What can be done to help combat the staggering cycle of poverty and addiction afflicting much of Eastern Kentucky will be the focus of a 20/20 episode scheduled to air Friday, a week after a special report on Appalachia created a national stir.
"We are really wanting concrete ideas," said Claire Weinraub, an ABC News producer who worked on A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains with Kentucky native Diane Sawyer. In addition to exploring solutions, Friday's episode, which will air at 10 p.m., will update the lives of the families featured.
More than 2,000 people have commented on reports on ABC's Web site. Donations for the young people and organizations featured include so far more than $60,000 and the promise from the makers of Mountain Dew of a new mobile lab for a Eastern Kentucky dentist.
After a hectic Monday and Tuesday, calls to the Christian Appalachian Project, which is collecting money for the families profiled, had slowed Wednesday, said vice president Sue Sword. But, she said, she expects another bump in activity after the follow-up episode airs.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"I'm glad we are having a reaction," Weinraub said in an interview Wednesday. "It means that perhaps there will be some change."
Not all the comments on the 20/20 report have been positive, with some folks saying the program perpetuated the same tired stereotypes of mountain people.
Weinraub, whose crew spent a total of six months over two years working on the piece, said efforts were made to do the opposite. But, she said, she knew from her time in the region that the story was likely to touch a nerve.
"Our hope and our goal is to show these proud, strong people who despite tremendous odds are still fighting and whose children will continue to shine," she said. "I think that is a real important point that people need to keep in mind."
She said one response to the report was that it did not focus enough on solutions. That, coupled with the overwhelming response to the piece, is why an already planned follow-up will be airing so soon.
The show was the highest rated prime-time program Friday, drawing 10.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was the biggest 20/20 audience since 2004.
Weinraub was "flabbergasted" by the ratings, she said. Special reports on such difficult issues are generally not ratings grabbers, she said.
A camera crew was in Lexington Wednesday talking with folks such as Ron Eller, an associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky.
The group also hoped to talk to Gov. Steve Beshear before returning to Eastern Kentucky for more reporting.
Eller said the program has already been "a tremendous success. It has generated more discussion about the region than I have seen in the last three decades."
"Appalachia had dropped off the national stage for a long time and has not drawn much attention in recent years," he said.
The show's spotlight may also prompt more action on a local level. He said there are many groups doing good work in the region but the energy surrounding the show could be harnessed to result in real change.