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Taking the Initiatives

History Channel: Rallying Troop Support

Debate may rage over the war in Iraq, but the History Channel hopes to rally support for the troops with a new public-affairs program. “Take a Vet to School” will match students with past and present veterans for a day of in-class activities designed to educate students on the military and history.

“From the greatest generation to the latest generation, we want to welcome [these veterans] into our communities,” says Libby O'Connell, the network's senior VP of corporate outreach/chief historian.

With Veterans Day (observed on Nov. 12 this year) a holiday for many schools, History is encouraging administrators to pick a nearby date for events that will also include several educational elements in the days leading up to the in-school activities.

History is developing curricula for grades K-12 that satisfy teaching requirements in all 50 states. Later this month, a dedicated Website will launch with teaching material and streamed video. History Channel will also offer special programming for video-on-demand.

The network is working with five veterans organizations to develop the program. History will donate airtime and online space for the groups' messages. Adds O'Connell, “This is the widest application of any school program we've ever done.”

Lifetime: Getting women politically involved

As the 2008 election season approaches, Lifetime is resuming its “Every Woman Counts” program, encouraging participation in politics. The network is also adding digital components to extend the program's reach.

Now in its fifth election cycle, Every Woman Counts uses programming, outreach and public affairs to raise awareness of political issues and voter participation.

While women are a key voting block in any election, there is added excitement with Hillary Clinton as the early frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, says Meredith Wagner, Lifetime's executive VP of public affairs and corporate communication.

Perhaps tapping into this idea, the program encourages political participation. In several states, Lifetime will host “boot-camp” training for women interested in running for every level of office. The seminars will be available online and through on-demand.

Other new broadband elements include taped interviews with 86 female members of the House and Senate. And viewers and Lifetime reporters can submit video reports on top issues affecting women to Lifetime's Website. The network's site will also link to each state's voter-registration site.

MTVU: students and mental health

Cable network MTVU's latest public-affairs initiative tackles a pervasive, often overlooked campus epidemic: mental illness. Through “Half of Us,” a new awareness program, the network will educate students about both mental-health issues and treatment options.

“We decided we could have an impact if we go after the stigma,” says MTVU General Manager Stephen Friedman. Mental-health issues are the second-leading cause of death among college students.

Launched last fall, Half of Us involves on-air, online and on-campus elements. The dedicated site offers a mental-health–screening tool and information on treatment. The network is running half-hour specials profiling popular musicians, such as Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, Max Bemis of Say Anything and Mary J. Blige, who have battled mental-health illnesses. On campus, MTVU provides free screening at more than 500 events, including various network-sponsored music festivals.

The network is working with the non-profit Jed Foundation—founded by parents of a college student who committed suicide—that coordinates with campus health centers and local organizations. In the future, Friedman says, Half of Us might extend its efforts to high school. “Most kids are too embarrassed to ask for help,” he says. “We can connect them to the resources they need.”

IFC: self-expression through film

This year, IFC is expanding “Film School,” its inspiring outreach program for high school students. The initiative helps kids both learn about film and literature and create their own work.

Through the two-year-old program, high school students watch movies complementing literature they study in class. The program satisfies creative-writing and classic-literature curriculum requirements in most states, according to the network. At present, 50,000 high school students in 5,000 schools are participating.

In addition, students can create their own films, using equipment donated by IFC and local cable operators.

IFC is currently enhancing the initiative as part of an overall effort to expand its user-generated and on-demand programming. Teachers and students can trade information through the Film School Website,, and IFC's own user-generated–content site, For the future, says network General Manager Evan Shapiro, IFC envisions launching an on-demand component on cable and online to showcase student films.

For now, IFC aims to improve the classroom experience and expose students to a potential career. “We are giving students the tools to express themselves,” Shapiro says. “Not everyone is going to be Scorsese, but if they have a propensity and passion for film, there is no reason they couldn't get into video production.”

NBCU Cable: TV producers for the future

When NBC acquired Bravo in 2002, the company inherited the cable network's “On With the Show” public-affairs program, which exposed high school students to theater and diversity. NBC Universal Cable is relaunching the program with a new focus on the TV industry.

The centerpiece of the program, dubbed NBC Universal's On the Set, invites a dozen interns to learn TV production and study diversity in media during a week-long summer program. NBCU also offers material to teachers running high school digital arts and English programs. “We are encouraging diversity in media and education,” says Erica Goldman, VP of marketing for NBC Universal Cable.

Interns are culled through a nationwide search, with NBCU working alongside cable operators and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC). In July, winners from both the national search and market events in Dallas, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago will travel to New York for a week-long crash course in TV production. The experience culminates in the production of an intern's own public-service announcements (PSAs), which NBCU Cable networks plan to run on-air.

Food Network: Relieving the hunger epidemic

For its inaugural public-affairs effort, the Food Network is taking aim at a huge, apropos topic: national hunger relief. Through a relationship with non-profit organization Share Our Strength, Food will use on-air and off-channel efforts to raise awareness of the hunger epidemic, childhood hunger and nutrition education.

Food Network unveiled the effort at the National Cable Telecommunications Association convention in Las Vegas last month. The partnership was inspired in part by ties the network has forged with New York City's Food Bank and City Harvest.

So far, the network has collaborated on one of Share Our Strength's biggest efforts, the Great American Bake Sale, which collected proceeds from local bake sales at churches and schools. Food Network's own bake sale at its Manhattan headquarters produced $7,000 in contributions.

In the future, Food Network plans to hold other fundraisers, including a possible auction and in-studio events with its chefs.

Cable operators are getting involved as well. In conjunction with Food Network's announcement at NCTA, Cox Cable's local system and the channel donated $10,000 to a local food charity.

TNT: Creating real drama in schools

Who would have thought TNT's on-air marketing campaign “Drama Is” would inspire a new public-affairs program for high school students?

The network has been receiving inquiries from teachers to share videos of the spots—which feature TV and film stars, along with the TNT tagline “We Know Drama”—with their students. The requests got TNT executives thinking about drama in schools; research indicated that 80% of schools have little or no drama education, according to Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer for TNT and sibling networks TBS and TCM. “We want kids to understand the benefits of drama and drama programs,” he says. “It benefits their academic success and social skills.”

Thus the network's three-prong initiative, “TNT Drama Matters.” A dedicated Website,, offers classroom exercises and materials to expose students to the genre. The network is also working with after-school programs to foster drama activities. The third portion builds off the “Drama Is” experience with PSAs featuring celebrities from Noah Wyle to Ludacris discussing the benefits of drama education. The spots will also be streamed.

TNT plans to involve cable operators, perhaps by staging local events and visits to live theater. The effort will be rolled out to schools nationwide by next year.

Oxygen: Mentors for young women

Building the next generation of aspiring female professionals is a concern for Oxygen executives. It's expanding the public-affairs program “Oxygen Mentors” to encourage relationships between established professionals and younger executives.

The program dispels a myth that “women don't help other women,” says Andi Bernstein, the network's senior VP of public affairs.

In Oxygen Mentors, which launched in 2005, the network works with local women's organizations and colleges in various markets to pair professionals and mentees. Women meet for a breakfast and then go on a morning walk. Typically, a mentor is joined with three young women.

After the walks, the women are encouraged to keep in touch through an online social-networking site.

To broaden the reach, Oxygen is developing a video- on-demand (VOD) component. In Pittsburgh, it is partnering with Comcast to create a VOD program that includes career and mentoring advice from celebrities and local business professionals.

Bernstein says Oxygen hopes to expand the effort further in 2008, adding three to five more markets and involving more advertisers as sponsors: “We want to get more women involved helping others.”