May TV’s Sweeping Potential to Put Your Issue in the Spotlight

May 3, 2017  |  Television

Every show you watch can be turned into an opportunity to communicate for your cause.

In a TV galaxy not so long ago and far away, “May sweeps” meant one thing: Every TV show worth watching was wrapping up for the season and networks pulled out all the stops to boost ratings and ad dollars. That’s still true, to a point, but today’s multi-platform media landscape has made this time of year not only the end of one TV season, but also the beginning of another.

Which makes this a terrific time for groups to hitch a ride with TV shows featuring storylines that shine a spotlight on their issues. Take advantage of the visibility created by the promotion networks put behind their finales and premieres this time of year. Combine AndACTION’s strategic aims with some savvy editorial calendar scheduling and you can get more eyes on your issue — without spending a dime.

Here are a few finales and premieres I’m excited about, along with some tips for ways to leverage storylines. Be sure to tag the shows in social media posts and use relevant hashtags.


Madam Secretary (CBS), season finale May 21

Strategic aims: Speak truth to power, challenge the status quo. All season long, Madam Secretary has done a masterful job of illuminating current issues without hitting its audience over the head. Instead of an unconventional U.S. leader, for example, one storyline featured an unconventional leader of another country. After he made a sexual pass at the title character, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, she not only put him in his place but arrived at an appropriate diplomatic solution — a satisfying outcome for both audiences and anyone working on issues of sexual assault, workplace harassment or diplomacy. Tip: Create a blog post about parallels between your issues and the show’s themes and promote it in the week leading up to the finale.

Jane the Virgin (The CW), season finale May 22

Strategic aims: Challenge stereotypes, combat stigmas with stories. The series continues to wrap real-life issues inside a delightful, frothy formula. From immigration to abortion, sexism in the workplace to religion, Jane the Virgin addresses a variety of topics with humor and heart. Having already challenged stereotypes of what it means to be a virgin, the show keeps finding new areas to explore, including sexual freedom. If previous seasons are any indication, prepare for a doozy of a cliffhanger. Tip: Live-tweet the finale and use the cliffhanger to prompt an online conversation about what might happen next season, focusing on issues most relevant to your cause.

Other season finales worth noting:

black-ish (ABC), May 10

Fresh Off the Boat (ABC), May 16

Designated Survivor (ABC), May 17

Scandal (ABC), May 18

Empire (FOX), May 24

Find more season finales here.


Master of None (Netflix), premieres May 12

Strategic aims: Challenge stereotypes. The first season of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None was heralded for its charming, insightful portrayal of the life of a 30-something, Dev Shah, and the world around him. The show deftly brings light to issues including immigration, racism, cultural norms and interpersonal relationships. With its diverse assortment of characters, Master of None will undoubtedly cast its youthful yet wise eye on similar issues of interest in season two. Tip: In the days before the premiere, take a look back at some of the issues covered in season one, such as casual racism, with blog posts or memes tying the series to your cause.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), premieres May 19

Strategic aim: Combat stigmas with stories, challenge stereotypes. This show is undeniably hilarious, but it has a serious side. After being held hostage in a bunker for 15 years, Kimmy is grappling with the emotional weight of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more. And she’s not the only one whose story sheds light on important issues. Although some consider it controversial, the storyline of Jacqueline’s newfound pride in her Native American heritage smashes stereotypes. And there’s no ignoring Titus and his boyfriend, Mikey, who remind us that coming out can still have challenges — sometimes years later, in Titus’ case. Tip: Take advantage of this show’s popularity as a binge-watch: Create a blog post about the season within a week or two of the premiere, highlighting the issues relevant to your cause.

Twin Peaks (Showtime), premieres May 21

Strategic aims: Create a community. The long-awaited return of David Lynch’s masterpiece is generating plenty of buzz. Where the storyline will go is anyone’s guess — after all, it’s Twin Peaks and David Lynch — but there’s already a built-in community for this show about deep, dark secrets in small-town America. Watch for opportunities to leverage other strategic aims as the narrative unfolds, including combatting stigma (David Duchovny returns as a DEA agent who may be transgender) and spotlighting a problem (mental illness, often untreated, in numerous characters). Tip: Find a local community center where people can gather to watch the first episode; offer them publicity in exchange for free use of their space. After the watch party, talk about the ways the show illuminates the issues most important to you.

Other premieres and recent debuts worth noting:


House of Cards (Netflix), premieres May 30

Orange is the New Black (Netflix), premieres June 9

Find more premieres here.

Amy Lynn Smith for AndACTION