A patient who flat-lined 40 minutes ago suddenly wakes up in the morgue. Who do TV writers consult when they aren’t sure whether a situation like this might be possible? Who do they turn to for advice on how someone with a certain medical history might respond to chemotherapy? Often the resource is Hollywood Health & Society (HH&S), a nonprofit based at the USC Annenberg School’s Norman Lear Center. The group was founded in 1994 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a panel to consider working with the entertainment industry to increase the public’s awareness about HIV. HH&S staff and leadership have backgrounds in media, entertainment, and public health.

Every year, HH&S gives Sentinel Awards to recognize “television storylines that inform, educate, and motivate viewers for healthier and safer lives.” This year’s nominees are:

Topic: Suicide, grief, and mental health

  • Vice, “Right to Die” (HBO)

Topic: End of life policy

Topic: Ebola

Topic: Mental health

Topic: Blood transfusion

Topic: Down Syndrome

Topic: Sexual abuse

Topic: End of life

Topic: Climate change

Topic: Cardiology

  • Getting On, “No, I Don’t Want a F**king Smiley Face” (HBO)

Topic: Healthcare

Topic: Angioplasty

Topic: Climate change

The CDC’s Entertainment Education wing both funds and partners with HH&S on programming. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds them as well. Since 2009, HH&S has worked with 91 TV series on 35 networks. They evaluate storylines for audience impact, collaborate with shows on public service announcements, conduct expert briefings, produce CDC tip sheets on priority health topics, and publish peer-reviewed research. They’ve also spent several years monitoring primetime series for health and climate change content.