A teenaged boy shackled in a dungeon...Kids lined up before a South American firing squad...Innocent victims bombarded by buckets of oozing slime. It's not the sort of stuff that typical TV comedy shows are made of, the very atypical Roger Price defied the critics who said You Can't Do That on Television by creating a hit series for kids that is both entertaining and educational.
The half-hour CJOH produced comedy show offered a unique look at adolescent concerns in a collection of fast-paced scenarios. Each episode addressed an important theme - politics, divorce and anxiety, for example - from a kid's point of view.
"Adults often delude themselves that kids don't really have any trouble," says Price, the show's producer and creator. "We regard getting caught speeding as trouble, but we don't think of having to do a major homework assignment as trouble. This show is saying to kids that their culture - which is a different culture from that of adults - is worthy of respect and worth of being portrayed on television."
Price developed You Can't Do That On Television in 1979 along with Geoffrey Darby for CJOH TV in Ottawa, Canada. From there, the show was able to produce its own line of shampoo & soap, a comic strip, a video compilation, and a short-lived spin-off series, Whatever Turns You On, that feature Laugh-In veteran, Ruth Buzzi. The United States' Nickelodeon network began airing the program along with its almost entirely Canadian produced television line up in 1981. It didn't take Nick long to realize they had a hit in their hands and by 1982, Nickelodeon and CJOH were production partners. Unlike in Canada, the show was an overwhelming success with it's US audiences and had more that six million viewers by 1986, making it Nickelodeon's most popular program in the 8- to 12-year-old age group. Nickelodeon quickly began using the show's Green Slime as a part of its network's logos, commercials, etc. and still uses it today.
"The reason for slime is that we are a slap-stick show," explains the British-born Price who, when pressed for a description of the stuff, will say only that it is a nontoxic substance. "Children feel that one of the most devastating things that can happen is not to know," says Price. "The sliming itself is a devastating thing to have done to anyone on television. It is obviously awful, and therefore the audience appreciates it."
"At Nickelodeon, it's important to us that kids feel comfortable about who they are," says Geoffrey Darby, executive producer for Nickelodeon and co-creator of the series. "You Can't is kids making a program for other kids. We put our kids into situations that are similar to kids at home, but blow them so far out of proportion that it becomes comical."
The stars of You Can't Do That On Television consisted of about twelve teenagers at a time, used in rotation, and two adults who portray all the show's "authority" figures - parents, teachers, and the like. The kids, for the most part, have had no prior television experience and are basically just being themselves. Price welcomes input from the cast and encourates improvisation, though "it must always be within the scope of what the real person would say and do. It is much more like being yourself in an extraordinary situation."