Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor to sit on a panel with Hollywood heavies – two co-executive producers and writers of Law and Order: SVU and a supervising producer of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as a woman who used to work on telenovas. We were at the Hollywood, Health and Society conference on setting the research agenda for entertainment education.
It was interesting to see how different we all work when it comes to incorporating global health messaging into our programmes. We all had the same challenge, the ability to add in the messages, but keep the show relevant, authentic and interesting to our audiences.
I think in that way we’re a bit luckier because we create original programming for each issue we tackle. But then that also means we don’t have a existing audience base to reach, so run the risk of poor ratings.
Because we don’t have characters we need to stay true to, we also allow our partners a lot more leeway with what goes into the programming, where for obvious reasons Greys and SVU simply can’t give global health agencies.
I understand the frustration of these agencies that want to ‘control’ the message, but I think that’s where blue sky thinking needs to come into play.
The key problem is not knowing in advance when global health messages will be airing on the shows when they’re broadcast in other countries. However, that doesn’t stop the agencies from using these storylines as a catalyst to encourage dialogue among their audience and in their outreach plans. If anything this introduction of global health messages into such globally successful programmes serves to support the in-country and even global campaigns on the issues.
This is just my observation, that these programmes are just one more tool in the arsenal to address global health issues especially to mainstream audiences.

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