Cable Gears Up for World AIDS Day

Government officials, company executives and creative and programming directors from 35 media firms gathered at the United Nations Nov. 23 to exchange ideas on how to incorporate HIV/AIDS messages into both short- and long-form programming.

This first-ever global creative meeting on HIV/AIDS was built on the efforts of the Global Media AIDS Initiative, launched in January by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The meeting was organized by Viacom Inc., MTV Networks International, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Department of Information. The meeting was also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

A Viacom spokesman said the meeting featured an address by Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone, as well as the examination of a number of case studies about the efficacy of public-service announcements and programming centering on AIDS/HIV issues.

“The meeting was about engaging media companies that have not been very active in this arena and to get those that have to be even more involved,” he said. “This is not just about creating spots, but about getting programmers to integrate AIDS/HIV themes and story lines into their shows.”

The spokesman said a recent episode of CBS series Cold Case went in that direction. “We have research that demonstrates how really effective this is in getting the messages about AIDS/HIV prevention out there,” he added.

All told, some 38 million people around the globe are infected with HIV/AIDS.

With World AIDS Day approaching Dec. 1, Cable Positive, the cable and telecommunications industries’ AIDS-action organization, is gearing up for its latest awareness and prevention.

Under the banner of “Join the Fight,” Cable Positive has enlisted Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, The Phantom of the Opera) to direct a series of PSAs featuring Jamie-Lynn DiScala, Jennifer Esposito, Nathan Lane, Christopher Meloni and Jeffrey Wright to talk about the epidemic from statistical and human perspectives.

In close-ups, they then highlight the enemies of AIDS -- fear, apathy, denial and ignorance. The spots end with personal statements. For example, Wright references his role as Belize in Tony Kushner’s Emmy Award-, Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America.

Each national spot directs viewers to a Web site ( dedicated to providing information how to better educate yourself about HIV/AIDS; general information on HIV testing; how to volunteer one’s time and efforts to the cause; and how to talk to your friends, family and loved ones about the epidemic.

A Cable Positive spokesman said Adelphia Communications Corp., Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Mediacom Communications Corp., Insight Communications Co. Inc. and Bresnan Communications are among the MSOs that will run the spots.

Programming companies that will engage in the PSA fight include NBC Universal, MTVN, Fox Cable Networks Group, A&E Television Networks and Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.

In addition to their commitment to running the PSAs, networks plan to air a host of HIV/AIDS programming on or around Dec. 1.

That day, Home Box Office will encore Angels in America, while E! Entertainment Television will air several profiles of celebrities who died from AIDS (Rock Hudson) or have contracted HIV (Playmate Rebekka Armstrong). Lifetime Television plans to run a pair of Strong Medicine episodes dealing with HIV/AIDS.

In Dangerous Deception: Living on the Down Low, Discovery Health Channel tells stories of men living on the “down low,” a term used to describe non-gay-identified men, some with wives and children, who have sex with both men and women. This pattern of transmittal is particularly deadly for African-American and Latino women, who make up about 25% of the female population but yet represent more than 80% of all reported AIDS cases among women. The one-hour special bows Dec. 1 at 10 p.m.

That day, English-language Latino network Sí TV will turn its studio talk show, The Rub, over to Vanessa Talamantes, Los Angeles County’s commissioner for HIV health, to deflate myths about the disease and answer audience questions at 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Following at 11:30 a.m. on Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, hosts Neil Saavedra and Idalis De Leon will query patrons of popular Los Angeles eateries on whether the U.S. government should do more about AIDS here, rather than sending money overseas, or if people still think AIDS is a gay disease.

In Cable News Network’s Are You Positive?, AIDS activists Richard Gere (who attended the U.N. conference), Ashley Judd and Magic Johnson join Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who explains how the contemporary environment of HIV and AIDS defies the stereotype that it is a disease of gay men and poor, distant nations.

Gupta relays stories from America's heartland, churches, schools and retirement communities, reporting on the re-emergence of HIV and AIDS in unexpected places. The special bows Nov. 28 at 10 p.m., with reairs at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. Dec. 1.

Per usual, various Viacom-owned services are taking a very active tack in the battle against this debilitating disease. At 6 p.m., Black Entertainment Television will air a special edition of 106 & Park: BET's Top 10 Countdown, during which hosts AJ & Free will discuss the issue of HIV/AIDS.

At 11 p.m., BET Nightly News will also take an in-depth look at HIV/AIDS in a special segment.

BET Nightly News will be followed by the premiere of one of the two winning Rap-It-Up/Black AIDS Short Subject short films, Walking on Sunshine, at 11:30 p.m.

Walking on Sunshine will also air Sunday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m., followed by the second RIU/BASS winning short film, Tangy's Song!, at 3:30 p.m. that day

For its part, premium network Showtime will present My Life in Verse at 7 p.m. on World AIDS Day, in which first-time filmmaker Marnee Meyer takes a behind-the-scenes look at a writing workshop sponsored by the AIDS Service Center, led by award-winning poet Gerry Gomez Pearlberg.

Looking to generate greater awareness about the pandemic, VH1 will encore its award-winning VH1 News Presents: AIDS: A Pop Culture History, as well as original PSAs and other news updates throughout World AIDS Day. Additionally, PSAs from the award-winning Viacom “KNOW HIV” campaign will also air all day.

As part of the network’s “Fight for Your Rights: Protect Yourself” pro-social initiative, MTV: Music Television and mtvU, the service’s on-campus network, will premiere MTV's Campus Guide to Safer Sex. Produced in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, the special -- airing at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 -- features MTV News correspondents Gideon Yago and SuChin Pak as they visit colleges across the country to find out how young people are protecting themselves and dealing with sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy.

Because the HIV/AIDS crosses all age boundaries, Nickelodeon will bow Living with AIDS: A Story of Three Kids Dec. 1. The Nick News Special Edition, from award-winning journalist Linda Ellerbee, follows three kids living with AIDS.

“This is not a show about AIDS,” Ellerbee said in a prepared statement. "This is a show about three American kids who are living with AIDS. They all have the strength of character and resilience that's hard to find, even in adults. These kids are not one, but three good reasons to educate yourself about AIDS.”

More than 14,000 kids in the United States are infected with the HIV virus, and more than 90% of those were born with the disease.