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ASPIREist Brings Meaningful Content to TV

Words by Leon Kaye

It often seems that the more cable channels and online content that are available to us, the fewer palatable options there are to watch. But for those who want a break from reality TV and the binge-watching that today’s series often encourage, a new show airing on Flipboard, YouTube, Facebook and USA Network as a time buy could pique interest among those of us who want meaningful content and seek inspiration by people and ideas that make a difference.

That calling has inspired several veterans of the entertainment industry to launch ASPIREist, a feature news show that wants viewers to feel empowered to take action based on its showcasing of issues that matter to today’s generation. Neal Weinberg, a New York-based online advertising executive, and Los Angeles-based screenwriter Michal Zebede conceived the idea of ASPIREist and worked with former 60 Minutes producers Shawn Efran and Solly Granatstein to make the show happen. Produced out of New York, the first season is composed of four episodes with another 12 episodes slated for production.

ASPIREist features six co-hosts who offer various experiences, from social enterprise to environmental activism. Philippe Cousteau, Jr., a CNN special correspondent; Seth Maxwell, founder of the Thirst Project; Debi Nova, a singer-songwriter who has long spoken out on domestic violence; Geena Rocero, a transgender rights activist; Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund; and Harvard University poet and professor Clint Smith all hold discussions and investigate various stories portrayed on the 30-minute show.

“We have to start making better choices about what we watch,” Shahid told TriplePundit during a telephone conversation. “Some of the recent trends -- such as the rise of certain political candidates and their hateful ideologies, to the rise of terrorist groups and ISIS -- is because, in part, they have grasped the attention of young people based on their response to media that they found, for whatever reason, is appealing.

“Meanwhile, you have these vacuous media types, such as Kim Kardashian, that have the highest Twitter followings. All this signals a trend that is sad for the world and sad for us as young people. But it gives us the opportunity to make better choices on what we watch and how we act. That doesn’t mean staying away from entertainment. But we can use this medium, TV, so that it can make us smarter and kinder as a people.”

The show’s pilot episode, along with others scheduled for this spring, comprise three main segments. That includes one the show’s creators called a “celebrity passion project,” with subjects like Ian Somerhalder of "The Vampire Diaries" and basketball icon LeBron James. The stories cut across issues ranging from the impact of America’s mass incarceration on communities and families, to eco-entrepreneur Graham Hill’s transformation into a minimalist and sustainable-living leader. Additionally, ASPIREist features one-minute segments that highlight the work of social entrepreneurs. For example, Gavin Armstrong, founder and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish, gives his spiel about how his one-for-one business model helps to reduce iron deficiency and anemia in developing countries.

The fast-paced show’s episodes are also available for viewing on YouTube and Flipboard. Due in part to the background of some of its creators, the show has a similar format to such TV exposé shows as "60 Minutes" or "20/20," but the focus is not on busting corrupt politicians or revealing corporate scandals.

“What makes the show different from the typical news shows is that millennials are hungry for meaningful content and are eager to take action," co-founder Michal Zebede  told TriplePundit by telephone. “We’re so overwhelmed by what’s bombarding us in the media. We wanted to produce a show that is about the issues that will inspire a viewer to think, ‘This is what I’m about, what I’m moved by, and what I’m compelled to take action on,’ and therefore inspiring action by these viewers.”

As with the case of any show driven by feature stories, some of ASPIREist’s segments will resonate differently with viewers depending on one’s interests and passions. But what makes ASPIREist stand out is not necessarily the stories (after all, even "60 Minutes" can crank out an inspiring story on youth and hope), but its advertisers. Indeed, the show’s corporate sponsors. One of ASPIREist’s advertisers is Colgate, but the messages shown during the show’s pilot are hardly the run of the mill “brush twice a day” and “removes more plaque than the leading brand” variety.

Colgate chose to feature its Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program on ASPIREist. The company has retrofitted eight vans into fully-equipped mobile dental offices that travel around the country, mostly to inner cities and rural areas. These vans are not only fully functional, enabling dentists and hygienists to do their work, but they are also designed to make children feel comfortable during their visit. Each van has two dental chairs and a waiting area where children can learn about developing healthy habits.

As the segment during the ASPIREist pilot shows, the vast majority students at Public School 19 in the Bronx, one of the nation’s largest elementary schools, had never even seen a dentist — and were naturally apprehensive about visiting one. What is striking about the ad is that at first it appears to be just another ASPIREist segment — it was woven into the episode without interrupting the flow of the show and lacked the schmaltz typical of many advertisements.

(Watch the segment here.)

And that was the point, co-founder Neal Weinberg told TriplePundit from his New York office by telephone. “Colgate wanted an authentic story done in a way that was a part of the show, instead of being separate from it,” he explained. “Now Colgate can use that segment on their website, and they can link it to their annual report and social media feeds. This helps us to share the mission of this show, while giving companies a platform in which to communicate the good work that they can do."

ASPIREist offers the entertainment industry and the corporate world some solid lessons. First, viewers have a thirst to learn about inspiring people and ideas that have a positive impact on people and the planet. In addition, there is no harm in companies sharing stories about the work they do on the sustainability and corporate responsibility fronts; a forum like that of ASPIREist could be well worth the time and investment in delivering such a narrative to consumers, stakeholders and, yes, television and online viewers.

Videos like the Colgate spot for ASPIREist prove that companies can leverage their resources and people for the common good, while ensuring the triple bottom line that is even more critical at a time when far too many still suffer from social injustice and environmental degradation.

Take a peek at the latest episode right here:


The next episode of ASPIREist will be broadcast on USA Network Sunday, April 17, at 8:00 a.m. nationally.

Image credit: ASPIREist

Editorial disclosure - ASPIREist is a TriplePundit advertiser.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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