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TV's new living color is green

July 07, 2007|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

If government scientists haven't come through with solutions to the planet's environmental ills, not to worry. TV is on it.

This summer, the government-relocated geniuses who comprise the fictional town of "Eureka" on the Sci Fi Channel will tackle issues such as global warming, solar energy and recycling. Season 2 will premiere Tuesday.

Green issues have been sprouting up all over television in recent months. Today's "Live Earth," the seven-continent musical extravaganza to illuminate ways to combat global warming, will air on NBC, Bravo, CNBC, the Sundance Channel, Universal HD, Telemundo and others.

And the Sundance Channel has already launched a prime-time block of environmental programming called "The Green" that has brought attention to peanut oil fuel, a home made out of living trees and eco-friendly cities.

Similarly, the Discovery Channel, encouraged by the success of its series "Planet Earth," recently announced it will dedicate its home channel to a 24-hour environmental channel next year.

One of its first big projects will be "Ten Ways to Save the Planet," featuring scientists' most imaginative solutions to environmental crises.

The reason, said David Howe, Sci Fi's executive vice president and general manager, is that the media -- even through such offbeat dramedies as "Eureka" -- have taken responsibility for change. "If we have to wait for the federal government to act" in real life, he said, "it may be too late."

A worldwide movement has focused on all things green -- cars, food and architecture among them. While many companies have set aside "green budgets" for advertising, U.S. networks have been jostling for their share of the pie.

After Sundance's "The Green" winds up on Tuesday with two documentaries -- one on how religious people reaffirm their faith through nature and another on global warming threats to four cities -- the channel has another series in store. "It's Not Easy Being Green," an eight-part series premiering July 17, will document one family's efforts to become self-sufficient.

Similarly, the DIY Network will air a two-hour eco-friendly prime-time block tonight that includes a competition between two families to cut energy consumption and reduce utility bills.

This fall, the CW network will include environmental story lines in some of its shows and feature public service announcements from its young stars. MTV Switch is promoting environmentally friendly choices through public service announcements, TV programs and online activities.

Even the Travel Channel has advertised Jeff Corwin's "Into Alaska" show as a "green getaway" at a time when "it is not only responsible but genuinely 'hip' to be green."

Despite the trend, Sci Fi's Howe said the channel is not jumping on a green bandwagon. Over the last year and a half, he said, research has identified a growing interest, particularly among young people, in "blue skies" thinking.

Science fiction naturally looks to the future, but typically in frightening ways. In story consultations with artists, physicists, town planners and visionaries, he said, "we were struck with how incredibly important it was for us to have a positive view of the future. Everyone was feeling very negative about climate change, terrorism, genocide ...."

"Eureka" offered the ideal vehicle to tackle visions for the future, he said. In the secret Northern California town, the scientists spend their time inventing things like time machines. All major scientific leaps have been credited to them. The town's non-genius sheriff, Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), already lives in a smart house (a Self Actuated Residential Automated Habitat named S.A.R.A.H.) that wakes him up in the morning, welcomes him home in the evening and turns off appliances when they're not in use. In the bathroom, the shower is sonic, the reading material electronic. Since it is built underground, it has less need for heating and cooling.

In upcoming episodes, science fair students use solar energy to combat space debris falling on the town, the town copes with an unpredictable weather machine designed to counter global warming and the scientists invent a technology to distill six months of town waste and byproducts into a single truckload.

Whenever an eco-friendly reference is made, a banner will announce a "Eureka moment," pointing viewers to more information on the channel's website. Several environmental organizations will provide information on environmentally sound practices and offer a chance to win an energy-efficient home makeover.

But despite the good intentions, mixing real life and quirky drama shouldn't be taken too literally, Howe said. In the fictional life of the show, most of the scientists' inventions go awry, causing chaos. (Indeed, one of their misguided experiments, it was hinted, resulted in global warming.) The sheriff and the townsfolk then have to figure out how to fix the problems that ensue. That, Howe said, is just "the nature of Eureka."

lynn.smith@latimes.com

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