‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ Still Has Laughs, Just No DVD Release

Before the bell saved Zack and Slater, and before everything was explained by Clarissa or even long before Amanda showed herself by throwing her bong out the window, there was You Can’t Do That on Television.

There haven’t been many shows aimed at a young audience to feature humor quite like that of You Can’t Do That on Television since it’s debut in 1981 on Nickelodeon, which was still in its infancy at the time. Perhaps something like Ren and Stimpy, or Beavis and Butthead might be the closest thing to it.

The sketch show was heavily influenced by Monty Python, even using animation similar to that of Terry Gilliam’s, and also admittedly-influenced by Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. There was also some similarities to SCTV, another Canadian-produced show, in that much of the show was a “behind the scenes” look at the production of a tv show.

Barths-Burgery

The scripts themselves were also heavily influenced by the kids on staff. You Can’t Do That on Television Creator Roger Price made it a point to incorporate the kids’ input into the show to give it a keeping-it-real vibe, as opposed to the standard adult created shows where the kids simply repeated the words.

Every show took on a different topic, like The Media, Sexual Equality, Movies, hygiene, drugs, TV commercials, garbage, bullies, and just about everything else you can imagine. That episode’s topic dominated the sketches and the between-sketch banter.

One thing the show did, that helped with the longevity and the creative depth, was the use of a handful of recurring characters and settings in the sketches. The settings and characters were familiar to everyday life of a kid.

There were sketches at home featuring a mother and father, who was sometimes seemingly drunk, and often had a beer or cigar in his hand; sketches at school, on the school bus, at the arcade, they existed back then, and at the local burger joint, Barth’s Burgery.

There were a few other, not-so-everyday recurring sketches like the dungeon and the firing squad, but even many of those were allegorically about being punished by authority figures, be it principles, parents, or whomever. For example, the dungeon sketches, which featured kids chained to the wall and being tormented by a sadist with a German accent, and the firing squad sketches featuring kids in front of a wall, pleading with a south/central American militant character about to tell the squad to fire.

In the firing squad sketches characters, usually Capitan, would actually get shot. Now that is something you really can’t do on television today, especially in shows aimed at kids.

Is it nostalgia, or is the show actually good?

Admittedly, my initial interest was one of nostalgia.

I’m old enough to remember life before cable television was in every home.

It was probably 1982 when we first got cable, and I got my first dose of You Can’t Do That on Television. I was blown away by the irreverent humor and through-kids-eyes presentation. I watched religiously throughout most of the 1980s, losing interest around the time of the major cast changes of 1989.

So yeah, the mere mentioning of the show’s name does make me smile to this day.

Dadwithbeer

It is a nostalgia that is hard to satisfy because unlike nearly every other television show with the popularity of You Can’t Do That on Television, there isn’t a comprehensive, every episode DVD collection available. The best thing out there are three volumes of shows released by Nickelodeon, each containing only a handful of episodes.

Since the episodes aren’t available for me to buy, my only other recourse was to watch what’s available on YouTube when I recently decided to seek it out again. Thankfully, there are quite a few full episodes available there thanks to the many people who took the time to transfer their VCR-recorded, VHS copies of shows and posted them.

I was curious whether the show was still good, or at least be able to make me laugh, as a hardened adult, who has been mercilessly beaten down by life. Turns out, it does still makes me laugh, just perhaps not quite as much as it did when I was eight.

Watching episodes now is a lot like watching the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, or even a Buster Keaton movie, in that it was created and written in a pop culture era far different than our own. This means some of the references are dated, the production values are dated, and sometimes the wardrobe styles are jarring. The fact the show is ultimately about kids trying to navigate a world of authority figures is able to overcome the antiquity of the culture and style.

The sketches are hit or miss when I watch them now, but so are Kids in the Hall sketches, and to an even bigger degree, so are Saturday Night Live sketches. SNL sketches might even be more miss than hit when it comes down to it.

The regularly featured Opposite Sketches elicit a laugh or two from me almost every time. Even the Locker Jokes segment occasionally has a few good zingers that get me.

LockerJoke

“Heeey Kevin,” Christine, aka Moose, said during one Locker Jokes segment, “Why is television called a medium? … Because it’s neither rare, nor well done.”

Now that’s funny. I don’t care who you are.

Seeing that it is still funny, and it hits the nostalgia sweet spot for those 30-somethings who want to impose the crap they watched as a kid onto their own kids, I’m determined to find out what’s going on with the issue of there being no DVD release.

Those Nick Rewind episodes mentioned earlier are available for download on iTunes, and that’s about it. Even those almost didn’t get released. Their release was originally set for 2005, but was pushed back several times before finally being released .

From what I’ve gathered in my amateur research is the rights to the show aren’t owned by Nickelodeon/Viacom, but more likely by CTV/Bell Media, the Canadian company who produced the shows.

Moose-Slime

From what I’ve gathered in my amateur research is the rights to the show aren’t owned by Nickelodeon/Viacom, but more likely by CTV/Bell Media, the Canadian company who produced the shows.
Nick never owned the show. Nick has, however, trademarked “Nickelodeon Green Slime” which it essentially stole from You Can’t Do That on Television.

My mission in life, at the moment, is to find out for certain who owns the rights to the show, and then ask them why there hasn’t been a complete series DVD release yet. At the very least, why it isn’t available in an on-demand digital streaming format somewhere to avoid the expense of producing a bunch of units that might, or might not, sell.

Most resources, including IMDB, credit Carlton Productions as being the production company that made You Can’t Do That on Television, which was a division of CJOH-TV, which was a division of CTV, an asset of CTVGlobemedia, which was gobbled up by BCE Inc., in 2000, was sold to CHUM Ltd., in 2006, but was bought back by BCE in 2011, and is now under the Bell Media umbrella, which is still kind of technically BCE. I think.

In between all those mergers, takeovers, and transitions, is another massive, tangled mess of properties being swapped around. Whatever the case, I’ve got an email out to Bell Media’s communications/press people, hoping to get all this cleared up. I’ll write it up if they actually respond.

Hell, for all I know at this point Viacom might have actually bought the rights to it during all that at some point, and I just can’t find evidence of it.

Before anyone points out how sad my life must be that I would make this its mission — don’t bother. I’m well aware of that and won’t debate it. Besides, who are you to judge me? You just read about it on the Internet the same as I did.

As those irritatingly bad news sites often say, this story is… Developing….

Great links for info:

Barth’s Burgery – Weird Old-school looking website with tons of episode info, including photo outlines of almost every one.
YCDTOTV – This seems to be the resource for everything You Can’t Do That on Television, with complete episode guide, interviews with cast and crew, and an encyclopedia worth of tidbits and facts.

One of the neat features on You Can’t Do That on Television were the “Pre-empts” that started each episode, for example, “Boy George Without Makeup will not be shown at this time. In its place we present something even more frightening.” This is a gallery of some of the shows pre-empted to show You Can’t Do That on Television.

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3 thoughts on “‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ Still Has Laughs, Just No DVD Release

  1. Hello there… I’m still laughing at your description of Roger Price, because you learned a lot about his personality from just a video clip. Simon Cowell reminds me of him, although Roger was never that mean. He’s a very creative person, but also difficult and arrogant.

    You’re not the first person to wonder about who owns the rights to YCDTOTV and is keeping the show from being re-released. I wrote for the show, and I have no clue. If you can track down Geoffrey Darby, he might be your best chance to find the answer.

    Have you seen the video of the launch event for “Slimed!” that was done at the 92nd Street Y in New York? The YCDTOTV panel was the second one onstage. It included Geoffrey Darby, Christine McGlade and Alasdair Gillis, plus some of the “little people” like me. Here’s where you’ll find it:

    http://92yondemand.org/double-dare-we-say-it-a-nickelodeon-historical-celebration-full-video/

    And if you’re interested, you can also check out a podcast I did a while back, where I got to talk about the show for about an hour.

    • Thanks for the info, and thank you for the work you did on the show. For better or worse, the show did have an impact on my sense of humor. I still haven’t completely outgrown it. I will definitely check out both links today. And I’m still looking for answers to the DVD question. I tried the email route and got nothing from more than one source. Next week, I start calling people on the phone. I’ll definitely look into tracking Darby down. He was in the documentary, You Can’t Do That on Film, so he might not be too difficult to locate and get a few minutes with for a phone call. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

  2. You Can’t Do That on Television was one of my favorite shows as a kid, so it’s a HUGE disappointment that it hasn’t been released on DVD or streaming (ie Netflix.) And the comedy does still stand up. It’s certainly better than what passes as “funny” on SNL these days…

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