Nobody in our house has watched "TV" -- i.e. televised programming straight from the tuner in real time -- since we got our first TiVo in early 2000. (The living room TiVo effectively killed the TV that we used to occasionally watch in the bedroom.) However, our kids watch their fair share of "shows" -- digital recordings of broadcast programming, or (since we switched to Media Center in 2004) Internet video downloads. Even now that we have a house with a couple of sound-isolatable non-bedroom TV rooms, we tend not to have the kids watch shows in a room with no parent. That makes it critical to get the kids to like shows that the parents can tolerate. Here's what I've learned in the six years since we lost our absolute control of what our big screen shows us.
1) Kids love animation. I don't know why. Our kids will watch effectively any kind of animation, no matter how bad. (I'm talking even 1960's vintage Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons -- ugh.) Whenever I think that the advice described in this posting has given our girls good taste in shows, some piece of animated garbage will inadvertently catch their eye and prove me wrong. And it's not just that they learned to association animation with kid-targeting. Their earliest exposure to animation was largely The Simpsons and Futurama, which I won't discuss further here because 1) they're not kids' shows and 2) I don't want Social Services to know how much role Matt Groening has played in raising our kids.
2) Justice League. As a kid I was a Marvel Comics snob, with utter disdain for the D.C. universe. My first glance at the ridiculous body shapes in the Justice League cartoon made me think this would be as bad as the Super Friends of my childhood, but within minutes I knew I was wrong. The 2001-2006 Justice League animated series was simply one of the best serials I've ever seen, period. I've now downloaded about half of the episodes from Gnutella networks, and selection effects cannot discount the fact that only a handful of the episodes weren't excellent. I gave copies last year to a buddy of mine for his boys, and many months later he called me immediately when he'd finally watched an episode. He was floored by how good it was. (Granted, he'd watched the best story of the whole series, the two-part "A Better World", but it's still fairly representative, and in fact began the best story arc of the whole series. In that arc, as is true for the entire heroic genre, moral ambiguity is the key to being serious drama.) The Marvel franchises have made far better feature films than the D.C. franchises have, but the JL animated series is the gold standard for bringing superheroes onto the screen. (Caveat: I haven't yet watched Heroes, in part because I can't watch it with the kids.) (Caveat 2: the Silver Surfer animated series somehow got 12 episodes on the air despite blatantly not trying to appeal to kids at all, and is an exception to the dismal Marvel animated efforts. The other notable exceptions have been the two recent Ultimate Avengers DVD movies, but they aren't quite kid-friendly.)
3) Powerpuff Girls & The Tick. These two animated series are incredibly intelligent and incredibly funny. It's amazing how Zoe will continually pause animated and live-action dramas (as well as live-action comedies) to demand explanations about plot, but she almost never did so for these two comedic series. That tells you just how subtly the adult-targeted humor is woven into the dialog. (As good as the animated Tick was, the 8-episode live-action Tick series was even better. I've never seen any sitcom paint characters so well right from the pilot, with the only exception being The Office.) SpongeBob Square Pants deserves honorable mention here, but we never watched enough to know how consistently good it is. Rollie Pollie Ollie is definitely tolerable too, but doesn't try as hard to make adults laugh.
4) Tom and Jerry & The Pink Panther. Dialog is very distracting. If you need to pacify kids in the same room as you, put on some vintage Tom and Jerry or Pink Panther. The musical scores are quite good, and the shows are easy to ignore while still classically entertaining if you care to watch.
5) Veto Dora, Diego, and Bob. Dora The Explorer got through my filter because I was a sucker for how it taught a little bit of Spanish. The kids got hooked on Dora (which escalated to include Go, Diego, Go), and so I had to endure Dora's repetitive inanity for countless cumulative hours. By the time I had the idea of having them watch the all-Spanish version of Dora, they were old enough to object and demand English. Bob the Builder got through my filter because I was a sucker for its claymation and its theme song. But Bob simply sucks. He doesn't even fit inside the cabs of the vehicles, and has to dangerously hang onto the door! I would love to see Bob and his politically-correct gang sectioned with a pizza-cutting wheel.
6) "Holtzes Don't Watch Commercials". To try to inoculate them against future TV experiences outside our exclusively DVR household, I trained Zoe to exclaim "Holtzes don't watch commercials" (really) and demand they be skipped. The first button she learned on the remote was the commercial-skip button. Shannon was following in Zoe's footsteps up until about two months ago. All of a sudden, Shannon (4) started demanding to watch the "Barbie" commercials, and soon all the toy commercials. This is not good. She also keeps hoping Christmas is tomorrow, and at the toy store explains that we need at least one of any toy we don't have. This is not good.