OTTAWA—Veterans of the '80s cult classic TV show You Can't Do That On Television filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against Nickelodeon Monday, alleging that the network exposed them to a bevy of toxins which led to a chronic affliction called Green Slime Syndrome.
"The producers assured us the slime was safe, and that getting drenched with it for five or more takes wouldn't cause any lasting damage," cast member Alasdair Gillis said. "I was only 12. I didn't ask questions; I just did what the director said. Now I live with constant pain."
Gillis then pulled up his sleeves to reveal the suppurating pustules that cover his forearms and wrists.
"Most days I just sit on the couch and relive the shows," Gillis said. "It's inexcusable that the directors punished me for having the courage to say 'I don't know.'"
You Can't Do That On Television, a Canadian children's sketch-comedy show, aired on Nickelodeon from 1979 to 1990, with a cast largely made up of local amateur child actors. Many sketches were punctuated with physical humor, with the actors frequently doused in slime, water, or foodstuffs.
Since YCDTOTV ended production, as many as 50 cast members have complained of a host of symptoms, including chronic pain and fatigue, numbness in the extremities, skin rashes, headache, nausea, and depression.
Gillis said he personally was doused with four different colors of slime, as well as spaghetti sauce, ink, mud, motor oil, soup, and silly string—all within the span of one season.
"If you tell people you have GSS, they act like you're just a coddled child actor," Gillis added. "'Part of the harsh reality of show-biz,' they say. But they don't know what it was like, man. Now, 20 years later, I still wince every time I hear someone say 'water.' I still request Evian in restaurants. I can't even be in the same room as a cream pie."
Gillis said cast members didn't file the lawsuit sooner because it took years for their doctors to make the connection between the mysterious ailments and the slime to which victims were exposed during the show.
"I left the show in 1986, and about a year later, I got a rash all over my face that just wouldn't go away," Gillis said. "Then I started having debilitating migraines and shooting pains in my back. It was when my fingers went numb that I knew something had to be wrong. I bounced from doctor to doctor, until a physician in Beverly Hills sat me down and asked me if I'd ever been exposed to comic props. Finally, I knew it wasn't all in my head. I knew it was the slime."
Cast member Marjorie Silcoff said she silently suffered a multitude of painful symptoms for years, until she attended a 1999 YCDTOTV reunion and discovered that many of her co-stars were suffering from similar unexplained ailments.
"When Les Lye [who played popular characters Barth, Ross, Senator Prevort, and El Capitano on the show] walked in with the left side of his face paralyzed, I started crying," Silcoff said. "I had a flashback to Barth standing there in the order window beneath the fly paper, holding up his spatula, getting slimed. It was so tragic. He never even had a chance to say his line, "That's what's in the burgers.'"
Continued Silcoff: "We all just stood on the mark like we were told. Christ, when you think about all the things that we were exposed to—mustard, milk, Jell-O, grape soda—it's incredible that we survived at all."
According to Silcoff, Nickelodeon lawyers continue to claim that GSS is just a stress-related ailment or a form of psychological hysteria.
"They tell our doctors, 'Don't encourage them,'" Silcoff said. "Some of us gave it our all for 11 years, but that doesn't mean a thing to them. They wish we'd just disappear."
Christine "Moose" McGlade, who hosted the show from the first season until 1986, said the cast members' inexperience made them willing to expose themselves to danger.
"We were all so young and gung-ho," McGlade said. "We thought we'd better do our job if we didn't want the troupe as a whole to suffer. When you're on set, the cast is your family. Once you've been in a food fight with someone, there's a bond that can never really be broken. It's hard for non-actors to understand what it's like under the hot lights of the studio."
Nickelodeon's official position on GSS, released in a statement Monday, is that there is "no scientific evidence of a unique pattern of illness that can be causally linked to television service at Nickelodeon."
"Nickelodeon would never under any circumstances endanger any of its actors, particularly children," the statement read. "The slime was thoroughly tested and deemed safe. While our sympathies are with the ill actors, Nickelodeon is not responsible for their ailments."
Despite Nickelodeon's denial of wrongdoing, the cast members plan to press on with the lawsuit, pursuing compensation for years of pain and suffering, as well as public acknowledgment of the hidden dangers of sliming.
"Nick is still sliming kids on Slimetime Live—and not just paid actors, either," Gillis said. "These are regular kids from the audience who are willing to place themselves in the path of danger for the promise of winning a Game Boy or a box of Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape. Nick even sells the slime commercially, which, frankly, keeps me up at night."
Continued Gillis: "We're still imploring [former YCDTOTV cast member] Alanis Morissette to come forward. Her support would do a lot to raise awareness of GSS. But would it be enough to erase the suspicion, resistance, and bitterness that has enveloped discussion of this syndrome from the start? I don't know."