Moyers' Prime Time PBS Program on Dying in America Generates Large Audience, Boosts Awareness of End-of-Life Issues

Assessing outreach activities for On Our Own Terms public television series

Between September 10 and September 13, 2000, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired a series called "On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying."

Produced by veteran journalist Bill Moyers and the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, the series explored different aspects of dying and drew 16 million viewers in its initial airing.

Key Results

  • "On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying" aired on four consecutive nights (September 10–13, 2000) on PBS stations across the country. It achieved a 58 percent increase in PBS's average prime-time rating. Programs featured patients, their families, caregivers and policy-makers. Stations reported that they handled a combined total of more than 25,000 calls from viewers looking for information or resources for help.

  • In connection with the program, 300 coalitions were formed that carried out a variety of activities including:

    • Creating local resource directories.
    • Reaching out to policy-makers.
    • Hosting town hall meetings.
    • Promoting advance directives (a document in which people give instructions about the medical care they want in the event that they become unable to speak for themselves due to serious illness or incapacity).

    This outreach initiative is widely viewed as the most successful in PBS history.

  • The American Library Association developed a four-program series, with each program relating to the corresponding part of the Moyers series.

Key Findings

  • Overall, the impact of the program seems to be have been concentrated close to the coalitions themselves and some highly sensitized and strategically important community groups and individuals. Yet, "On Our Own Terms" seems to have set in motion crucial changes that seem likely to continue. The program and activities around it.