May 19, 2017

You Can't Do That on Television

In 1981, the new children's network Nickelodeon was filling space with anything it could find, from 1930s-era Warner Brothers cartoons to the teen soap Degrassi Junior High to the old British series Danger Mouse.  One of its happier acquisitions was You Can't Do That on Television (YCDTOT), a sketch comedy series which premiered in 1979 in Canada.  It lasted until 1990, bringing on an endless array of kids (over 100 in all) to mock the conventions, fears, and idiocies of the preteen world.

Everything from the standard (tedious homework, nonsensical school rules, horrible cafeteria food) to the edgy (racism, gender roles, divorce).

And a lot for gay boys to like.

1. The boys in the cast appeared shirtless or in their underwear constantly, in nearly every episode.  Gay preteens must have been mesmerized.

Unfortunately, cast members usually retired when they hit adolescence, but there were a few exceptions to provide beefcake for the teenagers, such as Alasdair Gillis (above and left).

And Kevin Kubusheski.

2.  Two ongoing bits reflected gay kids' anxiety over desires that the adults insisted could not and did not exist.  In one, a boy is about to be executed by firing squad, yells "Stop the execution," and cleverly talks his way out of it.  In another, a boy is in a dungeon, hands manacled over his head, being interrogated and tortured (usually by being slobbered on).

3. Gender stereotypes were frequently critiqued.  Boys dressed as ballerinas, played with dolls, disliked sports, and were bad at math. Girls worked on cars and wore leather jackets.

4. Although gay people were never mentioned, the critique of the most cherished myths and preconceptions of childhood helped gay kids recognize that the myth of universal heterosexual desire could be critiqued as well.


  1. I can't remember his name but there was one guy on there that use to always be in the dungeon with his arms tied up above his head... you could always see his newly, and lightly hairy armpits. It use to drive me wild!

  2. Are any of the cast members gay?

  3. Some of the scenes were obviously intended for the gay kids in the audience. I couldn't believe what they were getting away with.

  4. I heard that Alasdair was gay. Kevin Kubucheski became a social worker. Doug Ptolemy turned into a major hunk when he grew up.

  5. I wrote for You Can't Do That On Television in 1985-86. These days, I have Google tell me whenever it finds people talking about the show, and it's so interesting to see what turns up.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but to my knowledge there was nothing in the show that was aimed at gay kids in the audience. Putting boys in girls clothes or having them get caught with their clothes off was all about embarrassment, which is a vital ingredient in comedy, especially for kids. Yes, there was a secondary "beefcake" element with the boys when they got older, but that was aimed at teenage girls, who were writing to Alasdair in large numbers at the time I was working on the show.

    Now, is it possible that my producer Roger Price had some kind of hidden agenda that he didn't tell me about? I suppose anything's possible. And we certainly wouldn't have minded gay kids watching the show and enjoying what they saw. But as far as I know, nothing was being done on purpose.

  6. I usually delete posts that point out that characters are Not Wearing Signs, but in this case I'll make an exception. Point #3 of Not Wearing a Sign: Authorial intent is irrelevant. After writing 5 books on children's media, I can safely state that:

    Not one tv program, movie, comic book, or cartoon has ever been produced with the idea that there will be gay children in the audience. Not one. Not ever. Gay children are most emphatically assumed not to exist. Writers, producers, directors, and actors all, without exception, assume that every child, without exception, is heterosexual.

    Gay children are interlopers in an alien country. Everything they see, everything they hear, everything they read is meant for someone else. They have to grab what they can. If they must distort the text, read things that the author didn't intent, find things that aren't even there, no problem. When it is a matter of survival, anything goes.

  7. What about Kevin Keller in Archie comics? Isn't he aimed at gay kids?

  8. He may be aimed at gay kids, but most likely he's intended to increase the tolerance of heterosexual kids.

  9. this show was like gay porn for me when i was 12-13.. i loved alasdair and kevin (of course) but there were also several other cuties that came through the "revolving door" of castmembers, but they usually didn't last long..

    i've heard rumors in recent years that alasdair gillis is gay, but i don't have any personal knowledge and he's never discussed his sexuality publicly as far as i know.

    1. I got a "gay vibe" from Alisdair when he was interviewed on a revivial program.

  10. I had a major crush on Aisdair too. One day I was doing research on Celtic musician in Canada and came across an article about Bagpiper Duncan Gillis. I remember reading somewhere that Alisdair's brother was a piper and sure enough this particular Duncan Gillis was it. It did not take long to look on YouTube to find Duncan playing and sure enough, there was Alisdair playing fiddle with him -link provided at the bottom. In subsequent research I found out that Alastair himself was quite the musician. In addition I found out that Alastair was married and had children. I'm sorry to disappoint everyone, but I'm also happy that a person I loved and cared about has found happiness!

  11. Ben Schreiner, who was on the show in 84, is gay.

  12. As a gay pre-teen in the 80's I couldnt wait to rush home after school to catch the show to see my fave boy-crush shackled to a dungeon wall with an open shirt. You definitely cant do that on TV today.


No comments that use abusive or vulgar language or point out that a character is Not Wearing a Sign.


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