I watch and write about TV for a living, and it's all Sesame Street's fault.
As a kid in the '80s, I'd sit on the living room floor eating raisins, ready for my first appointment TV. Mister Rogers looked right at me as he talked. He definitely made me feel special. But Sesame Street was more complex.
The pinnacle of its mix of fantasy and gritty reality came when Big Bird learned about the actual death of the man who played the character Mr. Hooper, Will Lee. But every moment on Sesame Street was designed to be educational, so even its ridiculousness had a very clear point, like when Cookie Monster ate Kermit's props.
Watching Kermit deftly manage Cookie Monster's problem with impulse control, I was inspired to think about what I was watching. I could laugh at Cookie Monster, but learned that there was something to take away from his behavior, too.
Now, when I watch Mad Men, and Don Draper impulsively cheats on his wife with a flight attendant, I react emotionally, but I also do what Kermit taught me — consider what Don's behavior means.
Sesame Street taught me one enduring lesson: to always expect TV to mean something.
I've been writing a memoir about my relationship with reality TV, and I've realized that my desire to be both an observer and a participant started on that very street.
Other TV shows have captivated me since then, and whether I'm watching as a viewer or a TV critic, I now know that thinking critically makes TV even better. Some people don't get this. They'll e-mail me and write, "It's just a show." But as Sesame Street has proven for 40 years, sometimes a show is more than just a show.