Evaluating the “Baby Jack” Storyline on The Bold and the Beautiful: Making a Case for Bone Marrow Donations

In an effort to increase public awareness about bone marrow transplantation and encourage individuals to register as donors, Hollywood, Health, &Society worked with The Bold and The Beautiful, a popular daytime soap opera, to create a storyline that would share these messages with viewers of the show. Prior to this case, several studies, including a survey of regular viewers of primetime entertainment TV programming, had shown that television plays an important role in educating the American public about health issues. With data to suggest that integrating messaging into a soap opera was a legitimate strategy for raising awareness, Hollywood, Health & Society moved forward with plans to work with The Bold and the Beautiful’s show writers. Over the course of six weeks, several phone consultations took place between show writers and experts on bone marrow donation, with experts providing the writers with statistical data and website links to other reliable information sources. Experts also produced a list of seven key messages about bone marrow donation and stem cell transplants from umbilical cord blood. From these conversations an eight-day storyline was developed in which a newborn known to viewers as “Baby Jack”, is diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) shortly after his birth and needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. Because Baby Jack was conceived via in vitro fertilization, his parents are not a match, and a marrow donor must be found. After episodes revealing this diagnosis aired, a brief web article was posted to the homepage of the show’s website, providing information on SCID and bone marrow donation. The article also included information about the need for bone marrow donors and encouraged viewers to register. Once all eight episodes had aired, an online survey was conducted to evaluate the storyline’s impact on viewers’ knowledge regarding bone marrow donation and transplantation, and to determine whether the storyline motivated viewers to sign up for the donor registry. Analysis of 1,341 completed surveys revealed that the more transported into the storyline viewers were, the more they knew about issues related to donating bone marrow and the more likely they were to register as bone marrow donors.

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