HOLLYWOOD -- The hypocrisy of TV operators is nowhere more evident than in the execution of the edict that all stations provide educational shows for kids. 'Education' is an expletive in television parlance. Even scatological four-letter words are not as terrifying to boardroom executives or to most couch potatos. Thus 'Beakman's World,' arguably the best child-oriented show on the air, shuns the 'E' word. It also avoids the 'S' for science and the 'D' for documentary words. Based on the comic feature 'You Can with Beakman & Jax,' 'Beakman's World' proves learning about science, nature and how things work can be fun and fascinating. In its two years on the air the live-action series has captured a dozen awards and the endorsement of the National Education Association. The show would not exist were it not for the Children's Television Act of 1990 passed by Congress. The act also resulted in 'Carmen Sandiego,' 'Scratch,' 'Disney Presents Bill Nye The Science Guy' and other hastily organized series. In some quarters the Children's Television Act is called an inoculation against the Federal Communications Commission. The law states that in order for local TV stations to have their licenses renewed it is mandatory for them to schedule some educational shows for children. But the act did NOT specify how much time nor when the shows would be aired. Stations responded: We're showing 'The Jetsons,' which teaches kids about the future. We're showing 'The Flintstones,' which teaches history. 'Beakman's World' was the first show specifically designed to comply with the legislation, which led to 99 percent coverage in syndication around the country.
However, stations have been fudging ever since. Broadcasting the show a 6:30 a.m. or pre-empting it whenever it is financially expedient to run a ratings-grabber. One network, for example, pre-empted 'Beakman's World' for three consecutive months on the West Coast, which made it almost impossible for the series to score decent ratings. TV moguls may be following the letter of the law but clearly not its spirit. Now some legislators are attempting to have the FCC enforce more specificity as to the time, length and number of such shows. 'Beakman's World' involves experiments and exploratory projects culled from some 1,500 letters a week from children, adults and educators from around the country. It is one of the very few shows offering young people an alternative to witless cartoons and mind-numbing sitcoms. But the weekly half-hour show is a TV stepchild (except on The Learning Channel), moved around in various time slots whenever revenue becomes a factor in station programming. For instance, when a football game comes along the brass doesn't hesitate a moment to pre-empt 'Beakman's World.' The star of the show is Paul Zaloom who plays Beakman, a quirky scientist with a head of hair that would have intimidated Albert Einstein. Zaloom, a comedian by trade, finds science and the natural world a fertile field for humor with a mass audience. During a lunch break recently in his dressing room at the Sunset- Gower Studios, he said, 'I'm not a scientist. I'm a performer. And my focus is on entertaining the audience. 'Sometimes we're concerned some material might go over kids' heads, but we try to avoid over-simplification. We have jokes for kids, older children and adults. 'Most of us find information inherently entertaining. 'We hope to get parents and children to watch the show together. Then parents can go over the material with their kids after the show. Or try the experiments themselves. 'Statistical research shows 55 percent of our audience is adults. 'You hear adults saying 'I never 'got' science in high school.' Well, science needn't be difficult. It needn't be drilled into students who parrot back what they're told. 'Science is a matter of questions and looking for answers. Science is about giving people a different way of looking at things. It's a matter of opening minds to interesting concepts of thinking. 'We're showing the fun in science. 'Take the conceptual idea that there is no such thing as cold, only less heat. Or the fact that everything goes somewhere; nothing disappears. 'If we can get children to grasp big abstract concepts, by the time they get to school everything comes that much easier. Same thing with mathmatics. 'We did a segment on bats, for example, an animal that frightens people. We showed several bats and explained that they pollinate half of all tropical fruit in the world. That is a new way of looking at bats. 'We want to give access to science for viewers who have no other means of learning about it. 'We work in partnership with museums, education centers, libraries, teachers, schools and grandparents. Everyone. Together we're trying to improve science education.' Zaloom's genius is taking profoundly difficult and complex concepts and simplifying them to a degree that laymen and children can understand their essence. Among Zaloom's biggest boosters is Mark Waxman, the Emmy-winning executive producer of 'Beakman's World,' who is pleased, and somewhat surprised, that the series does so well in the ratings despite shabby treatment from TV operators. Tall, balding and engaging, Waxman said, 'Paul is a master puppeteer, comedian and communicator. We're lucky to have him. 'Our series and a few others operating under the Children's Television Act reflect how our kids have been neglected on TV. 'It's worse than neglect. They are bombarded by violent cartoons and adventure programs. It's frustrating to see our shows put on the air when the audience isn't awake. 'Our show is the purist form of interactive TV. Our projects or experiments are taken directly from our mail. If a kid wants to know why the sky is blue, or why we don't fall out of bed at night, we read his letter and thank him on the air. 'We will never run out of ideas for projects. Inquiring minds want to know. 'Those aren't the only letters we get. Senators, educators, museum directors, astronauts and curators write in to say we're providing an important service to children. 'It makes me feel good that my 10- and 11-year-old sons are my consultants at home.' According to Waxman, the problem that prevents TV from fulfilling its promise isn't simply industry-wide greed. Viewers themselves are at fault. He says while Americans cry out for better TV, they ignore quality programs to sit for hours engrossed in brain-withering sitcoms. (