Forget about the NBC lineup. Tonight's must-see TV is "Cancer: Evolution to Revolution" (8 tonight on HBO).
Even if you don't pay for HBO you can probably see it. Most area cable systems are making the program available to non-HBO subscribers, if not tonight, then in the coming weeks. But it will air on a wide variety of channels depending on the location.
Call your cable system to confirm the channel, air date and time (AT&T Cable can be reached at 1-800-532-3779. Call Adelphia cable at 1-800-892-7300.)
If it hasn't happened already, chances are everyone will eventually encounter cancer, whether in ourselves, our families or among friends. "Evolution to Revolution" offers guidance to those battling the disease with equal doses of hope and realism.
Hope comes from improving statistics. "A [cancer] diagnosis is not a death sentence," says Dr. Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute. "Now the majority [of people] diagnosed with cancer will not die of that cancer."
Realistically, death is still a possible outcome. "Evolution to Revolution" follows three people battling cancer, including an 11-year-old child. By the end of the program, one has died and two fight on.
"Evolution to Revolution" stands apart because it emphasizes the importance of getting information about the disease. Every 10 minutes a Web site address and phone number for a cancer care organization pops up on screen. There are also links to these groups from www.hbo.com.
At 2 1/2 hours, "Evolution to Revolution" is too long (and in one surgery scene, too graphic) for general audiences, but to someone fighting cancer it's a useful public service.
The program encourages everyone to get cancer screenings, urges cancer patients to get a second opinion, stresses the importance of clinical trials and cancer research funding and shows patients taking an active role in their treatment.
Even if cancer isn't part of your reality today, record this special and save it. Someday you'll be glad you did.
"ALLY" SHOCKER: That was a surprise.
David E. Kelley killed off Billy (Gil Bellows) on Monday's "Ally McBeal." Word leaked out Billy would die from a brain tumor, but I expected him to last at least until the start of May sweeps.
Fox deserves credit for keeping the plot twist a surprise -- no lame "one of these people will die" promos.
Now if only Kelley would let go of the Billy character so Ally and crew can move on.
Unfortunately, it looks like Billy's ghost will be haunting the show for the rest of this season and into next season.
PAYING FOR WEATHER: So now I can pay Channel 11 to call me when there's a thunderstorm coming.
That's the purpose of "ThunderCall," the station's new "early warning system designed to deliver severe weather warnings to your telephone within seconds after being issued by the National Weather Service."
In actuality, "ThunderCall" isn't even a WPXI product. The Web site, www.thundercall.com, lists a mailing address in Ormond Beach, Fla. ThunderCall costs $2 per month, plus there's an activation fee ($4.95 if you pay by credit card, $9.95 if you request an invoice). That's either $28.95 or $33.95 per year.
Maybe people who are really paranoid about the weather will shell out money for this service.
If I were that concerned, I'd buy one of those weather radios ($20 to $80) that automatically turns itself on when dangerous weather approaches (Dear Abby wrote about these radios last week).
That seems better than a phone call. Didn't Mom always say to get off the phone when there's lightning?
No, if I'm going to pay WPXI $30 for anything, I expect more than a computer-activated phone call (especially since the station's WeatherWarn system sent me six test flash flood warnings and three test tornado warning e-mails in one day last week).
Here are some other ideas for ways WPXI can add "viewer benefits" to its newscast and make money:
Let viewers pay to have the whole morning team call during a commercial and sing the church camp favorite "Rise and Shine."
What about the storm aftermath? Perhaps viewers could pay to have Dennis Bowman, Kevin Benson and Julie Bologna come to their home to repair any weather damage.
When it's time to get a new car, just call consumer reporter Becky Thompson and pay her to research the best deals.
Here's one that would be really useful: If you're not feeling well, call Dr. Mike Rosen, describe your symptoms and he could call in a prescription lickety-split.
Imagine the possibilities ...
"HIGH Q" REVIEW: KDKA's new game show, "Giant Eagle Hometown High Q" (10 a.m. Saturday), is a decent little quiz show for students.
I grew up familiar with the show it's based on, "It's Academic" in Washington, D.C., and "High Q" has a more modern look than "Academic's" musty set and graphics. The "High Q" questions don't seem dumbed-down, and the contestants have been diverse.
But would someone please give the Giant Eagle Iggle the hook? A guy/gal in a big bird costume would be appropriate if elementary school students were competing. The high school kids on "High Q" just look embarrassed by the character.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.