How Moldovan entertainment TV humanized the COVID-19 response

How Moldovan entertainment TV humanized the COVID-19 response


A video camera records a chef who is holding a spatula and preparing a dish.
A local chef prepares a dish for the food show Artizanii Gustului. Photo courtesy of Artizanii Gustului.

In 2020, the Creating Content Connections in Moldova (CCCM) project worked with Moldovan television and production partners to produce TV shows that entertained audiences and debunked misinformation about COVID-19. These shows put a human face on the virus’s impact and demonstrate that TV entertainment has a role in responding to current events.

CCCM, a two-year project, funded by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in Moldova and implemented by IREX, works to increase the variety of high-quality and innovative TV entertainment shows available in Moldova and respond to local audiences’ preferences for topical and timely content. During the pandemic, the entertainment TV industry—along with journalists and media outlets—used TV to combat false narratives and illustrate some of the realities that people on the frontlines face.

Unfortunately, quality news programming does not reach everyone, and it often fails to persuade viewers to adopt new behaviors. According to a study CCCM commissioned at the beginning of 2019, 65% of Moldovans watch the news. The news often struggles to use a compassionate tone that is effective for public health messaging. Conspiracy theories and misinformation are often more efficient at attracting viewers by targeting people’s fears and misconceptions. Research suggests that at least 1 in 3 Moldovans believe in conspiracies that downplay the seriousness of COVID-19.

Using TV entertainment as a platform to address COVID-19

Content creators for various programs came up with memorable ways of incorporating the pandemic into their shows, addressing the pandemic in an accessible way.

Some CCCM program participants initially expressed reluctance about bringing the global pandemic into entertainment TV. The pandemic posed narrative challenges, and none of the program’s partners had ever had to incorporate a current event of such scale into their shows.

Specialists from IREX’s partner Pilot Media Initiatives (PMI) used their deep industry knowledge to advise partners on how to integrate the pandemic into their shows and to incorporate recommended health protocols during production. Over the summer and fall, CCCM reviewed each show's scripts and proposed themes and characters.

Debunking stereotypes through humor and satire in Italia, Patria Nostra

The comedy TV series Italia, Patria Nostra uses witty dialogue between unique characters—residents of a “typical” Moldovan village—to address COVID-19. The show depicts how people fall for false information, how social dynamics in a community change due to the pandemic, and how disinformation can fuel social stigma.

As the deputy director of Jurnal TV explained, “Through humor and satire, we try to refute myths and theories designed to generate panic, tension, and social conflicts.”

Three people sitting in front of a laptop at a patio table.

Offering hope through a show about restaurants, Artizanii Gustului

“It is impossible to create a show about the restaurant business without bringing COVID-19 into the discussion,” said Nata Albot, creator of the Artizanii Gustului, a food show starring local chefs. “This is one of the sectors that suffered most from the pandemic.”

The show set out to depict the busy workdays of restaurants, the competitive world of chefs, and the joy of good food. But when the pandemic began, the show faced the challenge of depicting a new reality of empty restaurants and unemployed chefs.

Despite this challenge, the show is painting a human portrait of the pandemic’s impact on the industry. The protagonists provide messages of perseverance as they learn to transform hardship into opportunity. From down-on-their-luck chefs finding new lines of work to restaurants pooling their resources to serve frontline doctors and medical staff, the show demonstrates an empathetic lens toward the restaurant industry and others hard-hit during the pandemic.

Highlighting personal stories in Renegat to encourage healthy behavior

The interview show Renegat originally focused on interviewing people in showbiz. After the pandemic began, the show’s creators expanded the profile of their interviewees to include doctors, teachers, and even multitasking at-home parents.

One recent episode interviewed a local TV presenter with a severe COVID-19 case. He spoke about his experience with fighting the disease, outlined conditions in underresourced Moldovan hospitals, and urged Moldovans to take the virus seriously.

The strategy paid off. This interview became one of the highest-rated episodes of Renegat, watched by more than 30,000 households, according to official AGB Nielsen data. Renegat demonstrated that Moldovan audiences respond to content they can relate to. As Renegat’s producer Sergiu Scobioala explained, “The most effective messages are the personal ones… those of people who have been directly affected.”

An interviewer and interviewee on the show Renegat.

Offering technical expertise in a time of dramatic change

CCCM provides an extensive set of services to the production partners that the program supports.

Since 2019, CCCM has provided subgrants and technical assistance to production and broadcasting partners as they elevate the quality of entertainment TV. As CCCM has evolved, the project has increased its partners’ technical skills across business planning, marketing, and data-driven decision-making efforts. In addition, partners have learned to respond to the times and use entertainment TV to simply and efficiently convey complex messages that resonate with viewers.