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".