The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognizes the power of popular entertainment in shaping the perceptions and practices of its viewers. Television shows, movies, and music not only command the attention of their audiences, but also reinforce existing behavior, demonstrate new behavior, and affect audience emotions. In October 2003, the NCI established a partnership with Hollywood executives and academic, public health, and advocacy organizations to share information with writers and producers about the nation's pressing health issues.
The NCI Entertainment Education Program works in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center to provide expert consultation, education and resources for writers and producers who develop scripts with health storylines and information.
Popular entertainment is an ideal outlet for sharing health information and affecting behavior. We are interested in providing information that covers a variety of topics about cancer including complementary and alternative therapies, childhood cancers, nutrition, cancer and the environment, and much more. Knowing that 88 percent of people in America learn about health issues from television, we believe that primetime and daytime television programs, movies, and talk shows are great outlets for health messages.
Not only is television an effective outlet, but, in some cases, it speaks directly to the audiences that we most want to reach - those at greatest risk for cancer. In fact, findings in a 1999 Healthstyles Survey indicated that regular viewers of soap operas reported more health concerns than individuals who do not watch soap operas.
Resources for TV Writers and Producers
Through the Hollywood, Health & Society program, public health and medical experts offer expert consultation, education and resources for writers and producers who develop scripts with health storylines and information.
Tip Sheets for TV Writers and Producers
Tip Sheets for TV Writers and Producers contain easy-to-use, credible information on the nation's most pressing cancer issues and topics of interest to writers. Each tip sheet includes a description of who's at risk, typical symptoms, prevention messages, case examples, and a list of other resources. New tip sheets are in development and a few are already available online. Fact sheets are provided for those topics which still have tip sheets in development.
Hollywood, Health and Society staff hold meetings with the creators of TV shows and network campaigns, conduct expert briefings for writers, and respond to inquiries for health information. The meetings inform network and show staff about the full range of services that are available to them, including everything from calls for factual information to visits by NCI experts who have national responsibility for cancer issues. Experts can answer questions in person, by telephone or through e-mail correspondence. Program staff can arrange expert briefings for an entire writing staff of a TV show; set up one-on-one conversations between a producer and a health expert to explore storyline possibilities; and identify real people who deal with health issues first-hand, on a personal, professional or community level.
Expert panel discussions are planned with organizations like the Writers Guild of America, west and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to examine the implications of dramatizing critical public health topics in entertainment programming. NCI officials and other health experts talk about cancer issues such as nutrition and cancer, cancer rates and trends, and more. Entertainment professionals who have grappled with these topics discuss the challenges and responsibilities they face when bringing them to the screen.
Research on Audience Effects and Needs
NCI and USC staff collaborate on research efforts to measure the impact of TV shows and other entertainment formats on audiences. National surveys have shown that daytime and primetime viewers pay attention to the health information in TV shows, learn from it, act on it, and share the information with others. A recent study of hotline callers who responded to a public service announcement during a health storyline suggests similar findings. Current projects include analysis of national survey data to interpret the impact of Spanish-language media on Hispanic audiences and assessing the impact of a Telemundo TV storyline on breast cancer.
Newsletter: "Real to Reel"
In June 2004, "Hollywood, Health and Society" launched a newsletter for entertainment writers and producers. "Real to Reel" features health headlines, news from the CDC and NCI, as well as real life case examples of people dealing with current health issues that can be used in entertainment programming.
For additional information, contact:
Hollywood, Health & Society