Motivating Television Viewers to Become Organ Donors

The following case study explores how a popular primetime television drama, Numb3rs, was used to inform audiences of issues surrounding organ donation and, as a result, encourage viewers to register as organ donors. In 2006, writers on the show contacted Hollywood, Health & Society to learn more about the process of organ donation in preparation for an upcoming episode. In response to this initial request for information, resources on donation and transplantation were provided and a phone consultation was arranged between the show writer and a transplant surgeon who shared information on organ donation trends, how the donor-recipient matching system works, and the system used to track organs. The transplant surgeon also shared case studies with the show writers to help them conceptualize meaningful and accurate storylines. As a result of this exchange, an episode called “Harvest” was produced and aired on January 27, 2006. Information on the transplant list and organ matching program was shared throughout the episode, leading up to a final scene where the show’s main characters are shown having an extensive conversation with one another about the importance of organ donation. In this scene, characters who are already registered organ donors convince another character to register and discuss how impactful it would be if everyone signed up to be an organ donor. The impact of this episode, which reached 13.36 million viewers, was evaluated through a viewer survey. The survey, which was posted on the show’s website, online chat rooms, and fan sites, was designed to measure the viewer’s perceived accuracy of the show, how emotionally involved they became in the episode, their knowledge of how to become an organ donor, and intentions to take donation-related actions. Survey results from 4,473 viewers revealed that individuals who saw an episode like Harvest in which the main characters discuss the importance of organ donation were more likely to express a willingness to become an organ donor versus viewers who had viewed television episodes with less poignant messaging. 
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