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Making Scripts And Science Match


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A lot of people in the news business have a hard time watching Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom." I'm sorry - you can't depend on a staffer with a buddy who roomed with someone who's got exclusive information on something urgent to break every big story. And of course, doctors can't stop sighing when they see the likes of "ER," "Grey's Anatomy" or "House." I mean, how do they make time for patients around all those hijinks? And have you ever been to a hospital where a doctor says you need an incredibly intricate operation requiring six specialists and a donor organ - let's roll you in right now. But back in 2001, a group of scientists and doctors formed Hollywood, Health & Society to try to be a resource to make scripts more accurate scientifically. Kate Langrall Folb rule is director of Hollywood, Health & Society. She joins us from our studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATE LANGRALL FOLB: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So how does this work? People call up and say we need a disease that makes a beautiful teenage girl get mortally sick without messing up their hair?

FOLB: (Laughter) Actually, that's pretty close to some of the requests I've gotten in the past. I like to say that we are a one-stop shop for public health, medical and even climate change today so that writers can call us or e-mail us and say, I need to talk to an expert. And we can get them connected with those experts as soon as possible.

SIMON: Do you have a favorite story about something you prevented someone from doing? Well, I don't know about prevention, but I can tell you a couple stories of work we've done with shows. For example - do your member that show called "Numbers"?

SIMON: Yeah, sure - the mathematic show.

FOLB: Right, well, we consulted on an episode with numbers on organ donation in which the characters discuss the process of becoming an organ donor. And so we found out that one out of every 10 viewers was motivated to become an organ donor based on watching that episode.

SIMON: Oh, my word.

FOLB: And that show, on its first run, garnered over 13 million viewers. So in keeping with the theme, if we do the math, that's over a million potential new organ donors just from watching 30 seconds at the end of "Numbers."

SIMON: There's a man who used to work here. He was, a number of years ago, a consultant on a film that concerned a radio personality. And he kept telling the producers, you've got the guy walking around. He has to be in front of the microphone. And he never wears a pair of headphones. How is he going to hear the callers? And he said the film maker said, thanks very much and went on and did what they wanted to do because you're not going to pay some guy $6 million to star in a film and keep a headset on him, you know?

FOLB: Yeah, yeah. As you might expect, a scientist is going to be very, very specific about the details. And, on the other hand, I've got a TV writer who's got to tell a story in 40 the minutes if it's an hour show. So we're kind of the United Nations in a way of helping these two individuals communicate with one another. And sometimes that doesn't make the scientist and the doctors very happy because it may not be 100 percent accurate. But we do the best we can. And most of the writers and producers that we work with - they're also very interested in doing the best they can.

SIMON: Kate Langrall Folb, director of Hollywood, Health & Society. Thanks very much for being with us.

FOLB: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.