Zachary Houle interviewed the audio wizard of YCDTOTV, Jim Clarke, in May 2003. Below is his transcript.
Zachary Houle: What was your role with the series?
Jim Clarke: I was the soundman.
ZH: Throughout the entire run?
JC: Like most of the shows then, we moved around a lot because we were part of a pretty big production company (Carleton Productions) in Ottawa at the time, so we had six or seven crews that were mobile. You would work most of the shows as the main audio person for a couple of years, and then move on to something else because you would get kind of tired of it. So you would work on other things and another guy would be brought in as the main audio guy. But if you weren’t out on the mobile or anything else, then you’d come in and maybe do boom (microphone operation). There was a main mixer and the two boom operators.
So from Whatever Turns You On throughout the rest of the You Can’t series, I was the main audio person. As we came up to the last year, 1989-90, I might have done a little boom. Whenever I wasn’t one of the main audio guys, I was one of the boom guys. It all depends on what you were working on.
ZH: What was working on the show like?
JC: Our initial feeling when the show started was that we (the production crew) were all pissed off because we would all work weekends.
ZH: (laughs) Yeah, I’m under the impression after talking to another production guy on the show that work on set dovetailed right into the weekend. It seemed as though, from a production standpoint, the show was quite labor intensive.
JC: Yeah, I think you’d have a day or two off – the Monday or Tuesday. Then, the kids would come in for their drama classes and their read-throughs for the next couple days. The crew was booked into the studio possibly on Friday nights, but mostly Saturdays and Sundays. So the kids would be working and rehearsing all week for a couple of hours every evening. And then the crew would take on stuff on the Saturdays and Sundays.
It became quite fun after that, though, because Les (Lye) was just fantastic. Some kids were good, but some kids were a pain in the ass.
ZH: I knew the show was pushing a lot of boundaries at the time, content-wise. A lot of stuff got excised, and so you had a lot of external pressures on set. I heard being on set was a matter of the best of times and the worst of times. Is that a correct assessment?
JC: Well, you know, it was mostly a fun time except if you were doing the same scene over and over and over. The locker sketches were something that was done start to finish, and there was no editing done on that. So, quite a few times, getting the doors to open at the right time and getting everybody to learn their lines … (was a problem). I would say there was more fun than bad stuff.
There were probably some behind-the-scenes pressure from the networks on the edits and that, but I’m not even sure if that was bad. They’d do an edit, send it down to Nickelodeon for approval, and make whatever changes they requested. It was sort of the same with us for the standards we had up here (in Canada to uphold).
There are different versions of the show out there. There’s the CTV version, the Nickelodeon version, and then they got edited after that because Nickelodeon didn’t have any commercial breaks. So those (early) episodes were actually longer and had fake commercials in them, and those things are really collectable right now because after (a certain time) Nickelodeon took out scenes and fake commercials when they started putting in their own commercials. So, people that have some of those early shows, with the fake commercials in them, they’re quite collectable.
Like I said, though, I don’t know if the editing was really bad. There was a lot more to it than a regular show’s taping and editing, however. I have one picture right now with cast member Ted Wilson, who has all kinds of chocolate over his head, climbing out of a toilet.
ZH: And that’s the other thing, too: I guess the amount of gunk and stuff that just got piled on you as a kid.
JC: Well, he had toilet paper and all kinds of chocolate over his head, and I remember that wasn’t allowed down in the States. They (Nickelodeon) thought it was too gross.
ZH: That must have caused some kind of tensions between the producers and that network.
JC: I wasn’t involved in that kind of thing. You gotta realize that I’d come in Saturdays and we’d tape the show. We wouldn’t hear much of that stuff or see much of it, because it was always, “Hey, Roger, we need scripts at a certain time.” So there were certain tensions that way in that we were such a busy production house that we’d put blocks of time aside and that’s when the show’s going to be done. I remember a few times where we’d be running out of time, … and we’d only had three scripts when we were supposed to have five.
Maybe other stuff was going on – I’m not privy to it or can’t recall any of that. But, like in any production, the only problems I was aware of that you might not be ready with certain scripts or things like that.
ZH: How did You Can’t Do That on Television get its start?
JC: The show sort of started in 1978 and ’79, when they (CJOH-TV) did Whatever Turns You On. When it didn’t make it as a prime-time show – the network (CTV) tried to put it on a 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night and it didn’t work – they made it a national CTV network show that the other stations (in the chain) weren’t obligated to show. I know there were stations out east (in Atlantic Canada) that refused to carry the show because of the content.
JC: It was one of these optional things because, “Hey, we’ve already ordered 12 shows and you (CTV affiliates) can show them if you want, too.” I don’t know how long it lasted on the network, but I mean they tried to do it primetime. They even brought (American actress) Ruth Buzzi in.
ZH: I have a question about the very early version of You Can’t, back around ’79 or ’80. I’m seeing references in the old episode guides that there were special guest stars: Donna Summers and Eddie Money.
JC: Those were strictly videos shown during the live show. You see, there was a version of You Can’t that started out on Saturday mornings in ‘79. We did studio stuff, but we had kids in as a studio audience, and they would show videos and have a DJ. His name was Jim. So they’d show videos during the live shows. Then, we brought in Canadian artists that we shot ourselves, like Trooper and a few others that escape me right now. But we pre-taped them and played them back into the show too.
ZH: I think I saw a few names like Kim Mitchell.
JC: Yeah, and anyone who was around in Canada back then.
ZH: Wow, so it was almost like you guys were sort of the first outlet in Canada to show music videos.
JC: Oh yeah. But that was a live (variety) show with content, a one-hour show. So that’s when they showed the videos. Those names (like Eddie Money) weren’t really guests.
ZH: Speaking of guests, what about the Alanis Morissette connection? She obviously went onto bigger things, and I know she worked on a just few shows around 1986 or so.
JC: That’s right.
ZH: I hear she wasn’t an official member of the cast, per se. She was only in three or four episodes.
JC: Well, she was in five or six episodes. I think when you’re a cast member, you’re a cast member. We had a lot of people who came on the show. We have a lot of people who only came in for one show, but they were still considered cast members.
The way the whole thing was done was Roger (Price) and Geoff (Darby) set up acting lessons, a school for teaching the kids. So they would come in do read throughs, do their drama classes with two or three teachers – that’s where Roger picked some people for the shows. If he needed one kid, he’d only bring one kid in. The kid might only be in one show because they needed that kind of kid or personality, and if they realized that if he didn’t do great, off he went.
In her (Alanis’s) case, you were a cast member once you were on the show. So it wasn’t a visiting thing. You see, we’d shoot all the living room sets for four or five or six shows in one weekend. The next weekend you’d come in and do the dungeon or library scenes. So over the four or five weeks, you’d get the four or five shows. They’d go in later and edit all that stuff together.
So she was around for quite awhile. To tell you the truth – and this is the way I see it – I thought she was being groomed to take over from Moose. If you see Alanis on the show, she had a short hair cut like Moose, she was cute, and she was bubbly. Even on the show, they made her out to be the one all the guys are hot for, and you will see that Adam Reid and the two brothers (Amyas and Matthew Godfrey) are fighting over her for dates. On the opposite sketches, they were all fighting over her so they wouldn’t have to take her out on a date – things like that. So I think they were grooming her for that.
ZH: But the story usually is that Roger thought that she was getting too old or too mature to be on the show: it was more that she was a 35-year-old in a 12-year-old’s body.
JC: I don’t know about that. To tell you the truth, I think it was more that her mother was more of a stage mother, pissed Roger off, and (he) kicked her (Alanis) off the show for a while. Then she moved onto other things. That’s the way I see it. … But, if you look at her, she was quite young looking. She had the hairstyle that might have given her a little more of a mature look and that, but she still looked like a little kid. If you see photos of her on set, you’ll see the bobby sox and the Capri pants, and she looks just as young as the other kids. She doesn’t look any older to me. It was just the way that they were grooming her to take over from Moose for the lead, because she had a certain kind of brightness to her. You know, the bubbly-ness I guess.
She was good. There was nothing wrong with her. She came in, could do her lines, and was a regular person.
ZH: I hear stories that she did some singing afterward at cast and wrap-up parties. I guess she was hired back to do some more stuff, albeit off screen?
JC: I don’t know about that. … But one of the things Roger did want was for the kids to have a life outside of the show. If they were all together, they would all go out and have lunch together. When we weren’t taping, he’d take them to go out and do, let say bowling or something. So he was trying to do that with a group of the core kids to make sure they had a little bit of a life, so there were gatherings that the cast were involved with.
ZH: Another thing: I hear you own the sets. Is that true?
JC: I own the lockers myself, I own the firing squad post. The lockers actually are set up right now in Studio D at CJOH, the same studio where the show was done. It’s actually just a façade – they were torn apart to be thrown out. I owned them and just couldn’t move them, they were just too heavy, and the production company said “We have to get rid of these,” and I said, “Ah, go ahead.” But I came in the next night, and there they were, all lying on the floor, taken apart with all the nuts and bolts taken out. And I said, “Well, there they are: all of the front doors and frames.” And I just couldn’t see them go: these great big pieces of Andy Warhol-style art.
ZH: Seems kind of like the relationship between the show and Nickelodeon these days: almost forgotten.
JC: They don’t acknowledge You Can’t Do That On Television any more, and yet they use the green slime for everything. The Kids Choice Awards last year had Tom Cruise and Rosie O’Donnell getting slimed. And General Mills just came out with Green Slime Cereal.
ZH: I know the show, when it initially ran, didn’t get proper respect in Canada, either. I think it was only on CTV nationally in 1982, aside from Whatever Turns You On.
JC: Okay, that’s what you’ll hear the kids down in the States all say. They’ll say that we never appreciated it here in Canada, and Nickelodeon made it a big hit. What you have to realize is, back then, we didn’t have a cablevision network like they had down there. We had local cable, which brought in three American stations and your local TV stations – that’s what cable was in Canada back at that point in time. But, down there, when they started their cablevision networks, they had a bigger distribution thing. So whenever anyone bought cable, they got all of these other channels free. That’s sort of what we have now, so let’s say they were years ahead – say, five years – of us.
Up here, yes, it was a local show. We tried to go nationally with it – we tried to do it in primetime (in 1979) and it didn’t go over, so it went back to a local show. But, later on, when we got some cable channels like YTV, it became popular again in Canada. But we didn’t have that when it first came out, so that’s the difference.
They (the Americans) had a national distribution network, where an audience could be built up. Our show was shown twice a day in New York City and was, I believe, the top rated show in New York City for a while.
ZH: Well, I was even finding weird stats, like this article in USA Today in 1986, where child psychologists were calling You Can’t the best show for kids at the time.
JC: Yeah, I remember that. That’s true. That’s exactly what they voted the show.
Anyhow, it wasn’t like Canadians didn’t like the show or that it wasn’t popular up there. It was a different thing altogether, because we didn’t have the distribution like the Americans. And, don’t forget, it made Nickelodeon, which started out as a little station up in Minnesota or somewhere under another name. …
We made it (Nickelodeon) what it was it. It was the popularity of You Can’t Do That On Television that started to bring in all the viewers, and kept their viewers for their other shows and made the network what it is today. They still use the slime for their logo. Even Ghostbusters came up with slime, but we’re the originators of the slime.
ZH: So who came up with the slime?
JC: I think that was all Roger Price’s idea. It was brought in as part of the show: the water and the slime.
ZH: Do you feel from your perspective that You Can’t isn’t remembered or has gotten the short shrift in bringing forth other messy shows for kids, like Double Dare and Ren & Stimpy?
JC: Well, I think that Nickelodeon obviously realized at a certain point they could produce their own shows, all these other shows you’ve mentioned, and own control over them, play them back as many times as they wanted, and control the content, too. With You Can’t Do That, they only had the rights to show the episodes in re-runs for five years. The show was sold to Germany and Australia and England, and once the five-year thing ran out in those different places, the show stopped being shown there as well.
I think it’s a thing where Nickelodeon doesn’t want to pay the money again, all the residuals for the scriptwriting and the talent. So that’s why they’ll never show them again, and that’s why they think, “Well, why mention it (on air)?” It’s all in the past, and we can’t do anything about it.
I mean, people keep saying, “Well, why can’t you show this on one of your other networks like Nick At Nite, or something like that?” But I think because they have exclusive rights to show the show in the States, and they’re never going to do anything with it, we can’t sell it to somebody else to show. They still retain those rights as far as we know.
So I think they’re sticking with the slime as the logo for the network, and they feel, “Why mention You Can’t Do That On Television?” Nickelodeon and slime are synonymous, and there’s no reason to mention the show anymore.
ZH: So I’d imagine it’s not a matter of the show being past its best before date?
JC: Well, you know, you couldn’t get away with all that stuff now because if you tried to show it again, it’d be so censored. You’re shooting kids, you’re doing this and that to them. That wouldn’t go over nowadays. People may think things are more acceptable on TV, but I think they (the things on You Can’t) probably wouldn’t go over.
ZH: It’s weird too, because you have shows since then like South Park that just upped the ante that you guys got away with and ran with it into wild, new territory. And guess who’s watching it? Kids.
JC: Well, I could be wrong, but … I’ve been checking into what it would cost to re-release the shows on DVD or VHS.
ZH: So that’s a possibility?
JC: Well, it’s the very early stages. It’s a little complicated because of the different contracts that were signed over the years, so we don’t know where to start. So we’re looking at that, but, to tell you the truth, I don’t think it’ll ever happen.
© 2003 Zachary Houle