Although our kids don't watch much live tv, they do watch a bit of programming most days via Netflix and Apple tv. I like the fact that they don't have to see commercials when watching this kind of programming, and I get to have a much higher degree of control over what they watch; I also find it easier to control the amount of time that they watch - for example, if they're allowed one show/day, it'll either be a 20 minute show or a 41 minute show (half hour and hour long shows without the commercials). It works pretty well.
Some time ago, we discovered that our kids loved wilderness survival shows. So we downloaded a season of Man vs. Wild. They loved it...and so we made our way through another season. The kids love it when I'm grossed out by the show's bug-eating, animal-hunting, adrenaline-junkie star, Bear Grylls; he travels to different parts of the world, is dropped into the middle of some harsh and unforgiving territory, and makes his way out with very little gear. I like the show because it's remarkably educational, and because it encourages the kids' bravery (last week, Matthew ate part of a dead grasshopper, inspired by the show...he's now also interested in trying octopus and sushi!).
Lately we've added a twist to our enjoyment of Man vs. Wild. Before we watch an episode, I find out where the episode takes place and we do just a little research on the place before we watch the show. Today, for example, the episode we watched was set in the back woods of Alabama. So we looked up a few things about Alabama, and learned a bit about it's back woods, wild weather, and extensive river systems. We also took the opportunity to look up Alabama on a map, and we reviewed basic facts about the continent and the oceans surrounding it.
The other day we watched a Man vs. Wild episode about surviving in the Arctic, and I used that opportunity to review Julie of the Wolves, which we read recently. In addition, we spent an hour or so reading through books and looking at pictures about animals of the arctic and I pulled out the globe and taught Seth and Lizzie about the north pole and Arctic circle, etc etc. Because we've been learning some things about the Inuit lately, we also reviewed some basics about traditional Inuit life and the northern landscape.
Basically I use shows such as Man vs. Wild to teach or reinforce a little geography and social studies work and we all walk away happy...I'm satisfied that the kids have learned a few things, and the kids are engaged in learning in a way that is pretty fun for them. Win-win, I figure!