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Shows for preschoolers must appeal also to another demographic--the parents who end up watching them too. It's paradoxical, but the truly childish programs may actually be more appealing to adults than those that are lively and sophisticated. The rhythm, look and attitude of Channel Umptee-3, for example, are extremely familiar. You've seen all the moves a million times, and watching the show you enter a state of reflexive TV consciousness. The pace and tone of the more simplistic programs, on the other hand, is very unfamiliar, which makes them oddly fascinating. More effectively than a minimalist musical composition or a 16-hour theater piece featuring lots of chanting, they stretch your sense of time and change your mode of thinking. They also exercise an emotional attraction as they reassure the child within that the world is a stable, comprehensible place where he or she is valued. The grownup without knows better, of course, but that just makes the message more appealing.
--Reported by Jeanne McDowell/Los Angeles and William Tynan/New York