ABC's Brothers & Sisters Tackles HIV/AIDS and the Over-50 Crowd
By Kellee Terrell
May 19, 2010
With May sweeps coming to an end, it's network television tradition to throw in, out of nowhere, cliffhangers that draw you back to a new season in the fall. ABC's Emmy-winning Sunday night drama, Brothers & Sisters, was no exception to that rule. The season finale on May 16 pulled out all the stops with a multi-car pile-up; the death of Rob Lowe's character; and the revelation that Ron Rifkin's character, a 70-something gay man, tested HIV positive.
After Elton's Brent Hartinger reported on the show's May 16 season finale:
While the whole blood-phobia scene at the end irked me a bit, I do agree with Hartinger that it is good to see HIV/AIDS on the small screen. Over the years, network and cable television has tackled the subject on many shows, including St. Elsewhere, ER, Commander in Chief, Life Support and Queer as Folk, to name a few.
But as Hartinger notes, it's been five years since we have had an HIV-positive character regularly appearing in a primetime series. And as we approach AIDS's 30th anniversary, it's necessary to have more media representations to not only raise awareness, but to affirm that real people are in the United States living with this virus. HIV should not just be a concept employed as a cautionary tale; that does little to fight stigma or make HIV relevant to the general public. Hopefully, Brothers & Sisters will do more with this issue.
It 's also refreshing to see a storyline that deals with a fast-growing, yet highly ignored group of newly diagnosed people in this country -- men and women over the age of 50. Over the past 10 years, researchers have had their eye on this demographic. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned public health officials and the public that the number of people over 50 living with and being newly diagnosed with HIV appears to be rising, but public health campaigns remain largely focused on the young.
Past studies have found that almost half of people absorb health-related facts they see on TV. Perhaps this show can have an impact on older viewers to talk to their doctors about their risk of contracting HIV, use condoms and get tested.
But before we give Brothers & Sisters major props, keep in mind that it's unknown where the writers are going to take this next season. Will they tackle real issues that people living with HIV face, such as disclosure, stigma and side effects from meds? Or will they fall flat like many other shows have in the past? What I do know for sure is that ABC succeeded in getting me to tune in this October to find out.