Athens, Ga. – A unique Hollywood “hyphenate” – producer-pediatrician-activist Neal Baer – will speak about television’s capacity to educate and heal at a screening of an episode of the Peabody Award-winning drama series “ER” at the University of Georgia’s Tate Center movie theater on Monday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m.
The Peabodys and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts are co-sponsors of the event, which is free and open to the public as well as to UGA students, faculty and staff. After the screening of “Hell and High Water,” a celebrated “ER” episode written by Baer and spotlighting George Clooney, the physician-producer will talk about his work and then join Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabodys, for a question-and-answer session.
“Neal Baer is one of the most successful writer-producers in Hollywood,” Newcomb said. “He is also one of the most thoughtful. His belief in the power of television to inform as well as to entertain is also central to the mission of the Peabody Awards. Neal’s work on ‘ER’ and ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ exemplifies the single criterion used to select Peabody Award recipients – Excellence.”
A graduate of Harvard Medical School and a practicing pediatrician, Dr. Baer also holds master’s degrees in education and sociology from that university. His network television career began in 1988 when, after he completed a directing fellowship at the American Film Institute, he was recruited by producer-writer John Wells to write for “China Beach,” a dramatic series about nurses in Vietnam. Subsequently hired by Wells to write for “ER,” Baer spent seven seasons with the groundbreaking medical series, eventually becoming one of its executive producers.
Since 2000, he has been an executive producer of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” another popular prime-time series that frequently builds stories around contemporary social issues.
Baer’s primary medical interests are in adolescent health. He has written extensively for teens on health issues for Scholastic Magazine, covering such topics as teen pregnancy, AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse and nutrition.
At the podium, Baer discusses medical issues that our society currently grapples with and how his TV series have incorporated these issues into their plots. He gives insight into medicine and Hollywood and the entertaining and amazing ways that these worlds collide onscreen.
“Many of the stories I told on ‘ER’ and continue to present on ‘SVU’ are based on my personal experience as a physician,” Baer wrote recently on his blog. “For example, as a pediatrician I’ve treated adolescents for alcohol poisoning. And alcohol abuse by teens is a major public health crisis with one out of three seniors in high school regularly binge drinking. I took that ‘private story’ about a young man I treated and wrote two episodes of ‘ER’ illustrating the problems of alcohol abuse in adolescents and how we can try to treat it. I call these television stories ‘public stories,’ because they are inspired by real cases (my ‘private stories’) and made public (on a television drama) to illustrate important social problems.
“These stories have a measurable impact,” he continued. “Studies I’ve done with the Kaiser Family Foundation and published in the journal Health Affairs have demonstrated a profound increase in the public’s knowledge about a variety of health issues after they have watched an episode of ‘ER.’ The study proved that viewers retained this health information when retested six months later. Stories can make us laugh, make us cry, and make us smarter. Our stories are our power.”
Along with his TV work, Baer is active in a photo-documentary project, The House is Small But the Welcome Is Big, which shares stories of HIV/AIDS in Africa from the perspectives of mothers and children. Baer and his associates provided 15 mothers living with HIV – and later 15 AIDS orphans – with cameras and taught them basic photography skills so they could document their daily lives. The project began in Cape Town, South Africa, and continued last year in Maputo, Mozambique, where the number of AIDS orphans has reached 440,000.
Recently, Baer co-established the Institute for Photographic Empowerment at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications, which links photographic story-telling projects around the world and makes that work available to NGOs and policymakers.
Baer also teaches a course on social documentary at Colorado College. “We’re exploring the history of documentary photography, leading to our work, which we call participant photography,” he said. “Our students will also do their own project, documenting some part of their life in college.”
Baer serves on the boards of many organizations related to health care, including Physicians for Social Responsibility, Advocates for Youth and Children Now. He received the Valentine Davies Award from the Writers Guild of America, West, for “public service efforts in both the entertainment industry and the community at large, bringing dignity to and raising the standard for writers everywhere.”
The Peabody Awards, the oldest in electronic media, are also considered among the most prestigious and selective. The Peabodys recognize excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, Webcasters, producing organizations and individuals. The 16-member Peabody Board is a distinguished panel of television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts. Selection is made by the Board following review by special screening committees of University of Georgia faculty, students, and staff. For more information regarding the Peabody Awards program, the Peabody Awards Collection, and the Peabody Center for Media and Society visit http://www.peabody.uga.edu/.
The UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication administers the Peabody Awards, as it has since the program’s inception in 1940. Established in 1915, the Grady College provides seven undergraduate majors including advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees and is home to the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism. For more information, visit http://www.grady.uga.edu/.
The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts promotes scholarly inquiry and creative activity in the humanities and the arts. The Willson Center supports faculty research grants, lectures and campus visits by scholars and artists, and conferences, exhibitions, and performances.