Bill Gates’ influence apparently now extends to what you see on TV.
The New York Times reported that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has used its considerable clout to help develop TV scripts, inserting positive messages about disease prevention and surgical safety into shows like “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Private Practice.”
Now Gates is embarking on a deal with Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1, BET, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, to give the foundation a role in weaving education-themed storylines into shows while indirectly contributing to production costs, according to The Times.
Promoting positive messages about education and health is a noble mission -- light years beyond the insidious practice of commercial product placement in shows. Still, there’s something disturbing about setting a precedent where outside entities, armed with big bucks, can exert a behind-the-scenes influence on entertainment scripts.
Those with less benevolent agendas than the Gates Foundation could use the power of pop culture to surreptitiously push political or religious causes. There’s also the danger of preachy scripts diluting entertainment value.
TV watchers these days need not only keep an eye on the tube – but on who’s paying for the message behind the medium.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.