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A CHALLENGE FOR U.S.: NO TV FOR A WEEK

It's a challenge to America's couch potatoes: Give up TV for one week.

That's what a coalition of parents, teachers and civic organizations wants millions of Americans to do next week.TV-Free America thinks people spend too much time in front of their TV sets when they could be reading a book, spending time outdoors with their children or volunteering to help community organizations, said Sarah Farnsworth, the group's spokeswoman.

The average American, she said, spends four hours a day - or two months a year - watching television.

While broadcasters and cable television officials say that they are sympathetic to the group's cause, they contend that simply turning off the tube is not a long-term solution.

"You can't turn it off forever," said Nancy Larkin, a vice president at Continental Cablevision, the nation's third-largest cable company. "The long-term solution is to educate people about how to use TV productively . . . to determine what is appropriate and good, because there are good things on TV," she said.

Continental over the past year has distributed thousands of free kits to schools and parents, she said. The kits contain material to help children analyze what they watch and give parents guidance about program content.

TV-Free America doesn't think TV is evil. Nor is it protesting the content of individual programs, although it does have concerns about portrayals of violence.

Designating the week of April 24 as National TV Turnoff Week, TV-Free America says it has commitments from more than 1 million people to go on the TV diet.

"This weeklong fast is a catalyst for people to change their daily diet of television watching and to replace that time with more fulfilling activities," said Henry Labalme, the group's executive director.

Most of the participants are schools, libraries, state literacy organizations and state parent-teacher associations, Farnsworth said.

"It's an admirable goal," said Rich D'Amato, spokesman for the National Cable Television Association. "But abstinence from television is not likely to be effective. What parents and children must learn to do is take control of their TV sets."