Helena was recently introduced to my 30-odd-year-old finger puppets. Bert's lost some hair over the years. I'm pretty sure I also owned Grover (my favourite) and Cookie Monster (everybody else's favourite) — I suspect their heads were bitten off, or maybe whatever toxic material they're made of simply disintegrated with overuse. While Helena enjoys them, her enthusiasm does not rival my nostalgia for them. The reason's simple: Sesame Street ain't what it used to be.
I miss Sesame Street's good ol' days. When Kermit the Frog would interrupt our regularly scheduled program with a breaking news story from the 3 little pigs' house. When the Count would spontaneously start counting things. When Cookie Monster ate everything in sight, not just a cookie imprinted with the letter of the day. When letters and numbers of the day turned up every couple minutes, and I felt a glimmer of recognition. Big Bird was less patronizing and more stupid. Snuffleupagus was invisible. Oscar the Grouch was grouchier. When muppet denizens freely commingled in the street without being compartmentalized into narrow roles so obviously designed with a different specific instructional goal in mind.
I continued to enjoy and appreciate the genius of the Children's Television Workshop well after I grew out of their target audience range. Mostly I miss Monsterpiece Theater, hosted by Alistair Cookie. I have a particular fondness for Grover's rendition of Upstairs, Downstairs.
When I was little, I watched Sesame Street every day. My mom would sit me in a playpen in front of the TV while she did housework. My dad came home for lunch and we watched the Flintstones together. I remember watching snatches of Polka-Dot Door, Romper Room, Electric Company (which holds great nostalgia for many and is being released on DVD), with less regularity and less enthusiasm, but they too filled my world.
Afternoons, my mom and I went next door. I watched my mother watch General Hospital and The Young and the Restless with our neighbour while I enjoyed milk and cookies. Somehow I amused myself with a quiet stuffed toy, or with trying to reach the pedals on the exercise bike in the neighbour's TV room. Sometimes I just watched with them.
That is to say, I watched easily 2 hours of television a day. And I turned out OK.
Nobody really knows the long-term effects of TV on kids. I'm not convinced it matters.