Elixir of Life--A 10-part magazine-style TV series in the Czech Republic
CECHE with its partners in the Czech Republic has completed its 10-part magazine style TV series-Elixir of Life-which emphasizes tobacco control (and other health issues) for cardiovascular and other disease prevention -- the leading killers in the CEE-NIS region. The series, cosponsored and broadcast by Czech State TV, beginning in November 1998, has also been evaluated for impact. It is now being placed for broadcast on national channels in other countries of the region. Here is the essence:
Along with the onslaught of western music, western products and movie stars, western television is becoming a fact of life in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in CEE-NIS. Western-style TV is grabbing huge ratings with programs like quiz shows, talk fora and youth videos. Because these shows attract millions of viewers, CECHE and its partners assessed their educational value and asked. What if all of this "bad" television was put to "good" use? What if the style techniques and "vocabulary" of mass-market electronic media were harnessed to get across a "public service" message, teaching the Czech and other people about "heart healthy" living and the prevention of cardiovascular disease through heart healthy measures such as quitting smoking? That is the essence of Elixir of Life or "Heart of the Matter," co-produced by CECHE and its scientific, medical and media partners in the Czech Republic and the United States.
The 10-part series is hosted by a well-known Czech TV personality, who presents each 28-minute program in a modern, interactive set, before an eager and lively studio audience. Borrowing from one popular game show, a carnival style quiz begins each show, choosing a problem area to be covered that week. Taking cues from other well-watched game shows on Czech television, the host poses questions to and conducts contests and competitions with the audience and viewers on a range of "heart" topics...from guessing the benefits of quitting smoking...to judging the value of various exercise routines... to estimating the calorie count of a typical "hearty" Czech meal.
The series moderator is helped by medical, health and diet experts, who, in keeping with the style of the program, bring issues to life by showing audience members how to cook "heart-healthy," demonstrating the latest techniques on how to quit smoking, or explaining ways to "work-out" that get the heart pumping and can lead to a longer life. Featured as well are Czech theater, music, art and sports stars. These popular role models prove it's not dull to do the "right thing" when it comes to health.
Another important aspect of the "Heart of the Matter" is its field reports. A young, dynamic TV reporter covers health issues and concerns all over the Czech Republic. These segments are produced in a fast-paced, aggressive style using roving reporter and "man on the street" techniques. Increasingly modern aspects of Czech living and their impact on health issues are covered, including the impact of today's stress in the working world on business people, and ways (other than smoking!) for handling it.
Creativity and interaction are the hallmarks of the series. The proper health "moves" to make are "played out" on an oversized chess board with the studio audience taking part. If the subject is cholesterol, for example, the program brings the viewer to a Czech highway (speeding cars or clogged traffic jams being a good metaphor for the effect of cholesterol on the "roadways" of the body).
"Elixir of Life" is a joint venture between CECHE, Czech health experts, and Czech TV, the number one state channel in the Czech Republic. Aware of the success of the new commercial channels and the need to compete for viewer attention, the country's national channel committed a full range of studio and technical support. Prime-time broadcasts, beginning in winter 1998, maximized viewer awareness. The series is also being distributed via cable and satellite TV, as well as being provided to schools, community centers, hospitals and clinics. Newspaper articles, questionnaires and educational background material complement the series.
The team behind the series has a track record of success on other smoking and cardiovascular disease prevention projects in the Czech Republic. Dr. Sushma Palmer, CECHE's chairman, Dr. Richard Havel at the University of California's Cardiovascular Research Institute, and Dr. Rudolph Poledne from Prague's Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine are providing technical guidance and expert advice. The series was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Open Society Institute. Responsible for actually putting the shows together are Czech television veteran Martin Slunecko and his Nike TV production in Prague with the guidance of CECHE TV Consultant Greg Palkot, of Deutche Welle in Paris.
A pre- and post- evaluation of the impact of the series, conducted following the broadcast, showed major positive results (see Elixir of Life Gets High Marks).
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