<EM>Arthur</EM> and <EM>SpongeBob SquarePants</EM> Arthur and SpongeBob SquarePants

Robert Edelstein, father of kids 11, 7 and 2 and frequent contributor to TV Guide on the subject of kids' TV, recently exchanged some observations about the new fall season with Tv Guide's family editor, Michael Davis. They screened previews of some new and returning shows for schoolkids, including one from André Benjamin of OutKast.

Michael Davis: I love the idea that André Benjamin from OutKast has created a series for Cartoon Network, entitled Class of 3000 (November, Cartoon Network). You liked it, right?

Robert Edelstein: Absolutely  though, to be fair, I've only seen one two-minute preview reel. But you can tell by the style, the look, the sound of the voices and the pedigree (Benjamin and cocreator Tom Lynch) that it should be a winner.

Davis: It seems like kids' TV is finally catching up with hip-hop. Kind of long in coming, isn't it?

Edelstein: Usually a big, public acceptance of this nature is the death knell of "cool." But this series will continue to make it cool, I think. It's when Barney starts wearing his proverbial pants too low and saying "Yo" that we'll have to start worrying about hip-hop. Actually, come to think of it, I'd watch that.

Davis: In terms of multiculturalism, kids' TV runs rings around adult TV. Any theories as to why?

Edelstein: Because adult TV, like Hollywood films, is frequently produced by people who think we only respond to formula. Look at what's happened to romantic comedies in film: They're by and large unwatchable pap. Multiculturalism for adults comes out as something "special," when it should be the norm. Kids understand that. Kids when they're raised right don't differentiate. And any kid raised on Sesame Street understands that. They say TV-as-babysitter is dangerous, and it is when parents don't interact. But Sesame Street is among the world's most intelligent babysitters. I still learn things watching the Street, and I'm 46.

Davis: You have two daughters in that school-age demo. Which of the new shows did they respond to?

Edelstein: They liked the look and feel of Class of 3000 and thought Kappa Mikey (Aug. 20, Nickelodeon) was OK. But my 11-year-old is already more interested in the tween stuff I sometimes allow her to watch. My kids are 11, 7 and 2; it's as if they need TV appointments so the baby isn't watching something that makes no sense for him to watch.

Davis: The anime influence seems to be growing like kudzu.

Edelstein: Ahh, kudzu... love that word. It's true, and what I hope will also grow like kudzu is a greater exploration of Eastern culture in kid shows classical Eastern culture, not video-game Eastern culture. But as a parent, it takes me right back to what I consider to be the classic Japanimation age. When I was 6, back in 1966, Gigantor, Speed Racer and The Eighth Man were reasons to live. Back then, all I wanted to be was Jimmy Sparks, the kid who controlled Gigantor, the world's greatest robot who won "Robot of the Year" in the then-far-off year of 2000. I have a book that gives a perfect description of Jimmy Sparks: "A rather unusual 12-year-old boy: He lives in a house all by himself; he never goes to school; he drives a car, carries a gun, and works with the police department; and he wears only shorts." Ahh... paradise!

Davis: For the youngest kids in this age range, Arthur the aardvark remains a PBS Kids perennial. Why do you think they rendered him in CG for this week's movie special, Arthur's Missing Pal (Friday, PBS Kids Go!, check listings here)?

Edelstein: As someone who climbed Everest once said, "Because it was there." I'm not a big fan of reworking the look of a character like that. I haven't seen it yet, and unless it really brings something really new to the experience, I don't know why you do it. It's my complaint with what seems like the 17th different and unnecessary Winnie the Pooh series. What can I say? I'm a purist. I like my aardvarks rendered regularly.

Davis: If you were 8 again, what would be your favorite show? I've got to say SpongeBob SquarePants would be mine.

Edelstein: When SpongeBob is on, I am 8. And 30. And 46. SpongeBob is one of the 10 best shows on TV, period. There are episodes I've seen a dozen times, and it never matters. When the bully comes to town and keeps punching SpongeBob, and he can't feel it? They could play that for me in a continuous loop. SpongeBob keeps pushing the wrong button on the utility belt again and again, and Squidward screams with each press? I'm laughing right now just thinking about it. There's a new episode coming on in November (during a 24-hour SpongeBob marathon running Nov. 9-10). When it's on, there'd better not be anyone calling me on the phone.

In this exclusive video, watch as TV Guide's Michael Davis provides a parent's guide to television.

Coming Wednesday: What's new for tweens
Later in the week: Teens and a look at TV ratings
Also on TVGuide.com Insider: A recap of kids' returning favorites, and what's new for preschoolers

For more "parental guidance" to the fall season, pick up the Aug. 14 issue of TV Guide magazine.

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