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Ottawa, the capital of slime: Slimecon,
a Trekkie-like convention, honours
'You Can't Do That On Television'

By Chris Cobb
Appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on July 12, 2002


People who know stuff will now be thinking of You Can't Do That on Television.

Getting slimed.

Most people will now be thinking of Ghostbusters.

But the people who know stuff will still be thinking of You Can't Do That on Television.

So let's cut to the chase: Sliming began in Ottawa on Saturday morning, Jan. 29, 1979, at CJOH television studios on Merivale Road.

Getting slimed didn't start with Ghostbusters.

There's even a Big Green Slime Machine fountain at Universal Studios, but no mention of its true origins.

When Tom Cruise and Rosie O'Donnell got slimed this year on the MTV Awards, the idea didn't come from thin air, it came from Ottawa. Did Cruise watch You Can't Do That on Television when he was a kid living here? Probably. Most kids did.

You Can't Do That on Television was a new type of kid's TV show, born out of a promise Standard Broadcasting (then owners of CJOH) made to the country's broadcast regulator.

Give us the broadcast licence, said Standard, and we will produce a TV show to appeal to older children. So they did.

You Can't Do That on Television, which from now on will be referred to as YCDTOTV, was cheeky, a little bit rude and revelled in fart jokes, other aspects of bathroom humour and kids who loved to talk back to adults. It had lots of slapstick, call-in segments and musical guests, including a 13-year-old up and comer named Alanis Morissette, who appeared occasionally, though was never an official cast member.

"It was a show that children loved and parents hated," says YCDTOTV's executive producer Bryn Matthews, who went to London, England in search of innovative kids' programming and returned with Roger Price, the writer/producer who developed YCDTOTV.

"Roger never quite grew up," laughs Matthews. "I think his development was arrested between age eight and 10.'

YCDTOTV was totally different and it was also enormously successful -- especially in the United States where it showed on the kids' cable network Nickelodeon.

Which brings us to this weekend, and the first Slimecon, a Trekkie-like convention organized by YCDTOTV fanatics from the U.S.

Dozens of U.S. fans, their enthusiasm stoked by absorbing two shows a day during its mid-1980s golden era, are in Ottawa as adults desperate to meet the (now adult) cast members and actually see the studios where their all-time favourite show was produced. Twenty years on, their Mecca is no longer a hotbed of creativity but, for this weekend at least, some of the old buzz is back.

YCDTOTV was more popular in the United States, Australia, Spain and other countries than it was in Canada. In 1984, while the show's ratings declined in this country, Nickelodeon aired the show five times a week and it became the network's highest-rated TV program. There were 130 episodes in all.

In Canada, an attempt at a national network version on the CTV network failed. Some critics said the show, renamed Whatever Turns You On, bombed because CTV introduced the American funny woman Ruth Buzzi as a central character in an effort to create a show it could sell to the Americans. Ironically, it was the Ottawa-produced show that caught the imaginations of millions of American kids.

Just ask Emily Reichbach, aged 31, of San Jose, who is among the legions of U.S. fans who swap trivia, tapes and minutiae about the show via the Internet.

"It was always my favourite TV show," said Reichbach, shortly after arriving in Ottawa on yesterday. "My brother and I would watch it religiously."

Reichbach, now a professional event planner, is jointly responsible for organizing Slimecon along with Byron Smith. Most of the Americans at the convention know each other through the Web site, but it will be the first time most will have met in the flesh.

Reichbach, her brother Ian and best friend Traci were so in to the show that they produced their own mini-version and sent it to Price, just for fun.

" I was 15," she recalls. " Roger sent me a letter saying he liked our tape so much and asked us to write a script for the show. So we did. I can't remember how much we were paid, but we used the money they paid us and flew to Ottawa to watch our segments (and) the show being taped."

Reichbach has her own theory about why the show was so successful.

"It was on twice a day, every day, during the years it was on Nickelodeon," she says. "If you were a kid back then, you watched it. More important was the humour, which was a kind of sophisticated sarcasm. There has never been another show like it. It was like a kids version of Saturday Night Live."

Among the dozens of guests at Slimecon will be Dean Carley, a prop guy on the show and the inventor of slime. (The recipe, of course, is a closely guarded secret).

Cast members didn't mind being slimed. It was messy but profitable because all slime victims got an extra $50. Getting watered, another common feature, was worth an extra $25.

"The kids in the cast were treated like professionals," says Brenda Mason, who directed 52 episodes of the show.

"They were an integral part of its creation and that's a huge reason why kids love it so much. Roger hated that pap kids stuff that you still see on television. His objective was to make a show that appealed to kids and he knew kids loved that bathroom humour."

Most of the cast members were drama students from local high schools. "We were looking for naturalness and vivaciousness," says Mason.

None of the regular cast members went on to fame and fortune in TV or movies, but YCDTOTV paid for many post-secondary educations.

When Nickelodeon picked up the show, each cast member was paid in advance for five years of residual appearances. The amount each received depended on the number of appearances. (One cast member, who went on to study at Trent University, bought a house in Peterborough with residual money and sold it shortly after he graduated.)

The cast had the best of both worlds, recalls Mason, now back working at CJOH.

"The kids were huge stars in the States," she says, " but in Ottawa they had normal lives. They would go to school during the week and then go to Texas to open a shopping mall on the weekend."

Price, who now lives in France, will not be in Ottawa this weekend, but his first director and co-writer Geoffrey Darby will be. Funny man Les Lye, who played all of the adult male roles during the 10-year life of the show, will be there too, as will local actress Abby Hagyard, another mainstay.

Slimecon participants will get to meet the cast members, both informally and in a more formal question and answer session, and generally get to absorb the reconstructed set and see some of the surviving props and costumes.

And, of course, there will be slime. Original slime guy Dean Carley has promised to create a batch just for the occasion.

Just for old slime's sake.

Paid admission to the convention is available to the public in the CJOH main lobby. Sessions begin at 6 p.m. today, 10 a.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. Sunday.