By Lee Hall
Special to TelevisionWeek
This month’s Cable Positive benefit honors Lifetime Television and Carole Black, the network’s former CEO, who will receive the Joel A. Berger Memorial Award for her career commitment to the fight against AIDS and HIV. The event is designated “Carole Positive!” in Ms. Black’s honor.
“Carole represents the paradigm for corporate responsibility. She was a unanimous and completely logical choice for us,” said Steve Villano, president and CEO of Cable Positive.
Mr. Berger, the award’s namesake, was an honorary chair of Cable Positive who died of AIDS in 1995. Past award recipients include Showtime Chairman and CEO Matt Blank; BET founder and CEO Robert Johnson; BET President and Chief Operating Officer Debra Lee; Leo Hindery Jr., founder and CEO of the YES Network and former TCI president; and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney.
“From a personal standpoint, Joel was one of my dearest friends,” said Meredith Wagner, Lifetime’s executive VP for public affairs. “It is always very meaningful for me and my colleagues to keep his memory alive and do something positive about a terrible tragedy.”
Lifetime’s commitment to HIV/AIDS education preceded Ms. Black’s arrival in 1999. The network aired in 1987 what is believed to be the first televised special on women and AIDS, “Dying for Love: A Lifetime Special on the Impact of AIDS on the American Woman.”
Several Lifetime programs, such as “Strong Medicine,” have incorporated HIV/AIDS-related themes. A 2003 original movie, “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story,” dramatized the true story of a young girl whose mother died of AIDS. Lifetime produced an educational kit covering issues raised in the film and distributed 50,000 copies to teachers and school counselors.
“The mission of Lifetime is to entertain, inform and support women. Carole really ratcheted up that mission with a lot of advocacy and education and awareness on public health issues,” Ms. Wagner said.
Ms. Black, who served as an honorary chair of Cable Positive, decreed that all three Lifetime networks participate in the organization’s national awareness campaign for World AIDS Day and National HIV Testing Day. Each channel aired themed programming and public service announcements and included HIV/AIDS information on its Web site. All employees of Lifetime received Cable Positive’s “AIDS in the Workplace” training.
“Carole’s success at integrating public service programming and campaigns into Lifetime Networks speaks for itself. Her dedication and commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS exemplifies the leadership intrinsic to the Cable Positive honoree,” said Rocco Commisso, chairman and CEO of Mediacom Communications.
Mr. Commisso is one of four co-chairs of the benefit. The others are Jim Robbins, president and CEO of Cox Communications; Robert May, interim president and CEO of Charter Communications; and Steve Burke, COO, Comcast Corp.
While many people consider HIV/AIDS a disease primarily affecting males, Lifetime programming has frequently pointed out risk factors for women and cited statistics showing that women account for one-half of AIDS cases worldwide.
“This is an insidious epidemic, and the only way it is going to be stopped is through money and awareness. We have a great opportunity with who we are in the business community to affect both,” Ms. Wagner said.
Actress Vivica A. Fox, who stars in the Lifetime series “Missing,” will host the May 10 Cable Positive benefit at the Marriott Marquis in New York.
Comedian Lewis Black will provide the evening’s entertainment. The author of “Nothing’s Sacred” and a regular contributor on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Mr. Black frequently tackles controversial issues, but he said HIV/AIDS is exempt from his comic touch.
“Why would you joke about something this deadly? There are a few things I don’t joke about, and this is one of them,” he said.
Mr. Black criticized what he called the federal government’s lack of support for AIDS education and prevention and its leaving the bulk of the work to organizations such as Cable Positive to pick up the slack.
“These [people] have decided that the way to maintain the health of this country is through charity? Are you kidding me? If that’s what we’re left with, then we have to go out and help get the money any way we can,” he said.
Mr. Robbins, an event co-chair, urged support for Cable Positive’s mission, which he said “resonates strongly” with both industry employees and the communities they serve.
“It is important that our industry continue to lead the way on this issue and provide not just the financial resources to keep the organization’s momentum alive but to leverage our powerful medium for getting the message out,” he said.
“Carole Positive!” is expected to draw about 1,000 supporters, who will pay $1,000 each, generating $1 million for Cable Positive.
What: Annual benefit for Cable Positive
When: May 10
Where: Marriott Marquis, New York
Tickets: Available for individual purchase for $1,000