Americans rarely ask more of television than to deliver a cheap diversion from day-to-day drudgeries, a few hours of mindless entertainment at the push of a button.
But every so often TV programmers insist on answering a higher calling. They want to provide a blueprint for living, to be a resource for enlightenment. And if you're looking for a little of both, particularly if you are a sexually active teen pot-smoker, Ricki Lake and Serena Altschul have just the shows for you today.
Lake's daily 5 p.m. program on KCOP regularly takes a youth-oriented slant on well-worn daytime-talk themes of love, betrayal and family discord, but today's show digs deeper with a look at the problem of teen pregnancy.
The host says the issue took on greater poignancy when she married and became a mother, and she has hooked up with the Washington-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to mark a monthlong push to draw attention to the cause.
Lake has assembled a panel of girls and women who offer cautionary tales of having a baby out of wedlock at a young age, and there are also film clips from past shows on the subject.
The most affecting is the story of one woman who had left her newborn in a trash can when she decided that she couldn't face the pressure and the disappointment of her family. The infant was found alive by authorities and eventually reunited with the mother, and the woman appears today to fill in viewers on their lives since the incident.
Today's "Ricki Lake Show" isn't really going to tell adults anything they don't already know, and the absence of a single syllable from any male on the issue is also a bit curious, but the firsthand accounts are nevertheless absorbing and may even prove helpful to some young viewers.
MTV's "Breaking It Down With Serena Altschul" (at 10 p.m.) is more informative than instructional, offering a look at the massive shadow industry of the marijuana trade.
Altschul takes viewers to a park in Manhattan where dealers, buyers and police engage in a strange game of cat-and-mouse; then it's off to British Columbia, Canada, where we are told the strongest pot in the world is grown amid the most lenient drug-law enforcement in North America.
In B.C, we go inside several illegal pot clubs such as Blunt Bros. and the New Amsterdam Cafe, which are ignored by police who say they "have better things to do" than bust folks for marijuana.
There are a few sobering words about how the potency of today's super-grass has resulted in skyrocketing hospitalization rates, but no details are given about what specifically the people are being treated for, or the long-term effect on their health.
It's not that kind of show.
Then it's off to the U.S.-Mexico border for a look at one of the spots where pot streams into this country--a total of 8,000 tons a day, we're told.
The affable Altschul maintains a light, gee-whiz demeanor through it all and appears to be having the time of her life during a helicopter raid in Hawaii. And why not? It's MTV, and it's that kind of show.
"The Ricki Lake Show" can be seen at 5 p.m. on KCOP. "Breaking It Down With Serena Altschul" can be seen at 10 p.m. on MTV.