Published November 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES – Obamacare was the hot topic of a big awards show last week, exactly the kind of exposure the California Endowment had in mind when the private health foundation gave $500,000 to Hollywood to help work the new law into their programming.
Except for one big thing: the Country Music Awards, left to its own devices, ridiculed the struggling healthcare program and its website.
The Endowment wants its 500 grand used to persuade shows to promote it instead.
The grant was awarded to the University of Southern California's Annenberg Norman Lear Center's Hollywood Health & Society (HH&S) program to administer, but just how HH&S will spend their newfound green remains to be seen.
According to Daniel Zingali, the Senior Vice President for the California Endowment, it will follow a strategy that has been used for a number of years to promote health promotions and other forms of legislation.
“It's something we find more effective than only government communications to people. We don't think the government by itself does a good job of letting people know the facts,” Zingali told FOX411. “But if you can give real life stories through the entertainment vehicle that can reach people in a different way, we’re interested in that. Our grant is really just to help (Hollywood) distribute the laws of the land (and find) creative ways of reaching people.”
The organization seeks to develop programs to inform the entertainment industry's power players – writers, directors and producers – on the various elements of the federal program so that they can be incorporated into fictionalized, primetime story lines that will reach millions of Americans.
But some say it’s not that cut and dried.
"The university program will also produce what it calls 'subject-matter expert panels' in order to explain Obamacare and indoctrinate those entertainment industry professionals who don't currently understand or fully support Obamacare," said Matthew Vadum, Senior Editor at the Capital Research Center. "Hollywood is known for its extravagance and wastefulness so I'm guessing the conferences featuring the panels will be lavishly catered mini-vacations for all involved."
Vadum also questioned the politics of the Endowment which granted the money, and just how accurately the information presented to the shows will be, based on the organization’s history.
“Since 1999, the philanthropy has given $137.4 million to the radical Tides network (an infrastructure service for progressive non-profits) and $4.9 million to Families USA Foundation, a pro-Obamacare activist group that was instrumental in foisting Obamacare on Americans,” he said. “President Obama’s pro-immigration amnesty labor secretary, community organizer Thomas Perez, was also a paid consultant to the California Endowment.”
Several prominent Hollywood players with ties to big shows on every network sit on the HH&S board. HH&S has reportedly helped shape more than 300 stories on television shows in the last two years, providing content creators information on topics such as AIDS, toxic exposure, climate change, sexual violence and heart disease that were incorporated into such popular programs including "Law & Order," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "The Good Wife," "Mad Men," and "Bones.
Some media experts say the grant to introduce pro-Obamacare plots is nothing short of propaganda.
“It (Obamacare references) could end up being either minor side jokes or major plot lines. Imagine Howard in ‘Big Bang Theory’ needing medical care and then making a joke about how bad the experience would be without Obamacare,” noted Dan Gainor, VP of Business & Culture at the Media Research Center. “TV already pushes a far-left agenda. This just gives them more incentive and more focus.”
The $500,000 gift was just made, so no AHCA plot lines have yet been written. Deadline reporter Dominic Patten said that it is most likely we won't see them integrated on the small screen for at least nine months. And despite the impressive list of board members and the HH&S’s history of working with top shows, Variety Managing Editor Ted Johnson said it is not a slam dunk that Obamacare storylines will even be woven into scripts.
"Many non profits and advocacy groups try to interest TV and movie creators to incorporate story lines into their content, but the risk is always that it doesn't feel organic to the characters or too 'preachy,'" he said. "The Norman Lear Center's Hollywood, Health and Society has been around for some time, often to connect experts to writers as they incorporate health care into their stories. Maybe it will be as simple as a character asking a patient if they have insurance."
Aside from primetime series story lines, half of the $500,000 grant will also be dedicated to Spanish-language programming, a key demographic needed to make Obamacare a success. Cash will also be used to create positive AHCA public service announcements that will tie into plots. And finally, funds will reportedly be used to track when and how the Obamacare is featured in television shows.
The California Endowment and HH&S did not respond to a request for further comment.
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.