TV Becomes Powerful Tool for Charities, Causes That Change Lives


CBS cancelled series Three Rivers and Family Guy, along with a number of reality series, strongly influence people’s choices in organ donor registration.

How influential is your favorite TV show in making daily, or even life-changing, decisions?

Tenaya Wallace, head of Donate Life Hollywood, spoke with me via telephone about the powerful tool she believes television is, not only in helping people make decisions, but in helping them make decisions that save lives, particularly in regard to organ donation.

Television Is A Powerful Tool

Wallace still credits the now-cancelled CBS series Three Rivers with proven results of the power of television in this regard. She says, “Though only nine episodes aired, the show led to a 6% increase in the public’s positive perception of organ donation.”

Producers Are Rewarded for Inspiring Storylines

As an Expert Consultant to many reality shows, documentaries, and primetime television series, it’s Wallace’s job to make sure producers “get it right.”

Those that do get it right are rewarded with Inspire Awards. Wallace says, “We reward those shows that air positive and inspiring storylines about organ donation. We let them know that dealing with organ and tissue donation in a positive way helps to save lives. We’ve seen it proven time and again.”

Reality Shows Tell It Like It Is

Last year, a lot of Inspire winners were reality shows (i.e., MTV’s True Life, Doctor Oz, The Doctors), which does not surprise Wallace. She concedes, “These are real life stories that show the process of organ and tissue donation and highlight the benefits of being an organ donor and the power of transplantation.”

Wallace says, “In a phenomenol episode airing on ABC’s Boston Med, a gentleman receives a heart, dies the next day, and then becomes a transplant donor. It’s a very powerful episode, and they treat it with utmost care.”

Fictitious Series Shares True-to-Life Story

She continues, “My favorite Inspire Award recipient this year is Family Guy.” She reflects on the producer’s acceptance speech, where the event marks the first time Family Guy has ever received an award for being medically accurate.

“In the episode, entitled ‘New Kidney in Town,’ Peter makes his own energy drink, and it just burns his kidneys. So, he needs a kidney transplant. His dog is willing to give his kidney, but learns from the doctor that he would have to give both kidneys, since he’s a dog, to save Peter’s life. In the end, even though the dog is willing to lay down his life, Peter’s doctor becomes the donor. It’s actually quite a good episode. And it’s educational as well. At one point, Peter decides not to go on dialysis, and he throws up and even passes out.”

Negative Representation Is Dangerous

Wallace stresses, however, that medical accuracy is not as important as positive and inspiring medical shows.

She is reminded again of the impact of Three Rivers. Her fears that the series might actually kill people through negative representation of organ donation were erased when writer/executive producer/showrunner Carol Barbee not only listened to her concerns, but heavily researched every episode before ever writing a word. And she instructed her writers to do the same.

Cast and Crew Take Platform Seriously

Wallace not only continues to work with Barbee, who is now an Advisor to Donate Life Hollywood, but also works with Three Rivers actor Alex O’Loughlin (now star of Hawaii Five-0). O’Loughlin is an Ambassador for the Organization and the 2010 recipient of the Donate Life Person of the Year Award.

Wallace says, “Alex O’Loughlin told me he was very attracted to the part of a physician as a transplant surgeon in Three Rivers. He said, ‘I think this is an important platform, this is an important cause, and being in this role has given me an opportunity to share a message about organ donation.’”

Everyone Joins the Cause of A Second Charity

Obviously organ donation and the cause is something that continues to be important to O’Loughlin, who is also Spokesperson for the Taylor’s Gift Foundation, an organization who partners with Donate Life Hollywood.

Via a telephone conversation, Todd Storch, founder of the charity, tells me, “Alex has been fantastic in helping our cause and what we’re trying to do.” (The Storches lost their 13 year-old daughter to a skiing accident and saved the lives of five people through organ donation).

Storch further tells me, “We’ve been very fortunate to have such a great outreach team and people of such varied talent. Some people are really good at writing, some at speaking, some at running errands, and some at licking envelopes. Everyone is important.”

He adds, “We’re making an impact all across the globe. It’s humbling and beautiful at the same time.”

Entertainment Industry Is Valuable Resource

Wallace sums up for everyone when she says, “The entertainment industry is a very valuable resource for getting the word out and in getting people to take action. We are thankful celebrities make us a part of their platform.”

Look for even greater results next year when Donate Life Hollywood launches its first-ever national campaign to register “20 Million in 2012.”

More information about these organizations may be found at and

Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover. 

Article originally posted at Suite101.