Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

10 Best Shows for Families

We love to watch television as a family. Though we greatly limit Ben's screen time (television, computer, Wii) and Lori and I watch The Office and little else, we do have fun sitting on the couch together and sharing a show. Through the beauty of TiVo, we can grab all those episodes that are buried at 2am, meaning we always have a collection of quality options to choose from.

Top 10 Shows for Families

Little Bear (Age 3-5)
One of our favorite shows of all time and the perfect first show for a young child. Incredibly sweet, lovely music, and filled with imagination and kindness.

Anatole (Age 4-6)
A somewhat obscure cartoon about a mouse family living in Paris. Entertaining, intellectual, and infused with an odd appreciation for culture considering it's a show about mice.

Jimmy Neutron (Age 6+)
We saw the movie when Ben was 7 and have enjoyed it ever since. We laugh almost as much as Ben and he loves the technology theme.

SpongeBob SquarePants (Age 6+)
Hilarious show that often reminds me of Monty Python. It seems that every child in America watches this, so I don't have much to add. My only perspective is that I would try to save it until they're a little older. Every age finds it funny, but it's a very loud show that I think is better for school-aged kids.

Leave it to Beaver (Age 7+)
One of the best shows to watch with the whole family. The quality of the writing, acting, and story-lines is very strong and there are endless, basic lessons about life, growing up, and respect for parents. It's unfortunate that the show is assumed to be simplistic and written off as irrelevant to today. In the few cases where it is clearly dated, it's a great opportunity to talk about how and why things have changed.

Green Acres (Age 7+)
I know this is a funny choice, but we started watching Green Acres about two years ago and loved it. Just pure fun in a vaudeville way with running gags, misunderstandings, and a talking pig.

Andy Griffith (Age 7+)
The humor and sense of values is the main draw, but my favorite part of the show is its perspective. Andy never loses sight of what's important, he treats everyone fairly, and clearly understands that who he is is more important than his circumstances. The black & white episodes are excellent, but I would skip the color ones.

Fetch (Age 8+)
Wonderful show on PBS that started last year. It's essentially an adventure-filled game show with a great sense of humor for smart kids. I
wrote about it last year and the second season is around the corner.

The Cosby Show
If I ever rewrite by Top 10 Shows of All-Time, Arrested Development will be replaced by The Cosby Show. I watched it when I was growing up and loved it, and his albums were a huge part of my childhood and now Ben's, but I had no idea how good the show was. A child will definitely enjoy it, but it's really made for parents.

The show has sparked so many family conversations. It's perfect to watch with children who are on the verge of junior high and high school. There is a lot about dating, friendships, dealing with parents, and maturing in general (physically and emotionally). Cosby used the show to introduce so many cool people and so much cool music to a wider audience. The show had no hesitations about being an example. Like Leave it to Beaver, there are elements that are unrealistic, but what's wrong with a show that inspires rather than settle for the lowest common denominator. There are many subtle aspects to this: the parents are almost reading when they are relaxing, the television is almost never part of family life (ironic, I know), the older generations are treated with enormous respect and celebrated, church is a regular part of their lives, work is highly valued, and romance is a huge part of a loving relationship.

The parenting lessons are endless and better than most parenting books and seminars. The show makes it abundantly clear that the most important relationship in the house is the one between Cliff and Claire - everything else flows out from there. Their relationship has so many lessons for couples, both in how to respect and value one another, but also how to teach, train and love your children with the understanding that real goal is to prepare them to leave.

The Wonder Years (12+)
After searching for The Wonder Years for the past year, we were thrilled to see it start airing on a local channel last week. (Quick aside: apparently, the reason the show is not available on DVD is huge licensing issues - it used so much original music from that period and they don't have the necessary rights to sell it in a new format.) I watched it in high school and college and absolutely loved it. We were so eager to share it with Ben and when we watched the first episode, I realized why. The show starts with 12-year old Kevin preparing for his first day of junior high. Ben will turn 12 and start middle school in August.

After experiencing family life from the parent's perspective with The Cosby Show, it's the perfect time to see life through a child's eyes. Since The Wonder Years features a struggling family and takes place in the tumultuous 60's and early 70's, there are definitely some challenging story lines that are a little beyond Ben's age. Those are good opportunities for conversations within the comfort of our family.

I still believe that the less television the better, but if you're looking for something to share with the whole family, one of these might be a good fit.