Have you noticed that they just don’t make children’s programming like they used to? I say that at the risk of someone leaving a comment of something like, “every generation complains that new shows aren’t like the shows with which they grew up!” But really, it’s true. Children’s programming after 2000 just went downhill. The early Disney cartoons, even though I used to find them boring, introduced children to refined music. I’m not talking about “Little Einsteins” we-play-the-first-eight-bars-over-and-over-for-30-minutes kind of introductions. Disney, Warner Brothers…they introduced children to the real, non-bastardized, actual instrumentals, as-intended-by-the-composer recordings of this music. I’m sure this isn’t a big deal to many of you; however, I would venture to say that for those of you don’t care about the real versions of refined music being in children’s programming, probably don’t like it anyway…and maybe it’s because you didn’t watch enough of (or any of) those cartoons as a child.
So, let’s discuss what I consider to be the best three children’s shows of all time: Sesame Street (original, not current), The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. On the surface, none of these shows are (what I call) Pokemanimation. What is that? The insane form of animation found in Pokemon that is super bubbly with no details whatsoever. You know, the same kind found on the avatars in World of Warcraft. I’m convinced that this has become a popular style of animation because the artists got lazy, eventually making the eye-brain connection of young people lazy. That is, if they see too many hard edges and details, their brains will explode. All three of the shows that I previously mentioned utilize(d) puppets, costumes, and actual humans (and not humans in front of a green screen, a la Blue’s Clues).
Sesame Street, created in 1966, was the first show that had a researched, comprehensive curriculum for its age group. The whole purpose of Sesame Street was to prepare two to four-year olds for school–especially those who came from low-income families. The show had educational segments interspersed with short segments of entertainment. Other than teaching numbers, letters, words, and small amounts of Spanish, the show had underlying themes of social competence, non-aggressive conflict resolution, and tolerance of diversity.
Fraggle Rock had three main types of characters: Fraggles, Doozers, and Gorgs. Fraggles are the funny looking things in the above picture. They spent most of their days exploring, playing, and creating…though they also had responsibilities in their society. Doozers, on the other hand, lived for work and work alone. They spent all day building structures out of radish sugar that the Fraggles would then eat. They relied on the Fraggles to eat these structures so they could continue building. The Gorgs were a self-proclaimed royal family (though in actuality, they were a farming family). They grew radishes in order to make anti-vanishing cream. The show as a whole was fun, had lots of music, and was entertaining. The underlying messages were that of race, social responsibility, and environmental care.
The Muppet Show was Jim Henson’s attempt to break away from the “children’s programming” niche, and in doing so, he stumbled upon a format that was a hit with all age groups. The puppets (Muppets) and basic storylines kept children entertained (along with the music), and the deeper jokes kept the adults entertained. Musically speaking, everyone who was anyone was on The Muppet Show from Elton John to Ethel Merman, and everyone in between. Though this isn’t considered strictly children’s programming, I lumped this in anyway as it had all of the stimulation involved in the other children’s programming.
So why all of this animosity toward current children’s programming? Maybe it’s because the programming doesn’t have any deeper messages than “be nice” and “don’t hit people”… Combine that with pokemanimation and you just might be able to raise a child who is extraordinarily good at drooling on themself. In an age where parents use the television as a babysitter (and then put crap on like Dora the Explorer or Handy Manny), it’s no wonder that we are raising a group of children who can’t write their own names or read basic sentences by the time they are graduated from high school. When we eventually have children, they will watch Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppet Show. Hell, I’ll even throw in some School House Rock. Why these shows? Because there is just not a household cleaner strong enough to take melted brain out of the carpet.