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Still the Boob Tube

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The television networks are finally coming around. New federal rules require at least three hours a week of educational shows, and NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox have responded with such offerings as "N.B.A. Inside Stuff," "The Weird Al Show," "101 Dalmatians," and "Bobbie's World," respectively.

We know, we know. Our eyes rolled too when we first heard of this lineup. But pro basketball certainly can teach life lessons, such as the gap between salaries and the intrinsic value of work in today's America.

Weird Al Yankovic, best known for his ability to parody "gangsta" rappers and the Amish in the same song, has agreed to throw in fortune cookie-type moralisms between nutty routines

Can you imagine a more cuddly purveyor of wisdom than a baby Dalmatian?

And Bobbie, we understand, is a well-intentioned (and somewhat time-worn) cartoon feature that will meekly vie for attention with Fox's vastly popular array of animated superheroes.

The children's TV activists who lobbied for the federal regulations, and for the 1990 law that preceded them, haven't come down as hard as you might expect. The legal goad is in place, they caution, and let's see what the network executives will come up with as the pressure persists. Someday, it might even exceed the barest possible minimum.

What the networks have come up with this fall, though amusing, is certainly not inspiring. Yet, educational TV (an abhorrent term to most television bigwigs, we suspect) can be imaginative, engaging, and heavy on real content - like math, geography, science, literature, or history. Youngsters get a taste of such material on PBS, and on some of the specialized cable channels.

There is a market for television that teaches as it entertains. Someone will serve it, and, if current inclinations hold, they'll face little competition from the big four.


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