ABC has figured out a way around those low Nielsen ratings for news specials - produce one for a potentially vast new audience in outer space.
No kidding. The Koppel Report: News From Earth (9 p.m., Ch. 4) is a year-in-review by Earthlings for any alien intelligence out there that might tune in, demographics unknown.It might seem a silly notion, but it is an often enlightening and occasionally amusing hour of self-examination that, who knows, might be the first interplanetary newsmagazine. And what better Earthling to represent us than Ted Koppel? Unless Mean Joe Greene. Or perhaps Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
See, while newspapers pile up in a corner and turn yellow, a television signal travels into space at 186,000 miles per second. "The thought may fascinate or horrify you," says Koppel, in an aside to fellow Earthlings who are probably more fascinated and horrified by the absence of "Monday Night Football," "but what if someday, a thousand light-years from now, some alien intelligence decoded the signal?"
In case they do, Koppel and guests address themselves to extraterrestrial viewers: "So what do we tell you, out there in the far reaches of space, about us and our planet? Well, for one thing, by the time you see this we'll all be long dead," Koppel informs them cheerily.
"During this year just past, we took detailed note of a great many things that were so important to us, and must seem so irrelevant to you," says Koppel, explaining the concept of the year-end wrapup. No doubt many here on Earth found such news nuggets as the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese just as relevant as Venusians will.
But if our next-solar-system neighbors pick up "News from Earth," they'll hear, among others, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on AIDS, environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau on pollution, fast-talking comedian John Moschitta on stress, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu on racism, Billy Graham on God, Vladimir Pozner on no-God, and Richard Nixon on U.S.-Soviet relations.
The only prominent women on the program are the United Nations representative from Barbados, Dame Nita Barrow, who talks about hunger in the Third World, and anthropologist Jane Goodall, who discusses endangered species. A message to aliens: the sexual balance of the program notwithstanding, females are not on the endangered list.
Passersby in person-on-the-street mostly act silly when offered the chance to talk to their neighbors on other planets. "If there's anybody out there," giggles one harried woman, "come get me." A man who can turn his hands upside-down on his head and encircle his eyes instructs the aliens to disregard all others, he is the true leader of the planet. A segment on narcissism is illustrated by a montage of TV commercials: "I'd like to get rid of this gray, but I don't want a total dye job and look ridiculous."
Koppel and company cover just about everything. The only apparent oversight is not taking the opportunity to issue an invitation to the Miss Universe Pageant.
Halfway through the program, Koppel gives an update on those travelin' TV signals, which, he estimates are "well past Mars, a mere five minutes from Jupiter and halfway to Saturn."
"We think about you all the time," Koppel tells outerspace audiences, introducing a segment on earthly fascination with UFOs illustrated with clips of sci-fi movies, from "War of the Worlds" to "E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial."
But he does offer in conclusion "a confession." "This program was designed much more for us on Earth than for you," he says.
"Sending messages out to the farthest reaches of the universe, or even to generations yet unborn here on Earth, is . . . a function of faith. It presumes that life goes on, either here or somewhere, and that you will feel some kinship to us and what was important to us. We have a great need to feel that this is so."
Nor does Koppel warn our neighbors light-years away that if they do receive the signal for "News from Earth," they may soon be subjected to a strange and uncontrollable forces from our planet - A.C. Nielsen Co. representatives looking to wire them up.