I have not thought about the long-running children’s sketch show, You Can’t Do That On Television in years, but I woke up this morning with a strange memory of Barth (of Barth’s Burgers) exclaiming, “Duh! I heard that,” a long-running joke from the series that my own father worked into the running jokes of my family growing up. Most people that remember You Can’t Do That On Television at all probably first remember that it was where Alanis Morissette got her start. What I didn’t remember, really, was how edgy the long-running Canadian and Nickelodeon produced series was: For a kid’s show, it had bite, featuring curses cut short (to get past censors), lots of shout-outs to Monty Python (the opening credits sequence was inspired by Terry Gilliam) and suggestions that mouse heads and tails, used kitty litter, and maggots (among many other things) made up the contents of Barth’s Burgers. (“Duh! I heard that.”)
Heavily modeled on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, the idea behind You Can’t Do That On Television was to create a kid’s show with no educational value whatsoever, which was novel for children’s programming at the time (as opposed to routine now). But ultimately, I think, there was plenty of value in it sense of humor, which would shape the minds of an entire generation. Remember when a character would find out what was in Barth’s burger would vomit, and that vomit would be made into Barth’s special sauce?
What an awesome f***ing show.
Anyway, here’s a few quick facts about You Can’t Do That On Television, designed not to blow minds, but as a reminder of the what an outstanding kid’s show it was.
1. You Can’t Do That On Television ran from 1979 to 1990, but its first incarnation — which originally aired in only Canada — was cancelled after its first season (go figure? It aired on Tuesday nights in Canada, after all). It was originally called Whatever Turns You On, and although the cast, the layout, and the sense of humor all derived from the original show, it’s otherwise unrecognizable as You Can’t Do That On Television.
2. The good episodes of You Can’t Do That On Television basically ended in 1987, when the series creator/showrunner, Roger Price, moved to France and production was suspended. It returned two years later with a mostly new cast and a much heavier reliance on toilet humor, but it wasn’t the same. Ratings fell (it fell to the fifth highest-rated show on the network), and production officially stopped, as Nickelodeon shifted focus to content produced by in-house. Reruns, however, continued to run until 1994.