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Kids Shows Aren't What They Used to be: Is That a Bad Thing?

If you’ve been on the internet long enough to read this, chances are you’ll have seen memes and comments and tumblr threads declaring that kids shows aren’t as good as they used to be. That the shows that aired when we were younger were smarter, funnier, and more fun. But nostalgia is a powerful thing that can dilute quality in favour of what was popular or just on TV at the time. And the internet thrives on nostalgia for classic cartoon shows that many look to as shaping their youth and being superior to what mindless kids have to put up with today.
And there were plenty of great kids shows over the years. There are of course the classics from Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera that made up the bulk of shows I legitimately enjoyed: Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, and Flintstones. But the show’s most often used to exemplify the glory days of kids TV are usually from the 80s and 90s, many especially from the 80s bar the likes of Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and Real Ghostbusters I hadn’t heard of until these references first started appearing. But my generation born in the early to mid-90s didn’t have these kind of action-oriented toy-generating shows. I remember the One Saturday Morning block on ABC produced by Disney. We were a little too late for the much appraised DuckTales and Rescue Rangers of the Disney Afternoon or Warner Brothers’ Tiny Toons and Animaniacs, airing when we were infants. By the time we were introduced to Disney television that we’d later claim was brilliant, we were contending with the likes House of Mouse, Fillmore, The Proud Family, and Lloyd in Space.
Which brings me to another point. Yes they don’t make kids shows how they used to. Great! Without the nostalgia glasses a lot of shows from our youth don’t hold up. Concerning Disney, there were some good ones like Recess, Kim Possible, on the Nickelodeon front, shows were generally faster and utilized more slapstick but rarely left an impression, with some exceptions such of a single shot from Fairly Odd Parents that lives on to this day as a meme. But a lot of these turn of the century shows were very formulaic and especially from Disney, chances are it would either be about kids’ adventures around school, or based on a popular Disney movie like Aladdin or Lilo & Stitch. And these shows were coming at the tail end of the Disney Renaissance when the studio was still riding high so I wonder if maybe that’s why it seemed these shows had less effort put into them. Earlier shows like DuckTales were praised for their blending of action, adventure, comedy, and imagination and they aired during the early 1990s just as the Renaissance was starting. Prior to 1989, Disney had been producing a string of flops and so it makes sense they would work to really sell their television ideas. And Nickelodeon was following this pattern too. Rural schoolkids and their everyday lives with varying kinds of twists was the norm in an attempt to relate more with current viewers. And it did to some degree, but not so much as to give the shows lasting power. The reason for these kind of shows may also have been brought upon by the advent of the tween-com. We all remember those. Beginning in the early 2000s we got a lot of live-action kid-oriented sitcoms that could have interesting enough premises and even occasionally clever storytelling. They had similar set-ups to a lot of the animated shows but where the latter had the advantage of animators and voice actors controlling the acting, these shows had poor awkward acting that wasn’t helped by bad easily dated jokes. Generally Nickelodeon fared better in this trend with the occasional show that could deliver interesting plots and funny writing. But these shows were popular and for many of us were the last rugs of our nostalgic kids’ shows.
Yeah maybe those shows weren’t that great, but surely their better than kids shows today. As has been demonstrated those clearly are on a downward spiral. Well… not really conflicting-thought-in-my-head. Around the mid to late 2000s kids shows started to get better. Fewer and fewer animated series’ seemed to focus on schoolkids and adventures in rural Middle America. Avatar: The Last Airbender for example became one of the best received shows on television overall. Kids’ shows became less kids’ shows and more family shows with ideas and characters that could connect to any age group. Now there are shows like Adventure Time, Star Wars: Rebels, Gravity Falls, and even My Little Pony that have just as large an adult fanbase as kids. Adventure Time has adventure in the title something which seems to have been missing from a lot of kids shows I remember from the early 2000s. And it’s something that really looks like it’s making a comeback (did you know they’re bringing DuckTales back?) These kind of shows seem to have a better focus on characters, stories, drama, and where necessary comedy. There are still a plethora of bad tweencoms out there but I think they’re waning in popularity compared to those other shows.
You may agree with me on the quality of early 2000s kids’ shows, or you may think I’m completely in the wrong or missed out on that one show that was an exception to the rule, but I certainly think you’ll agree that to say kids’ shows were better back in the day is pretty ignorant. The 80s through to the 2000s produced some great shows for kids and some terrible shows for kids, but it’s a big mistake to assume they’re terrible today merely because they’re not what you remember. As someone who watched a number of contemporary kids’ shows when I was younger mostly out of popularity rather than genuine enjoyment, I think kids’ television today may actually be better. What I have seen has testified to that.

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