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CBS's 'Live for the Moment' exploits dreams of man suffering from Lou Gehrig's

MAKE A WISH: "Live for the Moment" host Jeff Probst, right, takes Roger Childs through the dying man's "bucket list," which includes skiing with a friend Childs hasn't seen in almost 20 years. (© 2009 Mark Burnett Production)
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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

With what I'm sure are only the best of intentions (pshaw!), "Live for the Moment" winds up being one of the skeeviest and most exploitative things on television since . . . well, not that long, because television finds so many ways to skeeve and exploit in the name of "reality."

The CBS special, which airs Thursday night, whisks Roger Childs, a 41-year-old suburban Colorado dad with a terminal illness (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease) on a trip across the country -- all in the service of fulfilling his so-called "bucket list" and urging the rest of us to thank our lucky stars we have our health. He (and his wife and two young sons) say "wow!" a lot as they flip through the faux-parchment pages of a leather journal that reveals the next leg of this macabre adventure. They smile even when they cry.

It takes a certain heartlessness to stare coldly through this to discover that "Live for the Moment" is a pile of cheap hooey. One cannot quibble with its simplest message, which is that your relationships and family are ultimately better than any earthly amusement or magnificent mountain vista. You should absolutely ache for the Childs family, who could not seem more authentic and eager to make the most of Roger's life, even as "Live for the Moment" portrays the family as flatter than cardboard. You should wish them well without eating this spoonful of sugar created by "Survivor" host Jeff Probst and hitmaking producer Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Apprentice," etc.).

Hammering viewers over the head with its empty platitudes ("Life is what you make it" and "If you want something bad enough, just go for it"), this show is a bathetic example of the misguided charity that defines a modern culture obsessed with conspicuous acts of altruism. "Live for the Moment" (original title: "Live Like You're Dying," which CBS thought was kind of a downer, and advertisers loathe downers) touts a message that positive thinking is the only way to fly -- I mean, die.

It insipidly skirts the most interesting subjects right in front of host Probst's moony, frown-turned-upside-down face:

What is it really like to know your body is going to slowly, inexorably atrophy and you will die?

And how is your health-care coverage, Roger?

Do you believe in the afterlife?

Resolutely secular and shallow, "Live for the Moment" also gravitates to what are arguably the most easily accomplished fantasies Roger may have -- provided you're working with a network budget. Imagine if there was a Make-a-Wish foundation for grownups that was administered by the people who publish the SkyMall catalogue, and you have this show.

Roger, who was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago and has so far lost muscle control in his hands and arms, has always dreamed of being an astronaut, so it's off to Cape Canaveral, to meet Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and watch the shuttle blast off; then Roger and family go to the opposite coast so he can take a ride in a fighter jet. In between, he is sent to Telluride, Colo., to ski with his former college roommate, whom he hasn't seen since 1992. (Lifelong friends, who haven't seen in each other in 18 years? How come? We don't ask questions here. We just gush about how inspired we are, in mountaintop scenes connected by U2 and Coldplay songs meant to underscore how emotional it all feels.)

"What're you thinking right now?" Probst demands of Roger.

"That I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Roger says.

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