`Earthbeat' Is Geared for Activists

TV's first weekly series on environmental and social problems is hands-on, solution-oriented. TELEVISION

EARTHBEAT Turner Broadcasting System (cable), Sundays, 11-11:30 p.m. Weekly series. Produced by Cort Casady. `YOU'VE read about ... oil spills, over-population, toxic waste,'' said co-anchor Tim White in last Sunday's premi`ere of this new, weekly half-hour program. ``You don't need another TV show to tell you there's a lot wrong in the world. It's not enough to wring our hands. We've got to do something constructive with them.''

Enter ``activision,'' a form of problem-solving viewer-participation television that strives to enlighten audiences and then involve them in correcting the environmental decimation they've just witnessed. The producers of this first regularly scheduled program devoted to environmental and social dilemmas are also hoping the show will lead to a breakthrough in global networking.

``People worldwide are frustrated because the media have educated them about the problems, but little has been done to educate them about the solutions,'' says J.J. Ebaugh, CEO of Planet Live, Inc., the non-profit company behind ``Earthbeat.''

``Activision'' highlights groups making headway toward improving the local and/or global quality of life, but its central element is a viewer response telephone system, using ``800'' or ``900'' numbers.

``[Solving these problems] comes down to doing it together. Government can't do it,'' said executive producer Jim Hayden, reached by phone. ``It can't be legislated; it can't be bought; corporations aren't going to pay for it. It comes down to people.''

After last week's opening segment on global warming, viewers were asked to dial an ``action line'' to have their name added to a petition. The petition, demanding the manufacture of cars with greater fuel efficiency, was to be delivered to the world's major carmakers.

Viewers were shown that the technology for fuel efficiency is already at hand, with footage of Volvos in Sweden, a French two-seater that gets over 100 miles per gallon, and the Chevrolet GEO Metro, which gets 53 mpg in city driving and 58 mpg on the highway. Experts advised viewers that carmakers respond to consumer demands, as long as they know what those demands are.

Another of last Sunday's segments covered a first-of-its-kind conference on global warming, held in Sundance, Utah. Officials form the Soviet Union, United States, other countries gathered at the invitation of actor Robert Redford, who had spent 1 years in planning the meeting. An interview with Mr. Redford and footage of the institute highlighted how one person's involvement - Redford capitalizing on his movie-star image - led to the sharing of research and signed recommendations to both George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Another segment dealt with environmentalists known as the Tree People, whose phone number was given for viewers wanting to join or learn more.

The show included intermittent ``action tips,'' such as ``Use compact fluorescent light bulbs,'' or ``Plant a tree.'' Relevant statistics were always being cited: The use of long-life efficiency bulbs nationwide could eliminate the need for 50 power plants, for example.

Viewers are told what they can do as individuals. For example, in the case of the Tree People's goals, the advice was to plant a tree or two in one's own yard.

Another Sunday segment took viewers on a tour of an energy-saving home in the Colorado Rockies, where ``Earthbeat'' focused specifically on those items that are affordable - energy-saving faucets, toilets, and light bulbs.

The concluding segment was a collection of shorter items: a new anti-smog law in California, an environmental project by Yoko Ono, and World Rain Forest Week.

The look of the show is strong and the reportage authoritative. If ``Earthbeat'' can maintain the encouraging tone and high quality of its pilot, without degenerating into the one-sided advocacy that turns off all but the already-converted environmentalist, it will succeed. The very force of its ideas and the tools it hands viewers to help right processes gone wrong are most welcome.

At least two similar shows - one on a commercial network - are in the works for coming seasons.

This Sunday, ``Earthbeat'' takes up the problem of clean water worldwide and focuses on a project spearheaded by actor Ted Danson. Future programs deal with endangered species; creation of a sustainable and healthful food supply; conservation of energy; development of alternatives; human rights; and disarmament.

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