'I Witness' captures gripping footage

February 22, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

In a persistent irony of television news, most broadcasts fill their air time with what amounts to visual filler, comprising footage taken long after news has happened.

Thus, more often than not we see accident scenes only after the accident, with people milling about, body bags being loaded into ambulances and lots and lots of "talking heads" delivering "sound bites."

Ah, but now the average viewer can make television with a compact camcorder. And the popularity of ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" made it inevitable that newsier home videos would get their own show.

Thus "I Witness Video" premieres on NBC Sunday (8 p.m., WMAR-Channel 2), the first in a series of specials.

Host Patrick VanHorn says the home videocam is "a revolution that's changing the way we view the world," and at show's end he solicits dramatic tapes from viewers.

Undeniably, viewers will find most of the six segments of the premiere fairly gripping. They range from footage of a murdered Texas policeman being attacked by the occupants of a car he stopped on the highway to a riveting compilation of tapes of a Kansas tornado.

As in many other "reality-based" shows, interviews with participants, camera operators and others put the tapes into context, and a hyperbolic script needlessly pumps up the drama level.

Viewers should know, however, that some of the footage is brutally candid. In a genuine car chase sequence shot by a TV news team in a helicopter, we see a pedestrian being struck by a car (the show never tells us whether he lived or died), as well as police officers eventually pumping a suspect full of bullets.

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TURNER'S TASK -- Ted Turner seems to be borrowing from the late Dr. Seuss' story, "If I Ran the Circus." Because he does run a sizable cable operation, he is using it to project some personal convictions.

On Sunday, the TBS basic service launches a "Save the Earth Season," pegged to this summer's United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero, the so-called "Earth Summit."

Young viewers, especially, are being targeted with an oddly engaging hourlong documentary, "One Child -- One Voice" (at 8 p.m. and repeating at 11:30 p.m.). Mr. Turner himself will introduce the show, which urges children to create postcards in the shape of leaves and send them to a Save the Earth post office box in Atlanta, the Turner Enterprises cable headquarters.

The show itself, narrated by Jason Robards and produced by Peter Wagg ("Max Headroom"), is initially a bit bizarre, with an Antonioni-style carnival setting that includes a gypsy fortuneteller pronouncing doom on the planet from pollution.

But its heart may actually persuade young viewers to get involved, as young people from around the world express serious messages. They range from a girl in flood-prone Bangladesh, concerned that global warming will raise the ocean level, to a Russian girl talking about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

G; "We hold the future in our hands," intones Mr. Robards.

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"NEW EXPLORERS" REPEAT -- Last week's review of an installment of the science education series "The New Explorers," featuring Baltimore surgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, inadvertently misstated the program's air time. Regrettably, some viewers missed the show.

However, Maryland Public Television says that program, "The Storm Within," is scheduled to be repeated at 6 p.m. May 9.

In addition, the series is geared toward classroom use, so each episode is available on videotape, at a cost of $32.95 per tape. For information, call (800) 621-0660.

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