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Children's programming is a television genre with an extremely lengthy history. Some of the earliest TV programs were aimed at children, and the content of children's programming has been the focus of much controversy and debate for decades. Before the late 1960s, most children's programming was light entertainment at best and thinly disguised marketing of sponsors' products at worst. After the 1960s, the idea of using TV as a method of education for young children arose. Since then, children's TV has existed on a spectrum with educational programming on one end and pure commercial entertainment on the other.

As a genre, children's TV is broad, since it has to include programs that are geared toward children across a wide age range, from preschoolers to adolescents. TV shows intended for preschoolers are typically extremely simple in structure, with simple plot lines, if any, and repetitive formats that don't vary from episode to episode; characters are basic, colors are bright, and plots often try to teach elementary social and intellectual lessons.

As the age level targeted by a particular show increases, the relative complexity of character and plot development increases as well. Action becomes more of a focus, and, especially in commercial TV, negative plot elements, such as character conflict and violence, may be introduced. Even in programs that are intended primarily for entertainment, however, the resolution of the plot often tries to teach a social or moral lesson.

TV shows targeted at adolescents are generally much more concerned with the social interactions of the characters, and, unlike shows oriented toward young children, live-action productions are more common than animated ones. Some of the most popular shows aimed at this age range revolve around the daily lives of middle-school- or high-school-age children. Plots approach conflicts between the characters from both comedic and dramatic directions.