Alcohol and Television: And Now for Some Mixed Messages


This article originally appeared in Issue# 54-55

On April 12 1989, ABC aired a shocking episode of its popular sitcom, Growing Pains. A close friend of the show's teenaged lead characters was seriously injured in a drunk driving crash, after having "just a few drinks." Hospitalized with his injuries, the youngster vowed to change his ways, grateful for his "second chance." Then, in a dramatic twist, the teenager suddenly died. As Daily Variety explained, the show's producers had decided to sacrifice the character to "break the typical sense of denial by young people that they're anything but immortal."

The "Second Chance" episode of Growing Pains is one of many recent instances when prime-time television was used to educate the public about substance abuse. This particular program was part of a major campaign launched in 1988 by Harvard University's School of Public Health. Its goal is to use entertainment TV to alert viewers to the dangers of drunk driving and to promote the idea of choosing a "designated driver".

Author Bio: 

Kathryn C. Montgomery, Ph.D., is a professor in the Public Communication division of American University in Washington, DC where she directs the Project on Youth, Media and Democracy through AU's Center for Social Media. For 12 years, she was President of the DC-based Center for Media Education (CME) which she co-founded in 1991. She is the author of Target Prime Time: Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television The author wishes to thank the U. S. Office for Substance Abuse Prevention for a grant which partially funded this research.