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What do the soap opera General Hospital, the teen drama 90210 and the cop show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit have in common? All three TV shows, and others besides, have presented realistic characters who have bipolar disorder. Check out the cover story in the new issue of bp Magazine and bp Canada, "Made for High Drama," for a look at how Hollywood is stepping up to educate viewers by showing more responsible portrayals of people with bipolar.

Made for High Drama

by:  Stephanie Stephens

It’s the moment of unwelcome truth for Detective Elliot Stabler’s character on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Tension mounts in the scene in his daughter Kathleen’s hospital room:

DR. PARNELL: Mr. and Mrs. Stabler, your daughter is very sick.bp Magazine Summer 2009 cover image

STABLER: You mean she’s a junkie.

DR. PARNELL: No. She’s self-medicating with street drugs to cope with her illness.

KATHY STABLER: What’s wrong with her?

DR. PARNELL: Based on her behavior and the history you gave me—Kathleen’s drug and alcohol abuse, the DWI, hyper-sexuality, stealing your credit card—we think it’s bipolar disorder.

Synopsis: In NBC Universal’s Swing, Episode 3, Season 10 of the popular television drama, Stabler investigates a home burglary only to find that the trespasser’s wallet is Kathleen’s. She’s apparently abusing drugs and exhibiting promiscuous behavior. Her doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder, but Kathleen resists. Stabler visits his estranged mother, Bernadette, who also has bipolar disorder, to ask her to testify on Kathleen’s behalf and thus establish the family connection to bipolar. Kathleen agrees to finally accept treatment because of her grandmother’s experience and takes responsibility for her life.

Veteran writer and co-executive producer Amanda Green—who worked in a special victims unit (SVU) in Brooklyn, New York—wanted the Swing episode to be true to the show’s successful formula: "the social conscience inside a mystery package. We’re not seeking to sensationalize," she says.

Research occupies 75 percent of Green’s typical script preparation— the rest is writing. Story, ideas, and characters must be as multidimensional as possible, she says. For Swing, Green pored through 10 nonfiction books about bipolar disorder, but avoided "telling someone else’s story." In her work, she frequently consults advocacy groups or technical advisers and "goes out into the field" to draw upon broader based commonalities and thus tell a story that will resonate with viewers…

Read the full article, "Made for High Drama," from bp Magazine.

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