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Television Reviews : New PBS Kids Shows--Worthless and the Worthy

October 15, 1988|BILL STEIGERWALD

"CE News Magazine," the new PBS knockoff of "60 Minutes" staffed by correspondents from ages 8 to 14, obviously isn't meant to be frightening (tonight at 8 on Channel 28).

But there probably haven't been children this spooky on TV since the last re-run of "Village of the Damned." No, the "CE News Magazine" children don't have glowing eyes, can't read minds and don't control adults. They just carry microphones, do stand-ups and act like grownups like Mike Wallace, which can be just as scary.

The 30-minute magazine series is overseen by former "60 Minutes" producer Harry Moses and will be presenting "stories of national and international interest from the perspective of young people" for 12 weeks.

In addition to segments on a Christian rock festival and a high school newspaper whose article about an in-school shooting spree was censored by school officials, tonight's lead story probes some of the shady practices of private psychiatric hospitals that treat "troubled" teen-agers who really aren't all that troubled.

On-camera correspondent Jonathan Zachary, at 13 already a hardened three-year veteran of the Children's Express news organization, is as serious and earnest as Dan Rather as he confronts a hospital administrator, "60 Minutes"-interview style.

In his yellow Children's Express T-shirt and lost in a grownup-size office chair, little Jonathan looks silly enough to be Martin Short in an "SCTV" sketch. Next week Jonathan says he'll be going undercover to prove how easy it is for parents to get their minor children commited to private psychiatric hospitals.

Like his 15-year-old counterpart Jamie Zelermyer who says things such as "as a reporter I thought it was my place to ask hard questions," Jonathan is perfectly competent. The show is reasonably well written, well produced and well intentioned.

But that's not the point. Down to its idiotic ending editorial from a 12-year-old reporter who whines that it was patronizing for a secret agent at the Democratic presidential convention to ask him if he was having fun yet, the show is a bizarre, unintentional parody of TV journalism.

What's more, it's going to be about as interesting to a normal kid as a marathon PBS fund drive.

"The Power of Choice," meanwhile, is as worthwhile as "CE News Magazine" is worthless.

Featuring stand-up comedian/youth counselor Michael Pritchard, it is a simple but remarkably affecting 10-part series designed to persuade teen-agers that they have the power to make decisions to make their lives better (5:30 p.m. today on Channel 28).

Pritchard, the star and chief catalyst, is a big likeable lug of an adult who hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a teen-ager. He crisscrosses America, endearing himself to assemblies of high school students with his humorous, rubber-faced stand-up routines, then collecting them in small groups where he drops questions such as "How do you tell your parents you're pregnant, or that your girlfriend is pregnant?"

As today's "Communicating With Parents" segment makes clear, Pritchard has the smarts to jump out of the way and let the young people--who are heartwarmingly articulate, honest and full of good sense and worthy values--speak about the terrors of adolescence, a common experience from Boston to Nashville.

Pritchard's straightforward, common-sense message is free of psycho-babble and built on obvious but often forgotten truths that are crucial for children--and parents--to remember. All families go through tough times, he says, and teen-agers' problems are real. But children themselves have the power to change their lives--if they take responsibility for their own actions.

In future shows, Pritchard's topics include such subjects as drugs and alcohol, drinking and driving, dating, sex, self-esteem and teen suicide.

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