Sherri Vance has proof that one can survive without a daily relationship with Oprah or those perky folks on "Friends." The sun does rise and set without ESPN and Letterman and - gasp - even Jerry Seinfeld.

And, she says, others can survive, too.Unplug the television, if you dare.

On Wednesday, millions of Americans will venture into a world called TV-Turnoff Week. The fourth-annual event lasts through April 28.

The average American spends four hours a day watching television, which equates to nine years of one's life if he keeps that up until he's 65.

TV-Free America, the nonprofit organization sponsoring the event, says 98 percent of U.S. households have TVs, 66 percent have three or more.

The group wants to cut the amount of TV watched in this country in half over the next decade. It is sponsored by 23 national organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Children's Defense Fund and Literacy Volunteers of America.

Vance belongs to the group, which is based in Washington, D.C., but she was "average" once, too, feeding the sly addiction of news, commercials and Must See TV night after night in her Salt Lake home. Then, five years ago, she gave her television set to a friend.

Five years. No TV. She's surprised at how little she misses it.

"At first, it seemed I would need to be brave, but it's like an alcoholic not keeping gin in the closet. I found I watched TV a lot. It's such a seductive way to want to shut your brain off for awhile," the 36-year-old freelance writer said.

Magazines, books, the Internet and especially radio fill Vance's time. She knows people look at her and others who don't watch television as self-righteous, holier-than-thou types. But it's just a nice way to stretch your mind, she says. And she has more time for music and volunteering in her church and neighborhood.

So, while TV-Turnoff Week won't change Vance's life, the week may influence the lives of the 4 million Americans scheduled to participate. Families in which, on average, a TV is on for 7 hours and 12 minutes a day will look for other things to do.

Gus Wheeler's fifth-graders at Morningside Elementary in Holladay have brainstormed such no-TV-week activities as collecting bugs. Ann Jensen's four children plan to fly kites, play board games and go on a hike.

The four Jensen children, ages 17, 15, 11 and 6, have committed to turn off the house's three televisions, videocassette recorders and Sega. They're a busy family, but television is background noise in the kitchen and the family loves videos during the weekends.

"I think it'll be kind of an adventure. We're looking forward to it," Jensen said.

The state PTA will discuss adopting a resolution about television and the media at its state convention May 8-9. For three years, the organization has held media training for parents to better help them help their children use television wisely, said state PTA President Barbara Willie.

Kate Little and Ron Tharp's family hasn't had a television for seven years. Mom's policy: She doesn't prohibit TV, but she doesn't provide it, either. They can watch television at friends' houses.

"They end up getting to see what other children see. They know who Barney is. They like Barney. I just don't provide Barney," Kate Little said.

Instead, the children go on lots of trips to the Salt Lake Library, and at home they can often be found in their arts-and-crafts room.

"They understand if they're bored, it's their responsibility to find something to do," Little said.

When people find out about the family with no TV, they usually admire the family's courage, but, she says, they quickly express fear that they could never do without one themselves.

Lots of folks might think it sounds a bit odd, but Vance says being in the 2 percent of American homes without a TV isn't that off-the-wall.

"It's amazing the power television has in our culture," Vance said, laughing. "To think that going without it for a week would make people think you're crazy. The very fact that you think it's crazy might be the reason you should give it up."



TV facts and figures

- Percentage of U.S. homes with at least one television: 98

- Percentage of Americans who watch TV while eating dinner: 66

- Number of TV sets in average U.S. household: 2.5

- Number of videos rented daily in the United States: 6 million

- Number of public library items checked out daily: 3 million

- Number of minutes the average child watches TV per week: 1,680

- Number of minutes parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children per week: 38.5

- Percentage of 4- to 6-year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54

- Number of murders a child sees on TV by the time he or she finishes elementary school: 8,000

- Number of commercials seen by the average person by the age of 65: 2 million.

- Percentage of Americans who can name the Three Stooges: 59

- Percentage of Americans who can name three of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices: 17

Source: TV-Free America