[ENTERTAINMENT]Yikes! A TV show that touts reading

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Yikes! A TV show that touts reading

What do books and breakfast have in common? Korean students are often so busy studying that they skip breakfast, but now a television program has created an "eat breakfast" crusade. Similarly, a book-reading campaign has swept the nation recently, with many people running to bookstores to snap up the latest recommendations of a certain television program.

No, it's not Oprah's Book Club. It's the MBC program, "!" or "Exclamation Mark," a show that runs every Saturday at 9:45 p.m.

Amid the deluge of weekend entertainment and talk shows, "!" is bringing education and civic responsibility to the forefront ?and it's doing so in an exciting, fun way. "!" is drawing ratings, and is especially popular with families.

"Last year, when I was studying in England," said Kim Young-hee, one of the show's producers, "I was surprised to see how the British people were so enthusiastic about reading books. Ever since then, I have thought that the Koreans ought to follow the same habit as well."

He added, "Usually in Korean society, the most important and basic things are the first to be disregarded by the public. Television stations should take the initiative in implementing such educational and important campaigns."

Each episode of "!" consists of three parts. In part one, the program's host goes up to people on the street at random and asks book-related questions.

Part two deals with the "Let's have breakfast" campaign. In part three, people who have worked hard to succeed in life take to the streets and give lectures based on their experiences.

The producers of the program were surprised to discover that their program was having such a dramatic spillover effect on society. "I learned how influential and powerful the medium of television is," a manager at Kyobo Book Center said. "Ever since the book-reading environment started, overall book sales have been on the rise."

To prevent any controversies over the type of books chosen or accusations of conflict of interest, the producers decided to depend on the decisions of a civic group, "Movement for the Formation of a Book- Reading Environment." Publishers say that additional sales revenues from the campaign will be used for charity. A couple of weeks ago, a publishing company donated 500 million won ($380,000) to the Community Chest of Korea.

The "Let's have breakfast" campaign has also been a big hit. The producers say they started it as a means of relaxing Korea's "desolate" educational system.

And it is having an effect. After "Let's have breakfast" started to be run on television, some middle schools in Pohang and Busan began delaying the start of the school day by 30 minutes.

Is television still just an "idiot box," as some parents like to call it? Perhaps it is time for them to think about changing their tune.

Seeing how just one program can promote education and affect the whole of society, it is enough to change the minds of the toughest of TV critics.

by Park Ji-young

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