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Dark night, bright idea

A week before this issue of RealScreen went to press, the lights (and everything else electrically powered) went out at our home base here in Toronto and, as we learned later, across much of North America's eastern seaboard.
September 1, 2003

A week before this issue of RealScreen went to press, the lights (and everything else electrically powered) went out at our home base here in Toronto and, as we learned later, across much of North America’s eastern seaboard. Over the next 24 hours, we couldn’t use computers or phones (even mobile services conked out), or watch TV. Radio once again became the primary news medium, though only people with access to cars or battery-powered receivers were able to tune in.

The power-surge-induced blackout wasn’t really much of a crisis for me personally, more of an inconvenience. But, it did open my eyes to two key truths: First, the world is still populated by a healthy number of good Samaritans, such as the many volunteers who directed traffic for hours to keep cars and people moving through busy, signal-less intersections. And second, I could never – NEVER – live without TV.

The first few hours were tolerable, even peaceful. But then, the blankness of the 27-inch screen in my living room began to drive me crazy. I felt cut off, disconnected and, well, bored. Believe it or not, I have previously gone days (okay, maybe just one day) without turning on my television, but even then I knew that I could watch it if I wanted to. Having the option to tune in taken away from me was a completely different circumstance all together.

As power was gradually restored to the overstressed grid in the days that followed, the political powers-that-be advised citizens to conserve energy, to prevent the need for rolling blackouts. Many dutifully complied, though the overwhelming sense was of short-term efforts.

To be fair, that was all that was requested. For me, however, the temporarily blank TV screen was like a visit from the Ghost of Power Outages Yet to Come. It made me realize that unless individuals (myself included) make an effort to change our irresponsible ways, we could be facing many television-less days down the road. And that’s a fate I shudder to imagine.

That brings me to the issue of broadcasters’ responsibility to air conservation-themed docs (discussed in this issue by filmmaker Richard Brock and Animal Planet International VP Peter Weil). My initial stance was that filmmakers have to take the first step and come up with innovative ways to integrate conservation messages into programs, so audiences will be both entertained and educated. Now I think that lets broadcasters off too easily.

Channels, both public and commercial, have to be brave enough to openly commit to conservation-themed docs – meaning air time – to get the ball rolling for producers. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s in their best interest. Hopefully it won’t take a visit from the Ghost of Programs Yet to Come to drive the message home.

Susan Zeller

Editor

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