In my quest to find the best eco programming out there, I endured a green TV marathon, during which I sat through dozens of hours of enviro-themed shows: specials, regular series, network, cable, news and weather channels.
My once-green eyes have turned red, my DVR remote thumb is raw, and my REM sleep is overrun with images of global warming, endangered species and, even scarier, a couple of corny TV "personalities."
Here, in no particular order, is the best of what's out there:
1. Big Ideas for a Small Planet
(series, Sundance/SUND) Last year, longtime activist Robert Redford announced a much-anticipated green block of programming on the Sundance Channel, and "the kid" did not disappoint, starting with this gem of a show. Simplicity rules with each episode exploring a single topic like water, kids, work, cities and fashion.
In the gadgets episode, we learn that "electronic gadgets have greatly improved energy efficiency, yet their toxic components can be harmful to the environment." Local green heroes and activists across America drive each show, giving the series a homespun, accessible feel. Their stories are interspersed with scientists and eco experts but it's never a lecture...just the facts, ma'am.
2. Focus Earth with Bob Woodruff
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Anchor Bob Woodruff's weekly eco newscast explores everything from climate change impact to world events. In a recent episode Woodruff checks out Sarah Palin's environmental track record and delves into how the greening of Wall Street (a green collar workforce and eco-friendly jobs) will affect our future. Packed with facts, debates and interviews, and moving at the brisk pace you'd expect from an ABC News production, this show makes a difference.
3. Living With Ed
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Props to Planet Green for plucking this show from HGTV, who unceremoniously dumped it. Yes...Ed Begley, Jr. lives! Sure, Ed's scenes with his "holdout" wife Rachelle can seem contrived as they often wink to the camera, but at the heart of this show is Ed himself, a true eco warrior who deserves all the screen time he gets. Ed is like the uber nerd who grew into a thoughtful Earth daddy and was at it way before many of us even cared. His wife and daughter are fun accessories, but the real story and soul is Hollywood's green guru.
In this show, celebrities flock to Ed to get secrets and in turn, he puts the spotlight on green stars and their innovative lifestyles. Ed's rivalry with neighbor Bill Nye "the Science Guy" (see "Stuff Happens") is particularly fun to watch; one can't help but believe some of their repartee is actually real competition.
4. It's Easy Being Green
(series, Fine Living Network/FLN) This upbeat half hour, news-style show looks at eco-friendly practices, products and cutting-edge green trends without a lot of interference from pleasant host Renee Loux. One episode goes inside Google, the Mountain View, CA carbon neutral company that sports overstuffed bike racks, abundant recycle bins, and four acres of a rooftop supporting 9,000 solar panels. The company's cafeteria serves organic food, and Google has an incentive program for employees who drive hybrids. Submitting my application, pronto.View Clip
5. Stuff Happens
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) If you can get through the first five minutes where Bill Nye acts out his theme for the day but the scene ends up looking more like a set-up for a porn film, you'll be happy you hung in (excuse the pun), because the information Nye imparts, and the entertaining way he does it, is quite good. In this half hour, Nye examines our everyday lives-like what pig farming and anchovies have to do with breakfast. With the show's easy-to-follow science, humor and cool stories, one understands why Ed Begley, Jr. is so smitten, er, competitive with Nye.
(series, Science Channel/SCI) A one-hour show that's a feast for tech-heads. "Some of our smartest scientists are fighting back to tame mother nature," the show promises. "Even robotic ships and satellites could put global warming in reverse." Eco-Tech offers some good news in our race to save the world. In one episode, a meteorologist showcases his "Doppler on wheels" -- a device that helps measure the velocity of storms. Then Joseph Cione at NOAA's research lab demonstrates Aeronode, a 9-foot, 29-pound airplane controlled by a joystick that goes right into the eye of a storm to get measurements.
A geophysicist shows off his "synthetic trees," a machine that absorbs carbon dioxide: a 40-foot container, or one module, can do in one day what an average tree takes a century to do. The fascination never ends.
7. Six Degrees Could Change the World
(special, National Geographic Channel/NGC) It opens with a disturbing premise: "Imagine the 21st century if global warming accelerates. Where does the next super storm hit? The next scorching heat wave? The next catastrophe, as the world warms degree by degree?" The voice over continues: "The debate has ended. Scientists around the globe agree we now live in a world warmer by almost one full degree Celsius. The predictions are alarming."
This HD special predicts and portrays the chilling impact each single-degree increase in temperature will have on our planet. Replays October 28, so don't miss it.
8. Whale Wars
(mini series, Animal Planet/AP) Starting this November (Fridays at 9 p.m. EST), don't miss this high-stakes, high-seas battle between Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. For more than 30 years, Time magazine environmental hero Captain Paul Watson has been on a mission to enforce treaties and regulations that protect ocean wildlife. Even though the Sea Shepherd crew employs non-violent prevention tactics, the drama and adventure is gritty; in one episode, Watson gets shot (he is wearing a bullet-proof vest), in another his crew is held captive.
(series, Science Channel/SCI) Alone, 7 days. No food. No TV crew. Meet Les Stroud, "Survivorman" -- think MacGyver meets Grizzly Adams. In one episode, Stroud travels in a hot air balloon across a remote stretch of Africa, lands, and then his crew leaves him completely alone for seven days. Half an hour after they leave, a lightning storm hits and Stroud is forced to take cover under the balloon basket. It's like watching Into the Wild, but with a happier ending. Survivalist Stroud, a musician and former garbage collector, always gets out alive.
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) In one episode, James and Dean are branded "highly dangerous" eco criminals, so host Annabelle Gurwitch, with the help of her fellow trash master Holter Graham, puts the New York City-based couple through a three-week enviro boot camp. In "Wa$ted," Gurwitch and Graham unearth eco-horrors, while at the same time revealing how to save money.
James and Dean's infractions? Obsessive dry cleaning garnering hundreds of wire hangers. Food waste. Round-the-clock electricity. No recycling. (Gurwitch points out that just one of James and Dean's unrecycled wine bottles can sit in a landfill for one million years). And the list goes on. For Gurwitch and Graham, no family's hazardous habits are too far-gone. The show is fun, scary and inspirational.
Planet Green - Wa$ted Exclusive Sneak Peek! - More free videos are here
(series, National Geographic Channel/NGC) This may not necessarily come under a traditional "green" category, but any show that saves and rehabilitates unwanted dogs helps save our world. Dogtown is a sanctuary in Southern Utah, also famous for taking some of Michael Vicks' abused fighting dogs and transforming them into adoptable sweethearts.
12. Eco documentaries, Season 2
(series, Sundance Channel, SUND) I was this close to picking the irresistible Isabella Rossellini's whimsical insect series Green Porno, but I also could not resist Sundance's new season of stirring documentaries -- like this month's Crude Impact, which takes a look at what happens when worldwide petroleum supplies dwindle down. Or Escape From Suburbia, which follows one family's move to a Canadian eco village, another who leaves New York City to work "the land," and a third struggling to keep their suburban life sustainable.
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) In May of 2007, Greensburg, Kansas was wiped out by one of the largest tornadoes in American history, displacing more than 1,500 people. Enter producers Leonardo DiCaprio and Craig Piligian, who created this 13-part series depicting the town's rebirth as a model green community.
The documentary follows the people of Greensburg as they first decide to rebuild their town, through the journey and drama of the daily struggle, even when most residents continue to live out of FEMA trailers. Eco-friendly reconstruction is what this town has chosen and the results promise to be historic, although the path is not always easy.View Clip
14. Outrageous Wasters
(series, Sundance Channel/SUND) You will feel secretly eco-superior after watching these four families (in separate one-hour specials) transform from "energy-guzzling meanies" to "tree-hugging greenies" in two weeks. This BBC British-import has all the tartness and finger wagging only the English can get away with. Think "SuperNanny" for naughty grownups who are leaving giant carbon footprints.http://video.aol.com/video-detail/outrageous-wasters-episode-3-clip/801610639
15. Total Wrecklamation
(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Spunky redhead Jodi Murphy is a demolition auctioneer who helps reduce waste on the planet. "My job is to sell off everything reusable in a house from toilets to light fixtures," she explains on the show. "The reason there are so many teardowns," Jodi continues, "is because as the American family changes, so does the floor plan of the American home. People want in-town locations with new construction. And the only way to get it is tear it down and start from scratch."
We all know this is a big, fat green no-no, but people like Jodi keep these teardown owners from being obscenely wasteful. In one episode, Jodi walks into a soon-to-be demolished Chicago home containing (gasp!) top of the line cabinets and appliances worth about $85,000, which she manages to salvage and sell at auction.