Couch Potato: Discovery, Nickelodeon expose viewers to the great outdoors

It’s a crazy world out there, or so I hear. For many of us who grew up with Doug, Clarissa and the Rugrats, outside is like the final frontier. It is big, messy and oh so far away. The couch, meanwhile, is right there and it’s very comfortable, as couches are supposed to be.

Especially during the hot Texas summers, a click of a button can have an almost mirage-like effect, tricking one into believing they have handsome friends, roll with a swanky entourage or are some kind of crooning Idol. It is no wonder the so-called "real world" seems like such a strange place upon entering it. There are way more than seven strangers out there and none of them were ever polite.

Maybe the next generation of couch potatoes will be a little less, well, potato-ish. This, at least, is the hope of the network that will forego three entire hours of Saturday programming in favor of nothing. This weekend, Nickelodeon will, for the fourth time, capture our attention with its annual worldwide day of play. By airing blank screens, Nick sends a message of health, hope and hopscotch, as the primary rationale for this yearly stunt is to encourage children to break away from their television sets, at least temporarily, and to go outside to play.

While, admittedly, it is only three hours of dead air one day a year, this voluntary action is a thoroughly commendable and proactive step toward combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which has been shown to present health issues such as diabetes and heart disease later in life, even among children who are not genetically predisposed to them. At least the TV giant did not have to endure a barrage of lawsuits and other negative attention from the media, ignore tragic tales that tug at the heartstrings or spin any statistics (as did the smoking industry) before it got its act together. This program, or rather, non-program, could prove to be key in teaching today’s youth lessons of moderation and the dangers or addiction – lessons that will adapt to the many challenges they will undoubtedly face in years to come.

These guys don’t play so nice

Before children across the nation will get their fourth breath of fresh air, six men – three Americans and three Brits – will begin to test their manliness and hone their inner warriors as the premise for the Discovery Channel’s newest original program, Last One Standing. Instead of jumping jacks and Red Rover, these brutes will be removed from civilization to immerse themselves in tribal cultures around the world, where they will learn, among other things, martial arts and Zulu stick fighting.

During the 12-part series, the men will train with the tribes and then compete in battles against themselves and each other. Between the blood and bruises, the men, and presumably the viewers, will get a glimpse into the lifestyles of remote cultures and their time-honored rituals. So it’s kind of like World Wrestling Entertainment… that you can wrap your head around, in a manner of speaking.

Last One Standing debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on The Discovery Channel.

More than just dress-up

In a TV Land on the other side of the world, walls are tumbling down – as is hair, for that matter. In Afghanistan, where it is the norm that the women of the still strictly conservative nation wear burqas to cover their faces, an industrious young woman has taken it upon herself to put together a low-budget rendition of America’s Next Top Model that features young Afghan ladies strutting their stuff on a makeshift runway of traditional rugs. The girls have taken baby steps, comparatively, modeling the likes of baggy pants, tennis shoes and even jeans.

A beacon of progress being made in the war-torn Middle East, 18-year-old Sosan Soltani represents the ingenuity and candor that she hopes to inspire in her sisters in arms.

"I was really enthusiastic to make this program because I wanted the girls to present the clothes and themselves," she said. "Afghanistan is free and these girls are the future of the country."

Though, unsurprisingly, the program has met some clerical opposition and general disapproval, many locals view it in a positive spotlight, reiterating Soltani. There is something positively groundbreaking brewing in the relatively liberal northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, and the rest of the nation (as well as the international community) would do well to sit up and take notice. The young ladies of Afghanistan are taking the initiative and stepping up to the plate – or rather, up to the runway – and are ready to take an active role in the future of their country; it’s their country too, after all.

Television certainly works in mysterious ways.

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