TV goes (Planet) Green


Perhaps the greatest measure of the appeal and impact of the “green” movement in today’s society is that there is now an entire television network devoted to green living. The Discovery group of networks flipped the switch on Planet Green a few weeks ago, moving the station from the home and living focus of Discovery Home to a 24-hour lineup of shows focused solely on environmentally-friendly living.

The channel’s programming is a microcosm, offering everything from shows about renovating in a green manner to news and information-based programming, even providing a green perspective on the traditional celebrity news and interview show.

And, in perusing these new shows and picking out a handful of favorites to add to my weekly viewing, I can honestly say that adding a few hours of “green” TV to your week won’t leave you feeling like you’re drowning in information or trapped at a Greenpeace convention.

Among my top picks:

• “Living with Ed” — This isn’t a newcomer to TV for those who enjoy shows about home life with a green twist. It was picked up from HGTV and is now re-airing episodes from the last two seasons of its original airing there, with new episodes in the pipeline.

Elsewhere on Planet Green recently, someone commented that actor Ed Begley Jr. makes living the green life look hard. That’s especially true with the foil of wife Rachelle, who seems to simply want to live a stylish and comfortable life with a willing nod to eco-friendliness in their California home.

But, as he’s described in Planet Green’s guide to the show, Begley is a die-hard activist and seems to enjoy going to extremes in his quest for a green life. Along the way, the couple battles over rain barrels, renovates a modest home with a focus on green, competes with neighbor Bill Nye over the latest eco-gadgets, visits with famous friends to see their green homes and tries to decide whether the morning’s toast really needs to come with a pre-breakfast bicycle ride to power the toaster.

Begley certainly goes to extremes, but the notions shown in the show offer not only an ideal to which everyone can aspire but also simple projects that can make green a reality in the average home. That includes the small residential wind turbine that they had installed in their second season.

• “World’s Greenest Homes” — On the opposite end of the scale from the Begleys constant efforts to upgrade their home to be more green is “World’s Greenest Homes.” This is the Architectural Digest of Planet Green, with some of the most awe-inspiring homes in the world — particularly on the scale of green.

In just a few episodes, viewers have seen a home nestled among the woods in Washington, D.C., that used a special cantilevered design to reduce its literal footprint by hanging off a cliff; a cutting-edge beach house that has been used as a set in the TV series “Californication”; a home in the Mediterranean that utilizes a packed-dirt floor and still manages to be kid-friendly; and a couple’s retirement home on the Baja peninsula that is so far “off the grid” that they had to use solar power as their only power option and reduce power use with steps such as super-efficient refrigerators that use the same amount of electricity as an incandescent lightbulb.

This is real inspiration, since many of us will never have the resources to build on this scale or with this level of cutting-edge innovation. But the little tips and notions that you pick up along the way are the kinds of things that start to change your mindset about what you’d like to have in your next home.

• “Greenovate” and “Renovation Nation” — While you’re thinking about that next home, or the thing’s you’d like to change about where you live now, these two shows are something you definitely want to check out.

“Greenovate” features home owners doing major renovations to their homes to make them more green. In some cases, these people are investors, looking to not only benefit the environment but also their own pocketbook, by reaping the rewards of making a home more valuable to its future owners. In others, they’re people looking to take a small home or a fixer-upper and turn it into a modern, eco-friendly home they can enjoy for years to come.

These kinds of projects are the ones many of us will take on during our lives, and thus a big inspiration for the choices we can make when we start looking at similar projects in real life. Whether it’s using sustainable flooring and recycled-glass countertops or going all-organic and low-VOC in a nursery, there’s a bevy of ideas to choose from — all captured in terms of cost, time and eventual profit through increasing the value of the home.

“Renovation Nation” features another familiar face to many TV viewers — Steve Thomas, the one-time host of “This Old House.” In “Renovation Nation,” Thomas takes on a variety of renovations, both large and small, and looks at the ways in which the home owners have chosen to go “green.”

From a young couple who chose to raise their early-1900s cottage to create a basement play area for their kids without increasing their home’s footprint, and a couple renovating a farm house with their own wind turbine, to a couple who downsized their home and put a focus on surface water at their new beach retreat, and a man who has pieced together a substantial cistern system from off-the-shelf parts for about $2,500, the show has already offered a wide variety of projects that appeal to just as wide a variety of home owners.

Appealing to “This Old House” fans, too, Thomas once again digs in affably to the hands-on work of the projects, but without the extensive season-long look at a single renovation or a focus solely on truly old homes. Instead, it’s a pleasant mix of old and new, cutting-edge and DIY.

• “Hollywood Green” — No bones about it, this is a show about celebrities and celebrity causes. It’s a green twist on “Access Hollywood” and its brethren, with brief interviews with and profiles on celebrities who spend some of their time on green and other progressive causes.

From Brad Pitt building eco-friendly homes for those trying to rebuild a post-Katrina New Orleans to Harrison Ford waxing his chest for a public service announcement about deforestation to an interview with comedienne Jenny McCarthy about her concerns over the possible impact of immunizations on her son’s autism, this is a guilty pleasure without nearly so much of the guilt.

Quick in pace and without quite as much of an earnest tone as much of the other Planet Green programming, “Hollywood Green” also offers celebrities’ tips on keeping green – some serious and some not so much.

• “G Word” — A step back toward the truly informative and useful, “G Word” follows a format that blends traditional news presentation, talk show and variety show, focusing on a variety of issues during each hour-long show. Hosted by former CNN technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg and Video Music Awards host and red-carpet reporter SuChin Pak, the show has a very light, contemporary feel while offering some serious reporting on things even many devoted greenies haven’t heard of yet.

A contemporary art installation depicting the circulation of water from beverage to sewer and back to the tap again? They’ve got it. A piece on eco-friendly car washing? That, too. A story about electric-powered bicycles? Surely. Guerilla gardening in London? Of course.

This show packs in a lot of interesting information in one sitting.

• “Supper Club” — Hosted by one-time “Hollywood Squares” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” host Tom Bergeron, this is a standout among the Planet Green shows. Each episode features a group of four people — some celebrities, some green activists, some political activists, some corporate types — with a variety of opinions on the whole green movement.

They sit down together as a top chef prepares a “green” meal for them and discuss a variety of environmental issues, arguing disparate viewpoints on climate change, green activism, Al Gore, safe and healthy food and everything under the green umbrella.

While the channel may be green, there’s no fear about a variety of opinions on the subject being shown here. Everybody gets their say, and generally does so politely, over dinner. Indeed, the most confounding thing about the show is the chefs’ propensity to serve fish to guests who can’t eat it because of past incidents with mercury poisoning from too much sushi.

• “Emeril Green” — If you like the green cooking angle, this may be the show for you. Famous chef Emeril Lagasse moves to Planet Green with a show focused on green cooking and the world of Whole Foods Market.

This one won’t start airing until July, but it again speaks to the growing commonality of the green movement that the man known for his love of pork fat can be convinced to make a meatless “meatloaf” for a vegetarian or a flourless angelfood cake for someone allergic to wheat.

They’re still casting — and in the Washington, D.C., area, too — so if you’ve got a green-type cooking dilemma for Emeril to solve, head over to the Planet Green Web site and offer yourself up for TV stardom.

• “Greensburg” — There’s no question this is the most serious of the Planet Green shows. “Greensburg” takes the tiny rural town of Greensburg, Kansas, which was devastated by a tornado in May 2007, and shows how the town recovered from the storm and went about becoming the first municipality in the nation to build with an overall green plan.

The documentary comes from actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company and follows key players in the town’s transformation, from its mayors to leaders among the high school students to average citizens trying to get out of their FEMA trailers and back into homes — some of them much more green, some of them not.

Along the way, there’s heartbreak, debate, celebration and tears of joy and sorrow. If you watched any of the news coverage of the official unveiling of the town’s green renovations last month, this is the perfect complement, as it gets to the real story behind the town’s year-long effort and the people who were impacted by it and the storm.

• “Wasted” — This is another one of those shows that got transported from England after it became a hit there. But “Wasted” may have all the more impact in the U.S., with the massive amounts of trash most of us put into the landfill during our lives.

Picture a pile of everything you threw away in the last year. Now picture it in your driveway. There’s a lot more there than you’d think, and a lot of it didn’t have to go into the landfill.

Home owners are challenged to do their utmost to reduce their environmental footprint, by recycling, reusing items, shutting the refrigerator door, turning off the TV, switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, composting, reducing car trips and more.

The more they do, the more they benefit — not only in their energy savings but also in cold, hard cash. They get the equivalent amount in cash as they save with their green efforts.

This is just a taste of what Planet Green has to offer. There’s also “Stuff Happens” with Begley buddy and science guy Bill Nye, focusing on the science behind the environmental effort; “Wrecklamation,” in which homes destined for the bulldozer have their usable elements auctioned for reuse; “Mean Green Machines,” featuring eco-friendly transportation of all types; and “Alter Eco,” in which a team of green experts perform a home and lifestyle makeover.

Also in the offing is “Battleground Earth,” in which rocker Tommy Lee and rapper Ludacris battle to see who can travel across the country on tour and remain the most eco-friendly. This promises to be a spectacle, and perhaps even spectacular.

On a side note, Planet Green’s Web site has become not only a place to find out more about these shows but also features green tips, news items and more. Head over to PlanetGreen.com to see it all.