Gates Foundation Paying For Programming On ER, Viacom*

Bill Gates’ Foundation has been influencing what’s on some TV shows. But it’s all in the name of charity.

The New York Times carries a report that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “helped develop the script” for a recent episode of ER, featuring the return of Hollywood A-lister George Clooney.

In exchange for an undisclosed amount of money from the Gates Foundation, ER’s producers agreed to make one the shows plotlines centre on a kidney transplant for Noah Wyle’s character, Dr. Carter.

Promoting organ donation is one of the Gates Foundation’s causes.

But it doesn’t end there: Last week Bill met with Viacom (VIA) CEO Phillipe Dauman, and the pair together came up with something called “Get Schooled.” As part of the deal, “all Viacom networks” (which includes MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, and others) will weave pro-education messages into their shows.

The NYT points out charity-sponsored money-for-media plays aren’t entirely new, but adds:

James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, which promotes family-oriented entertainment, said foundations typically seek to mould television programs with just advice and prodding.

“The difference here is the Gates Foundation is paying for this, that they are actually willing to pay for programming,” Mr. Steyer said.

Just another symptom of the troubles afflicting media companies. Back when Viacom and NBCU had working business models, we can’t imagine the Gates Foundation (or anyone) being able to dictate that Noah Wyle get a kidney transplant. But these days, you get revenue anywhere you can find it.

Update: A Viacom spokesman tells SAI the Gates Foundation will not “weave education-theme story lines into existing shows” as has been reported elsewhere.

Viacom has full creative control of our programming, and is making a substantial philanthropic commitment to the issue as well, because it’s important to us.  This partnership (which has been working since long before last week) has nothing to do with changing revenue models – it has to do with our ability to reach kids in school, and the Gates Foundation’s incredible expertise in this area.

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