Originally created 04/24/98

Turn off TV? Many are for the week



Sharon Roberts spends her nights in a living room crowded with two-dimensional guests.

At 11 p.m., the news crew makes its appearance.

At midnight, the players of Petticoat Junction show up.

At 12:30 a.m., it's a Family Affair.

At 1:30, she gets a visit from My Three Sons.

If she's still awake at 2:30, Scooby Doo drops by.

More often, though, the screen will have lulled her to sleep by that time, wrapping her in the comforting cocoon of light and sound woven by the glass and plastic box found in 98 percent of American homes.

Turn off her TV for a week?

"That's a long time," the 36-year-old Augusta woman muses. "I couldn't do that every day. There are just certain things I have to watch. I always say that a TV and a telephone -- those are necessities.

"I make my kids turn it off while they're doing homework. But when I come home from work at 10 p.m., after I've checked homework, I think I just have to have noise in my background."

She's not participating in National TV Turnoff Week. She's not even considering it.

Neither is Rick Sodczak.

"Not a chance," the Martinez man says emphatically. "That's how I relax, how I unwind."

Mr. Sodczak -- surrounded by televisions every day in his job at Circuit City -- goes home at night and watches movie channels or videos to relax, usually for four to six hours each night, he estimates.

That's on the high end of the scale -- the average American watches three hours and 44 minutes of television each day -- 52 full days out of the year -- according to Nielsen Media Research.

TV-Free America wants to put a dent in those numbers. And the national organization, sponsoring its fourth annual TV Turnoff Week, isn't afraid of going up against the big guns. The group estimates 5 million Americans will go without television.

"The very first year, we didn't know any better, and we scheduled it for sweeps week," said Monte Burke, a spokesman for TV-Free America. "The second year, it didn't coincide, but the third year, and this year, it did. We could have changed it, if we were scared of sweeps week. But we decided we didn't want to."

Sweeps periods, when networks pay extra attention to ratings and set advertising rates, usually are filled with prime specials and new episodes of popular series.

Things you've already missed if you turned off your television Wednesday, when the turnoff week began, include the "Cartman's Dad" episode of South Park, the beginning of the NBA playoffs and a new episode of Seinfeld (and there aren't many of those left).

Upcoming attractions before the week ends Tuesday include the 200th episode of The Simpsons with guests U2, the much-touted miniseries Merlin and the latest Dallas reunion. New episodes of Friends, ER and The X-Files. A Steve Buscemi-directed Homicide.

Saturday morning cartoons.

"I just hope it doesn't rain this weekend, because if they're trapped inside, we're lost," said Judy Monsalvatge, a fourth-grade teacher at Forest Hills Elementary, where the entire student body has been encouraged to go television-free for a week.

Teachers give prizes to students who can bring in parent-signed sheets listing activities they've done instead of watching television. Mrs. Monsalvatge gives out homework passes.

Last year, she had to give away only four in a class of 21. The other students couldn't last a whole week.

Like other teachers and the school's principal, Mrs. Montsalvatge has also shut off her television for the week.

"My husband doesn't like me very much right now," she said ruefully. "He's missing his ESPN and Golf Channel."