12 Fun Facts About You Can't Do That on Television

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Two years after Nickelodeon’s official launch, it began airing the comedy series that would set the standard for the kid-friendly comedies that have dominated the channel’s programming lineup in the nearly 40 years since. Like a tween version of Laugh-In, You Can’t Do That On Television offered kids a somewhat subversive take on the sketch comedy genre. Its ensuing popularity essentially defined the network in the 1980s, and introduced its iconic green slime to the world. Here are 12 fun facts you might not have known about You Can't Do That on Television.

1. IT DIDN’T START OUT AS A NICKELODEON SHOW.

Two years before making its international debut, You Can’t Do That on Television was created in Ottawa, Canada with the intention of airing there and only there. It wasn’t until two years after its original premiere that Nickelodeon took a shine to it and expressed interest in bringing it to cable television. In early 1982, Nickelodeon took a chance on the series and began airing some edited versions of the show to gauge audience reaction. It quickly became the channel’s biggest hit.

2. THE OPENING CREDITS WERE INSPIRED BY TERRY GILLIAM.

If the opening credits to You Can’t Do That on Television look familiar, you might be thinking of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or any number of other Terry Gilliam-created animations. When asked about the similarities in animation style by Splitsider, You Can’t Do That on Television executive producer Geoffrey Darby admitted that, yes, “The opening was definitely influenced by [Gilliam]. In fact, it was very much a crib on some of the things he had done previously. Not the sausage factory, but the conveyor belt and hitting the head, and having it crack open. That was very much the style of a lot of animation in 1979 and 1980. It was very much the cutout Terry Gilliam style.”

3. CHRISTINE MCGLADE WAS CAST AS THE HOST ALMOST ACCIDENTALLY.

Christine “Moose” McGlade showed up at the first audition for You Can’t Do That on Television with no intention of auditioning. She was there merely as emotional support for a friend and fellow actress, who was trying out. But show creator Roger Price wasn’t having it: he reportedly insisted that McGlade either audition or leave. She opted for the former and ended up being cast as the show’s host.

4. IT HELPED LAUNCH THE CAREERS OF SOME FUTURE STARS.

While not all of You Can’t Do That on Television’s kid stars remained in show biz, the series did help to kickstart the careers of a few household names—most notably, singer Alanis Morissette, who appeared in a handful of episodes of the show in 1986; less than a decade later, she released her hit album Jagged Little Pill, which became one of the best-selling albums of all time. Bill Prady, who would go on to executive produce Gilmore Girls and The Big Bang Theory, was a writer on the show.

5. IT WAS INTENTIONALLY ANTI-EDUCATIONAL.

Whereas other kid television creators were aiming for education over entertainment, Roger Price was focused squarely on making kids laugh. “You Can’t Do That on Television was kind of anti-educational,” McGlade told The Huffington Post. “It’s funny because I’ve worked in educational media and one of my former cast mates grew up to be a teacher. But actually, Roger Price was a very rebellious anti-establishment man. His thought process was 'If the kids took over the studio, all these fun, silly, hilarious things could happen.'"

6. IT’S BEEN CREDITED AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF “GROSS” HUMOR.

As part of that “anti-establishment” mentality, You Can’t Do That on Television was full of bathroom humor—so much so that many people point to the series as the birthplace of gross-out humor. "[You Can't Do That on Television] was probably the first," Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi told The Ottawa Citizen of how the show opened the door for more potty humor-loving kids series. “If it hadn't been for them, we wouldn't have been able to do our thing. It was Les Lye and all those wacky guys who paved the way."

7. THE KIDS SHOT AFTER SCHOOL AND ON WEEKENDS.

Unlike other kid actors who have on-set tutors, You Can’t Do That on Television's producers wanted the kids who appeared on the show to remain “normal” kids in every sense. So that they could maintain their regular routines, production occurred around school schedules. “They all went to regular school and were in regular classes,” Darby explained. “They would come after school for the table readings and then would work on the weekends. They stayed regular, local kids, because we didn’t want them in a bubble. Because then they’re no longer kids, they’re ‘act-ores.’ Which is never what was wanted.”

8. IT ORIGINATED NICKELODEON’S FAMOUS GREEN SLIME.

To this day, “getting slimed” is a staple of the Nickelodeon network—and it started with You Can’t Do That on Television. Anytime a kid said the phrase “I don’t know,” he or she would be doused with a bucket of bright green slime—which Darby said happened kind of by accident:

“We were in the dungeon set and what happened was we had this joke, which was, ‘Whatever you do, kids, don’t pull on that chain.’

We went to the cafeteria and got them to give us a bucket of slop.

We said, ‘We want you to take all the stuff that’s left on plates over the whole day and put it in this bucket.’ And then we were going to dump it on the kid so that it looked like if he pulled the chain, sewage would come out.

We didn’t get around to shooting the scene because you can’t go into overtime with children. It’s against the law. If you don’t get the scene, you don’t get the scene. We didn’t get it shot.

So we put the set up again the following week to shoot that one scene … The prop man came to me—literally, this is a completely true story—and said, ‘There’s a problem.’ The problem was that he didn’t get a new bucket of slop. He just kept the old one back stage. There was about eight to 1- inches of green crud. Growing. It had grown on the top of this bucket of … stuff. There was mold.

So, we had to get the scene, right? We couldn’t get more slop, because we couldn’t! I said, ‘Dump … it … on … the … kid … anyway.' And that’s how green slime was invented.”

9. BEING SLIMED MEANT A BIGGER PAYCHECK.

Green slime wasn’t the only liquid kids on the show got doused with; any mention of “water” or “wet” would lead to a bucket of water being dumped on their heads. But there was a tradeoff: Kids were paid an extra $75 per episode that required them to be soaked, and $150 per episode that required them to be slimed. “We just thought it was a way to reward them for the horror of having that done,” Darby told Splitsider.

10. ONE EPISODE PROVED SO CONTROVERSIAL THAT IT WAS BANNED IN AMERICA.

In the show’s eighth season, one episode—“Adoption”—proved to be quite controversial. It did air in the U.S., but was quickly banned. Looking back on the episode in 2012, Darby admitted that the episode was a misstep, saying that, “We ourselves didn’t understand what buttons were being pushed about an episode dealing with adoption. And that was our mistake. None of the kids were adopted, we didn’t know anybody who had been adopted. That was really us just not being cognizant of the world of adoption. And so that was a bad show. That was just not being respectful.”

11. MR. ROGERS WASN’T A FAN.

Though kids loved the show, it had its fair share of detractors—many of them parents who didn’t like the way that adults were portrayed on the show. It also had one very famous critic: “Fred Rogers hates the show,'' Price said in 1989. ''He doesn't realize we're saying the same thing—I'm saying it to eight-year-olds and he's saying it to four-year-olds ... I care about my viewers: I don't care what their parents may want them to be, I care about them for what they are.”

12. IT INSPIRED A DOCUMENTARY FEATURE.

More than a decade after You Can’t Do That on Television’s series finale, interest in the show was still strong enough that Shout! Factory released You Can’t Do That on Film, a feature-length documentary about the series, directed by David Dillehunt.

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Wa Wa Wee Wa: The Origin of Borat's Favorite Catchphrase

Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

When Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released in 2006, a new audience was exposed to Borat Sagdiyev, a “journalist” portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen who had made frequent appearances on the comedian’s Da Ali G Show.

Soon, in our country there was problem: People mimicked Borat’s catchphrases, "very nice" and “wa wa wee wa,” incessantly. The latter phrase was used to denote surprise or happiness on Borat’s part. While some may have assumed it was made up, it turns out that it actually means something.

Wa wa wee wa is Hebrew, which Cohen speaks throughout the film and which helped make Borat a hit in Israel. (Cohen is himself Jewish.) It was taken from an Israeli comedy show and is the equivalent of the word wow. Reportedly, the expression was popular among Israelis, and they appreciated Cohen’s use of it.

The original Borat also sees Cohen singing a popular Hebrew folk song, “Koom Bachur Atzel,” or “get up lazy boy,” among other Hebrew mentions. It remains to be seen how much of it he’ll be speaking in the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, October 23.

[h/t The Los Angeles Times]