PBS show makes the point about drugs' effects on the brain for a young audience

December 13, 1992|By N. F. Mendoza | N. F. Mendoza,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Who can forget the ad: "This is your brain." (Egg is held up.) "This is your brain on drugs." (Egg is cracked and dropped into a sizzling frying pan.)

It's a classic public service announcement. Tuesday at 5 p.m. on channels 22 and 67, a special version of the PBS show "3-2-1 Contact Extra" carries the point further.

"Brainstorm: The Truth About Your Brain on Drugs" explains the effects on brain and body of both legal and illegal drugs.

The show's target audience is 8- to 12-year-olds, but teens and parents may benefit as well.

"Brainstorm" uses young people as hosts (Stephanie Yu and Z Wright) and interviewers.

Substance abusers, who are also kids, speak openly of their addictions.

In an interview, "3-2-1- Contact Extra" executive producer Anne MacLeod talked about her hopes for the show.

Q: What are you trying to do in this show?

A: We are really trying to fill a gap that kids themselves told us exists. When our researchers went out to talk to kids, [the kids] were very clear with us: "We get the message. We're not supposed to do drugs. We hear all the scary messages like the famous egg frying in the pan, but why are we not supposed to do drugs? What do they do to you?"

Q: So your angle is more from a scientific viewpoint than a social one?

A: Kids as young as 8 to 12 were clearly wanting to hear the straight story of what drugs do, the kind of damage drugs can do to the human body. We really felt that was an important piece of the larger drug education that kids need to get.

We are a science show, so we did not set out to do a lot about peer pressure, social situations or coping with unhappiness. Kids wanted to know the science that goes on in the brain.

Q: How did you avoid preaching?

A: We felt that the general direction of the show should be more positive about what an amazing machine your brain is, rather than saying don't mess it up. We want kids to know that they come with this fabu

lous equipment that runs just great on its own natural chemicals.

Q: What did you find would be the most effective way to reach kids?

A: We tested the show with the target audience. They told us they really liked this mixed format -- the range of segments. Kids also wanted to hear from the recovering substance abusers, but in short interview segments.

They like it when humor is used to make a point.

Q: What were the most frightening figures you found in your research?

A: Kids are starting young. The most frightening thing was a gap between the sophistication of their knowledge: They could recite a long laundry list of drugs -- they know they are around, and yet they have no idea the damage they do. I don't think that we're naive enough to believe that by watching this one-hour show that it will soften the effects of what these drugs are going to do to them or that it's going to keep them away from temptation.

Q: Are you trying to reach kids before they start to do drugs or help the ones who already have?

A: Well, both. We always try to appeal to a broad age range. Our target is 8- to 12-year-olds, but we always hope we will attract older kids as well. We certainly feel that it's effective to get it out before they are confronted by a pusher on the street or by a friend at a party.

Q: You use a brain surgery on a 12-year-old to make a point about nerve-brain connections that seemed disturbing. Was that a concern?

A: We wanted to make sure that the show was compelling but not upsetting, so we tested it very specifically. We know that a scene that is that graphic must be tested as to how kids responded.

For instance, we did a dissection of a cow's eye once and they would say, "That was kind of gross, but, wow, that was interesting, can I watch that again?" It's what we call "the good gross factor." . . . It's startling, but at the same time it's reality and they are very intrigued, like, that's a real brain and that's what a real brain looks like.

Q: Who do you really hope will watch?

A: We hope that families will watch this together. Yes, it's designed for kids, but parents can learn an awful lot from watching too.

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