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These Are a Few of Their 2000 Things

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ask 8-year-old Maddy of Lincoln, Neb., what she wants for the new millennium, and her answer reflects the practical concerns of big sisters for at least 2,000 years.

“I want to make a machine,” she says, “to make my little brother go away.”

The Nickelodeon network found out what’s on the minds of kids for the next millennium because it asked. The simple idea makes for some compelling New Year’s programming that sets Nick apart from the celebration--and from apocalypse-watchers.

For 24 hours starting just after midnight Friday, Nickelodeon beams the “Nickellennium” documentary with children talking about their hopes and dreams. The six-hour film is repeated three times without commercials, but viewers are told that McDonald’s is the sponsor.

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More than 600 children representing 29 countries were interviewed for the show, which will be seen in 122 nations and nine languages through Nickelodeon’s international network.

Although Maddy’s desires are worth a few chuckles--she doesn’t want her brother eliminated, just sent off for some long vacations in space--the film is meant to be a serious examination of youthful concerns.

“When you listen, you find they have a lot to say, and a lot of profound things to say,” said Linda Schaffer, the documentary’s producer. “It’s not, ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things.’ ”

Schaffer approached Nickelodeon with the idea in 1997. Network executives gave her seed money, even though they hadn’t decided how to mark the passage into 2000. They considered throwing a big party, but were struck by the power of what was being said by the children Schaffer had found, said Herb Scannell, Nickelodeon president.

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Since Nick’s corporate mantra is to always listen to kids, “Nickellennium” kept looking better as the New Year approached, he said.

“I think it is a reflective time,” he said. “For all the talk of ‘let’s party like it’s 1999,’ there’s a sober sense of what 2000 is.”

*

The kids talk about life and love, about their parents, the environment and their friends. They come up with some fanciful ideas for inventions: One girl talks about being able to receive e-mail in her head by moving her tongue, and printing out a message through her mouth.

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“A lot of wisdom is in the very young and the very old,” Schaffer said. “They have a unique ability to lift this truth veil and let us see things as they really are.”

Despite the image of a computer-savvy generation, Schaffer found as many children worried or skeptical about technological advances as were excited about them. “They want to hold a pencil in their hands,” she said.

The environment was a universal concern, with children in India talking about inventing a pollution-sucker to clean up the air and children in Zimbabwe worried about poachers exterminating entire species of animals.

“Their concern felt very genuine to me,” she said. “It didn’t feel like it was something they had heard in class.”

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Schaffer had hoped kids in world trouble spots might point the way to a better future, but it didn’t always work out that way.

While in Israel she found two 11-year-olds, a Jew and a Palestinian, who lived around the corner from each other. Not only had the two never met, neither had ever talked to any child of the other nationality. Schaffer wanted to bring them together for an interview.

The Jewish child’s parents agreed. The Palestinians balked but, after hours of cajoling, finally relented. Then the Jewish family backed out, worried about their safety. All the work went for naught.

“It made me realize how deep this goes and how naive it was for me to try to make a bigger statement,” she said. “We struggled with that more than any other piece. There was a lot of dark stuff that came out in the kids.”

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Africa’s beauty was tempered by its human tragedies: One 11-year-old who was interviewed at length about his mother subsequently lost her to AIDS.

It’s clearly not the typical viewing experience for a Nickelodeon fan. For many, it will be like looking into a mirror. “Nickellennium” may also draw an atypical Nick audience: Schaffer believes many adults will watch parts of the documentary with their children, or by themselves to see what young people are thinking.

“You get the feeling of concerned optimism when you watch this show,” she said. “These kids are innocent but not naive.”

* “Nickellennium” can be seen starting at midnight Friday on Nickelodeon. The six-hour documentary will play in a commercial-free continuous loop through the day.

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