TV REVIEW : TBS Tackles Earth’s Problems, Solutions


In a dramatic case of TBS’ “Network Earth” show going big budget and high profile, the two-hour special report “People Count” is a monument to Ted Turner’s ability to put bucks behind his passions.

Split into three sections (“The Facts of Life,” “Facts of the Heart” and “Facts of the Mind”), “People First” promulgates a three-part message: Exploding global population is outstripping the resources to sustain it; educated and employed women will become more than just child-bearers and will thus bear fewer children; our awareness of global problems must overcome our stone-age brains programmed for mere survival and propagation.

It is no accident that the program is airing on the eve of the already controversial U.N. Conference on Population and Development, whose draft proposals are under attack by Roman Catholic and Islamic officials for promoting abortion as a contraceptive device. “People Count’s” linkage of population pressures, social change, women’s liberation and new evolutionary thinking is the kind of progressive thinking bound to get conservative religious leaders into an uproar.

Alas, the presence of host Jane Fonda is also bound to get just plain conservatives into an uproar. If they can get past their notion that Mrs. Ted Turner should be living in Hanoi, they will find a TV analysis that cleanly and simply (sometimes, too simply) puts many complex pieces together.



In the “Facts of Life” segment, Los Angeles urban critic Mike Davis laments the course of this city from an urban “garden” to “the most militarized city in America,” which stems, he believes, from a lack of any coherent development planning. It could be worse, though, as evidenced by Mexico City, where smog alerts have caused birds to drop dead out of the sky.

Other cities seem to be opting for a hopeful alternative, with Chattanooga, Tenn. learning to get rid of its smog and other ills from Brazil’s “environmental city,” Curitiba--a fascinating example of the South educating the North.

Though prone to being condescending to Third World village women, photojournalist Barbara Pyle, in “Facts of the Heart,” traces interesting living experiments in the Philippines, India and Jamaica, where enterprises and programs have proven that employed, educated women directly affect birthrates and bring wealth to local communities.


The solutions may begin in our brain, suggests the final segment, though not all of the impressive cast of neuroscientists and thinkers (from Melvin Konner and Patricia Churchland to Robert Ornstein and Sam Keen) agree.

“Network Earth” reporters Peggy Knapp and David Mattingly help to provide a visually clumsy but lucid explanation of how our brains are going to have to take on the new task of global awareness--this, after millennia of thinking about just the family, the clan and the village.

* “People Count” airs at 5 p.m. today on TBS.