Maybe you saw the episode of Fox TV’s “House” in which the curmudgeonly lead character realizes just before a patient’s death that she’s suffering from a tapeworm in her brain. Or a scene from the new Fox show “Touch,” in which a group of African women stand up to a man who is abusing his girlfriend.
Some of America’s biggest philanthropies are helping to shape those kinds of storylines in an effort to educate the public about global health and other causes they care about.
Through its Hollywood, Health & Society program, the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center takes Hollywood producers and writers to developing countries and introduces them to global-health experts to inform them about social causes.
Long supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the center four years ago began receiving money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the California Endowment. More recently, it has received grants from the Barr and Grantham foundations and the Skoll Global Threats Fund to extend its work to include climate change.
“We inspire writers and we inform them, but we don’t tell them what to write,” says Sandra de Castro Buffington, director of Hollywood, Health & Society. She spoke Tuesday in Washington at the annual conference of InterAction, a membership group of international aid nonprofits.
The Hollywood, Health & Society program has helped shape more than 300 stories on television shows in the last two years, according to Ms. de Castro Buffington. She said the stories can be more successful than other types of publicity.
More people called an AIDS hotline during and after an episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” in which a character is diagnosed with HIV, than during a public-service announcement for a national “get tested” campaign or a special about AIDS televised on MTV, she said.