphic announcing that a regularly-scheduled show parody (i.e., Mr. Rogers: Neighborhood Pusher, George Bush Shoots The Wrong Quayle, The Cosby Kids Get Put Up For Adoption, etc) will not be seen tonight and will be replaced by an episode of You Can't Do That On Television.
    • At the end, an announcer (played by Les Lye) would do a theme-relevant Brought to You by The Letter "S". The show would then cut to him as he made a final gag about the show.
  • Covered in Gunge: Green slime, usually.
  • Edited for Syndication: Two episodes on the American Nickelodeon version had parts cut:
    • The episode entitled "Body Parts" was cut to remove a lot of sexual innuendo and scenes that wouldn't fly on American children's TV no matter if it's a Golden Age or a Dork Age -- one sketch had a boy selling Playboy magazines to his friends, another sketch was an "Opposites" sketch where an anatomy teacher shows his class a porno film, and the last thing cut was a girl's line about how her favorite body part is "what's in the pants" (a wallet).
    • Another episodes called "Fears, Worries, and Anxieties" had a sketch where a boy is afraid of going to school because there's a bully there who picks on him named "Killer Curtis." At the time this episode aired in America, there really was a serial killer in the news named "Killer Curtis." The Nickelodeon version redubs "Killer Curtis" with "Crusher Willis" (though one can tell it's a redub because the Nickelodeon censors used the original boy actor [Alasdair] from that sketch, who, at the time, was going through puberty and didn't have the same high-pitched voice that he used to have).
    • To top it off, Nickelodeon's airing of the "Enemies and Paranoia" episode in 2004 (as an "Old School Pick") was cut short and replaced with other programming. Why? Because the episode had a lot of jokes about Ronald Reagan as President of the United States and the episode just happened to air shortly after Ronald Reagan's death made the news.
  • Greasy Spoon: Barth's.
  • I Ate What?: Most of the Barth sketches.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: Invoked with cream pies in the episode "Drugs", the pies have this effect specifically because they're stand-ins for heavy drugs and depicting use of the real thing would get the show pulled off the air.
  • Ironic Name: The teacher character Mr. Schindler is modeled on Adolf Hitler.
  • Jackass Genie: "My work here is done." Happened on at least three occasions:
    • "Not-So-Fair Show" (1982), with the "Unfairy Godmother" (played by Les Lye)

Christine: I said I wish I was thinner.
Unfairy Godmother: Thinner! And so you shall be! (transforms Christine into a can of paint thinner)

    • "TV Commercials" (1986), Doug Ptolemy as the "Jiffy Genie"

Mrs. Prevert: Oh Jiffy Genie, can you get rid of all this oven grease?
Jiffy Genie: In a flash, ma'am. (waves his arms, and Mrs. Prevert's entire oven disappears. Mrs. Prevert wails and begins to sob loudly)
Announcer: Yes, with Jiffy Genie, you'll never have oven grease again.
Jiffy Genie: (to camera) You'll never have an oven, period.

    • "Fitness" (1989) - Amyas Godfrey as the "Fitness Genie" grants Rekha her wish of being "lighter" by making her glow. He also gives Rekha the chance to lose more weight by making her fatter, so she can lose "more weight."
  • The Jimmy Hart Version: The Theme Tune is a sendup of "The William Tell Overture".
  • Just the Introduction to The Opposites: The Trope Namer
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: A DVD release had been imminent since at least 2003, but never came to fruition.
    • In general, the series is plagued with Missing Episodes for various reasons – many of which stem from the show's historical status as a purely-local programme created at CTV member station CJOH-TV in Ottawa in 1979. Almost nothing remains of the first season, a local production which often aired live.
      • Fortunately, there's always fan-tapes of newer episodes, save for the 1979 season.
    • Making matters worse, the CJOH studio was gutted by fire in the wee hours Sunday 7 Feb 2010; the station never returned to 1500 Merivale Road and the building was eventually demolished. In addition to local news archives, the master tapes of many of the episodes were destroyed.
  • Lethal Chef: Barth, unabashedly. Yet for some reason the kids keep eating at his diner.

"I'll have you know that is the exact same burger that we took the picture of, six months ago."

  • Literal Genie: See Jackass Genie above.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Les Lye played all the adult male characters (including the disgusting and possibly drunken diner chef, Barth), sporting enough distinct looks that this fact wasn't immediately obvious.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Christine "Moose" McGlade. She was much older than the other kids and always seemed to be wearing aerobics leotards, working out and getting wet when she said "water".
  • No Fourth Wall: The show knows it's a show and the characters constantly interact with the "director". An episode about divorce had the show being interrupted because the director and his wife split up and she took half of the show.
  • The Not-So-Harmless Punishment: One sketch had a child being 'grounded' and having his shoes taken away. The kid points out that having his shoes taken away won't stop him leaving the house. The adult then says that the child has misunderstood. Now that he has taken off his rubber-soled shoes, he is 'grounded' and hands the kid a live electric cable...
  • Old Shame – Two episodes of the show were banned:
    • In America, the episode called "Adoption" was banned due to fears that adopted children would find some of the sketches offensive (despite a very clear warning at the beginning stating that the jokes weren't meant to hurt anyone). In Canada, this episode was allowed to air, but the part where Lance Prevert tries to give his adopted kid back to the agency, only to learn that "adoption is for life," had Lance's line "Damn bureaucrat!" muted out.
    • In Canada, the episode called "Divorce" was banned, but some Canadian viewers who remember seeing the episode on YTV beg to differ.
  • Only Sane Kid: Moose, in a capacity similar to that of Kermit The Frog on the The Muppet Show.
  • Panty Shot: Christine in a host segment where she's in a tennis outfit and suffers a broken leg. Of course, the dress has a pretty short skirt to begin with.
    • In an earlier episode, Christine also had her skirt "blown up" Marilyn Monroe-style, though it didn't expose anything more than the pantyhose she was wearing.
  • Pie in the Face: Not as ubiquitous as the green slime, but it popped up on a number of occasions. One episode (1981's "Drugs") was even built around the gag, equating the stupidity of hitting yourself with a pie to the stupidity of harming yourself by taking drugs.
  • Sadist Teacher: A recurring character was a school principal that looked and acted like Hitler.
  • The Scottish Trope: "I don't know!"
    • And "water" (or "wet").
    • In the "Enemies and Paranoia" episode, the word "Free".
  • Self-Deprecation: Many of the jokes were about how awful/boring the show was.
  • Shot At Dawn: A regular sketch involved one of the kids about to be shot by one. They often (but not always) escaped execution by tricking the commandant. The commandant also appeared in a recurring sketch with the kid Locked in the Dungeon (the source of the "fresh air" catchphrase above).
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The entire cast over time, and especially when they replaced everyone for the 1989 and 1990 seasons.)
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Whoever figures out what (or who) is in the burger in Barth's diner always chucks. Sometimes into buckets typically provided by said Barth. How else do you think he gets his "Special Sauce"?
  • Who Even Needs a Brain?: A sketch had a mother getting far too enthusiastic about cleaning out her child's ears, and cleaning out everything between them as well. It had no noticeable effect on the child.