"Life is a gamble. But does that mean you should stop playing the game?"
That's the basic provocative question host Richard Lewis poses tonight as a central issue in an unusual three-hour special on PBS which attempts to put into perspective the actual likelihood of life-threatening risks we all face every day.
"Living Against the Odds" can be seen at 8 p.m. (channels 22, 26 and 67). And while it swings somewhat schizophrenically between the light-hearted and the deadly serious, it may open your eyes to some of the paradoxes of the human worrying process.
Lewis, whose comic persona is always fretting, notes that while we get anxious about airline flights and terrorism, the science of risk assessment suggests that dying from being struck by lightning is actually more likely.
And by far the most dangerous thing we all do every day -- as brought out in a segment on Baltimore's Shock-Trauma Unit -- is driving a car. This is one of those grim segments, for the numbers are sobering: 50,000 deaths a year, one every 11 minutes, yielding an actual probability of a person being involved in a fatal crash as something between 1-in-100 and 1-in-200.
National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu, who did his early radio pieces while teaching in Baltimore a few years back, also contributes insightful segments on Las Vegas gamblers and America's adoration of food.
THE LAUGH LAURELS -- Reviewers have been asked by ABC not to reveal the winners, but viewers can know that tonight's "5th Annual American Comedy Awards" (at 9, Channel 13), which was taped almost a month ago, is actually pretty funny itself -- funnier, even, than a lot of the rather marginal nominees for some of the awards.
Isn't it absurd, for example, that the funniest-male-in-a-movie category has Macaulay Culkin, the kid from "Home Alone," up against Gerard Depardieu from "Green Card?"
But with the exception of Martin Mull and Fred Willard ("Fernwood Tonight"), whose presentation spot stretches on and and on, the show offers some funny people the chance to show their stuff. They range from Bea Arthur ("The Golden Girls") and Jaleel White ("Family Matters") dancing The Urkel with The Urkelettes, to stand up comic Ellen Degeneres talking about her family's odd business: "a heavy petting zoo, where the customers were a little too fond of the animals."
And a lengthy tribute to Carl Reiner seems not only genuinely affectionate (and funny), but even ad libbed to some degree by long-time partner Mel Brooks ("The 2,000-Year-Old Man").
LOCAL ANGLE ALERT -- The Pikesville family of E. Dean Crawford Evans is scheduled to appear on tonight's "Family Feud" (at 7:30, Channel 11).