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When you've outgrown PBS

My family has reached an uneasy truce with the commercial kids' TV networks. Despite our best intentions, we couldn't stay a PBS-only household.

The problem: Our kindergarten-age son has lost interest in public-television staples such as "Clifford the Big Red Dog" and "Arthur." Instead, he begs to watch such commercial network fare as "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "Samurai Jack."

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As we do each time the TV status quo is about to change, my husband and I watch the shows in question. While I'd like to say that we select highly educational programs, the reality is that we're choosing shows on the basis of at least one redeeming factor, or, failing that, ones that seem relatively harmless.

In the last go-round, "He-Man" and "Samurai Jack" were rejected (too much fighting) in favor of "Time Squad" (about a group of goofy time-travelers with some history and literary references thrown in) on Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon, another commercial network for kids, remains the middle ground between staid PBS and anarchic Cartoon Network. Nick shows such as "Hey Arnold!" have a slower pace and a hero with more brain than brawn.

Marketing plays a role in what our son pleads to watch. Despite the fact that we videotape the shows and fast-forward past commercials, he still wants the latest action figures and gizmos. Merchandise feeds interest in the show, and the show creates story lines for the toy.

In this environment, parents serve as gatekeepers, and it's not easy to make compromises you can live with.


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