How A Quirky Canadian Show Is Responsible For Nickelodeon’s Success


If you asked someone on the street to name a critical Nickelodeon show, you’d probably hear answers like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants, or Rugrats. But before any of these titans debuted, there was You Can’t Do That On Television. The quirky Canadian children’s show forever changed the future of the then-fledgling station.

How Nickelodeon Came To Be

The seed that would become Nickelodeon was planted in 1977 when Dr. Vivian Horner created the show Pinwheel on a local cable station in Ohio. It was enough of a success for her to expand it nationwide with the help of Warner Media. In 1979, Nickelodeon officially launched as the first dedicated children’s network on cable.

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Over the next few years, Nickelodeon featured mostly educational programming and failed to really find an identity. The network focused on programming aimed at parental approval instead of something kids would actually enjoy. It needed a proper hit to establish an identity and to light a path forward.

The Canadians Are Here To Help

Meanwhile, up in Canada, a kid’s version of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was gaining traction: You Can’t Do That On Television. Originally debuting in 1979, it got picked up for American syndication on Nickelodeon in 1981. The show had a quirky sense of humor and really felt like a show made by kids, for kids.

The show featured what turned out to be an extremely important running gag. Whenever someone said “I don’t know,” green slime would suddenly pour on their heads. Legend has it the distinctive green color was a nasty accident: leftovers meant for a gag had begun to mold. The cast members were disgusted, but the audience loved it. The response was so positive that slime was featured on nearly every single episode moving forward.

An Important Hit

You Can’t Do That On Television finally gave Nickelodeon an identity. It was a hit series, and slime quickly became a trademark for the entire network. Slime was a major factor in the next big Nickelodeon hit: Double Dare. Turns out kids really love making a huge mess.

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The network only exploded in popularity from there. The Kids’ Choice Awards and Nick Jr. both launched in 1988. In 1991, Nicktoons were born. All in one night Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy all debuted. Each was a hit in its own right.

In 1994, Nickelodeon quietly removed You Can’t Do That On Television from its schedule. It was replaced by a new sketch show: All That. The changing of eras is downright poignant, as there definitely wouldn’t be All That were it not for You Can’t Do That On Television.

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