For “Linked by Love,” a campaign providing information about kidney disease to the Black community, the Mendez National Institute of Transplantation Foundation (MNITF) has launched both a PSA starring Vanessa Williams and a half-hour dramedy series starring a cast of lesser-knowns.
“Did you know that African-Americans experience chronic kidney disease at a rate that’s 25% higher than white Americans, and we’re also more than four times as likely to develop kidney failure?” Williams asks in a :30 spot produced by Mighty Studio. After noting that diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of kidney disease, Williams directs people to visit LinkedByLoveTV.org for more info on how “to check out how well your kidneys are doing.”
The link leads viewers directly to a movie-like poster about the “Linked by Love” TV series, which consists of six episodes premiering Wednesdays on the site and on YouTube and LinkedByLoveTV.org. In the first two episodes, which are already up, a busy Black wife, mom, and owner of a cupcake business experiences troubling symptoms she can no longer ignore and is shocked to learn she has diabetes and kidney disease. She visits a nephrologist while her family scrambles to find ways to help her and keep the cupcakes baking.
“Cutting some of the specific medical information” from the main series, the producers -- MNITF and Celtino Entertainment -- have prepared a “director’s cut” for potential additional distribution, MNITF executive director Nicole Mendez tells Marketing Daily.
This isn’t the first time MNITF and Celtino have produced a TV series.
In 2012, they premiered “Fixing Paco,” a nine-episode telenovela aimed at the Hispanic community and starring comedian/actor Paul Rodriquez. Mendez explains that this format grew out of a one-on-one transplant education program for dialysis patients, in which patients would often ask MNITF reps to come back after they'd finished watching telenovela episodes.
The series was produced thanks to a grant from the UniHealth Foundation, which also funded a study “to see if this type of education is effective,” Mendez says. Originally intended to be seen only in dialysis centers, “we ended up putting in on the Internet and it won several awards [e.g., a Telly Award for branded and educational content] and nominations.”
The decade-long gap between the two series stemmed from several factors, Mendez says. The first: funding. While MNITF again received a grant from UniHealth, additional fundraising needed to take place.
Then there were questions about how to create a series that the targeted audience would want to watch. “For me, identifying the themes for ‘Fixing Paco’ was easy,” Mendez says. “Having been raised in a Hispanic family, I understood the culture firsthand.”
In addition, Mendez wanted to “create an effective model in which edutainment -- using entertainment to educate -- could be used for other health issues.”
That necessitated research, Mendez said, so MNITF awarded a grant to Charles Drew University to identify the barriers to accessing transplantation and donations among African Americans. "We then conducted stakeholder engagement meetings with African-American medical professionals, transplant recipients and living donors to discuss these barriers," he added.
Later, MNITF partnered with Houston Methodist Research Institute to conduct a focus group of a table read of the show’s script. Participants included African-Americans with kidney disease, transplant recipients and living donors. “We wanted to know if the script was culturally relevant, interesting, and informative,” Mendez recalls. “Based on the feedback, we made adjustments to the script prior to filming.”
The pandemic delayed in-person stakeholder meetings and the focus groups from taking place as scheduled. But then, Mendez says, the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd caused the general public to become aware of the health disparities for African Americans and “we knew it was imperative to get the series to the public.” So all the meetings were held via Zoom.
Although completed in April 2022, the premiere of “Linked by Love” was held off a year until this month to coincide with National Kidney Month. And the series will conclude during Donate Life Month.