Consumer research over the years has shown that more than half of regular primetime drama/comedy viewers learned something about a health issue or disease from a TV show. CDC’s entertainment education program and cooperative agreement with the University of Southern California’s Hollywood, Health and Society (HH&S) program creates the opportunity for CDC subject matter experts to work with writers and producers of prime time television shows to help make sure there are accurate health storylines. CDC’s work and partnership began with HH&S ten years ago and as a result HH&S has worked with more than 150 TV series—some of which have as many as 20 million viewers— on 6 broadcast and 30 cable networks.
TV writers and producers have a writing and research process that challenges them to create gripping storylines under tight time pressures. As project officer for the Entertainment Education Cooperative Agreement, I have come to realize and appreciate the effort TV writers make to include correct public health messages in these prime time TV shows. Because of their efforts, millions of people across the US and around the world learn about serious public health challenges and what they can do about them. The Entertainment Education Cooperative Agreement is an exceptionally valuable resource for public health communicators to get our important health messages across in television entertainment shows.
Recently, the Norman Lear Foundation and Hollywood, Health and Society hosted their 12th annual Sentinel for Health Awards and awarded five first‐place winners from a field of 26 entries. The purpose is to recognize examples of TV health storylines that best inform, educate, and inspire viewers to make choices for healthier and safer lives.
More than 55 public health topic experts served on 13 panels and evaluated the accuracy of health stories in TV shows. First‐round judging was conducted at CDC and other partner organizations. Second-round judging took place in Los Angeles and evaluated the eight shows that were named as finalists. The judges for this round were experts from entertainment, education and public health organizations and judged the shows’ entertainment value and possible benefit to the television audience.
Winners this year included Parenthood (NBC) for an excellent storyline on Asperger’s Syndrome; Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) for a powerful storyline on Alzheimer’s disease; Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) for a storyline about cystic fibrosis; Off the Map (ABC) for a storyline about global reproductive health, mining health, and the exploitation of hope among the terminally ill; El Clon (Telemundo) for a forceful telenovela about the importance of pap smears in detecting cervical cancer; and Sesame Street (PBS) for an educational, musical storyline about nutrition, featuring SuperGrover, Elmo, and some singing super-foods.