- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 18, 2004

Tune in, tune out

Far be it from Tuning In to deny the pleasures of television viewing, but Frank Vespe wants us all to think before we lunge for the remote.

Mr. Vespe, the executive director of the nonprofit group TV Turnoff Network, thinks we could all be doing something better than channel surfing.

The group celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with its annual TV Turnoff Week, beginning today.

“A lot has changed in 10 years,” Mr. Vespe says. “The percentage of young kids who have rules governing their TV time has gone up.

“Our message has gotten out there and people are responding to it,” he says.

Not so fast. Last week nearly 28 million viewers watched Donald Trump pick his next “Apprentice” so the group shouldn’t be prepping any victory speeches just yet.

Still, Mr. Vespe points to recent health findings to bolster his group’s rallying cry.

“Ten years ago, nobody was thinking there was this obesity crisis and TV was right in the middle of that,” he says.

The television landscape has grown dramatically since his group first took flight.

“There are more channels available to us then ever before,” Mr. Vespe says. “If you’re looking for an excuse to watch TV, you have more excuses than ever before … there’s also more stuff that offends people than ever before.”

The head of TV Turnoff Network doesn’t sound like the radical some might think.

He admits to watching television as a child and even turns on the tube himself now and again.

“Five years ago when I took this job, I asked my mother [what shows I watched]. She said I was much more likely to be playing sports, but the stuff I did watch was cartoon stuff. I was always more inclined to run around outside or play with my friends.”

Today, “I probably only watch a half-hour of TV a week,” he says. “It tends to be either bits of sports or sitcoms. For me, when I watch TV, it’s when I want to turn my brain off.”

Shocking TV

Howard Stern and Jerry Springer don’t have the market cornered on shock TV — at least not this week.

The National Geographic Channel begins “Culture Shock Week” with the world premiere of “Are We Cannibals?” at 9 tonight.

The programs promise to explore aspects of sexuality, beauty, and violence that some consider either taboo or extreme.

“Cannibals” reveals a contentious theory that says we’re all capable of cannibalism under extreme circumstances. The special traces historical accounts of cannibalism until the 20th century, suggesting the primal urge to eat our own could be in our genes.

Tomorrow, the network unravels the history behind the ancient practice of foot binding at 10 p.m., and at 9 p.m. Wednesday “Beyond Plastic Surgery” visits the impact of modern surgical techniques on our bodies and ourselves.

Top that, Mr. Springer.

Vegas ‘Crossfire’

CNN’s long-running “Crossfire” hits the road today, broadcasting its brand of left-right chatter from Las Vegas.

Show co-hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson will debate the news of the day while focusing on Nevada, a potential swing state in the upcoming presidential elections. Guests scheduled for today include Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, an Arizona Republican, as well as Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton.

“Crossfire” airs weekdays at 4:30 p.m.

Grave matters

Scripps Howard News Service

“Family Plots,” debuting at 9 tonight on A&E;, is one reality show you could dig.

Centering on a small Southern California funeral home run by anassortment of strange characters, this is “Six Feet Under” without a filter.

It’s often humorous (in one scene, kids getting a ride to boxing practice share the back of a delivery van with a corpse) while also being generally grim.

Included in the cast are three beautiful sisters who work in the office, their demanding boss and the quirky funeral home director.

The opener lingers on a busier-than-normal workday at the funeral home. Multiple funerals are being held. Deliveries are late. Patience runs thin.

Such a pressure-filled day comes to a head when one aggravated sister lets loose on her father, also an employee of the funeral home.

“What we hope to do here is to open up what we do on a daily basis,” says Rick Sadler, the boss at Poway Bernardo Mortuary in San Diego.

Executive producer Danny Elias says he considered 500 funeral businesses before narrowing it down to Poway Bernardo.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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