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In Search of Cliff and Clair Huxtable: Where are Today's Family-Friendly TV Shows?

Cosby cast

"The Cosby Show" family

I’m sure the fact that I watched the shows that I did when they were first-run makes me seem older than dirt, but when I was a kid, there was appointment-TV to be found almost nightly. Programs like Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Silver Spoons, Facts of Life, Kate and Allie, Benson, Charles in Charge, Full House, Doogie Howser, Growing Pains, Gimme A Break, Head of the Class, and Roseanne, to name just a few, were viewed regularly by me with my parents.

I’m trying really, really hard to think of a first-run TV show currently in primetime on a major TV or cable network that I can watch with my kids, and I’m coming up blank. As in, are there any?

I mean, I watch shows in primetime. But even the ones that are on during family-friendly hours are hardly family friendly. The new batch of shows scheduled for the 2012-2013 season appear to be more of the same in their non-family friendliness.

To be sure, there are new shows coming up next season to which I’m looking forward. Mindy Kaling’s new show, for instance (I have no idea what it’s about, but I’d watch her watch her grass grow).

There’s plenty of drama, sex, sci-fi, and nuclear missiles. But where is the Alex P. Keaton among the group? Where are Tootie, Mrs. Garrett, Willis, and Blossom?  I’m certainly not going to introduce my daughters to a show called Mistresses starring Alyssa Milano and her character’s “hard-partying younger sister,” according to New York magazine’s Vulture.

What happened to the days when you could learn a bona fide lesson in 30 minutes (22, if you don’t count the commercials)? What happened to the Very Special Episodes when there were parental advisories that meant you really had to watch with your parents? (I’m thinking specifically of an episode of Diff’rent Strokes when a local bike shop owner took Arnold’s redheaded friend in the back room.) What happened to laugh tracks? (Actually, on second thought, I don’t miss those.)

It used to be even the shows in the hour before the local news — the sexy dramas — were barely PG-13 (I’m looking at you, L.A. Law). I’m a huge fan of 30 Rock and The Office, but the content of both is much more risqué than their Thursday night predecessors, like Cheers and Seinfeld, and arguably even L.A. Law or Remington Steele.

The family-friendly shows scheduled for next season appear to have taken stupid pills before they’ve even aired, like one called The Neighbors, in which a suburban family buys a house next to a family of aliens who adopt the pseudonyms of famous athletes like Larry Bird and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

I never thought I’d miss Alf, but the description of The Neighbors even makes me yearn for Urkel. The only shows on TV that are about families (and not just featuring families) mostly seem to be reality programs, and if I wanted to watch a real family, I’d have ours stand in front of a mirror for 22 minutes.

It generally seems like there’s a contradiction between who advertisers always seem to be clamoring for — which is, moms with buying power and kids with “Buy me this!” power — and for which audiences new television shows are aiming (Sex! Teens having sex in beach houses! Single people having sex with lots of other single people! Faux housewives trying to look like they’d have sex with you if you have money! Criminal investigators investigating sex crimes!).

I’m not so big on nostalgia, but I’m nostalgic enough to remember how nice it used to be to watch the same shows as my parents — ones we could enjoy equally (or even kind of equally). Is it too much to ask for more of the same to share with my kids?

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