The sociology professor is lending her expertise for series on Hulu and Netflix.
Dr. Emily Sweitzer (center) is a consultant for shows on Hulu and Netflix.
Dr. Emily Sweitzer continues to consult for TV dramas and share the experiences with her students.
For more than 10 years, Sweitzer, a sociology professor and director of Cal U’s program in social deviance, has consulted with Los Angeles, Calif.-based Entertainment Research Consultants.
As of early July, Sweitzer has done 26 consultations for “Dopesick,” an adaptation of Beth Macy’s 2018 book that stars Michael Keaton, a school doctor embroiled in a sinister corporate scheme that perpetuates America's opioid addiction crisis.
The eight-episode series is scheduled to run on Hulu in 2021.
Right before “Dopesick,” Sweitzer consulted for the ongoing Netflix 10-episode series “Messiah.” Previously, Sweitzer was a consultant for “Stains,” Rebel in the Rye,” “CSI,” CSI-Miami,” “Bones,” Lucifer,” “The Blacklist,” “Stains” and “Zoo.”
For “Dopesick,” Sweitzer provides information on the psychological or sociological aspects of addiction, pain, medical ethics, prescriptions and side effects.
Working with director-writer-actor Danny Strong on the character development, she also offered advice on setting up a group home for addiction in the 1990s compared to today’s standards.
“It’s a wide range, from helping the actors carry out their roles to how things are staged,” Sweitzer said. “Some of the research delves into social and psychological frameworks. In the case of ‘Zoo,’ it involved how music can induce different hormonal releases or how hormones regulate memory and behavior.
“You name it and it’s there.”
Sweitzer incorporates her consulting work in her classes.
“Everything I do, especially with ‘Dopesick,’ is going to be crucial in my behavioral addictions class this fall,” she said. “The class is not just focusing on drug addiction but also the social and psychological variables that play into drug addiction, such as family, environment variables, and treatments. Looking at deviance and how different anthologies play out from these shows I always share with my students.”
“I have given several lectures in the Honors Program for students on how to do qualitative research, and I always start with these.”
In 2018, Sweitzer arranged for auditions at Cal U for roles for extras on “Mindhunter,” the award-winning Netflix show.
“Sometimes the students, as we all do until we start doing this, have an idolized view that ‘my gosh Hollywood is calling you,’” she said. “But it’s about looking at a basic question and taking from that basic question all the different avenues of research, and integration of the various areas needed to make up a scene or character, so it helps them understand how this does all work in the real world.”
Jon Wellner, co-founder, president and researcher of Entertainment Research Consultants, praised Sweitzer for helping his company make numerous TV dramas more accurate.
“When writers don’t know how to make their scene or story authentic, they can’t just turn to Google,” he said. “We need real world, knowledgeable professionals who understand TV, and who are willing to help us out. We’ve asked her about satanic cults, cognitive science, PTSD, catfishing, fear, addictions, memory loss, and false memory implantation.
“I could go on, but we have another question for her about opioids I have to get to. We’re so grateful for her knowledge, kindness and willingness to help us.”
Wellner also lauded Cal U’s Dr. Cassandra Kuba, professor and chief forensic anthropologist, who regularly provides expert advice to area schools, novelists, television writers, and members of the community.
“We have over 300 contacts we go to for help, and Cal U literally has our two best in Dr. Sweitzer and Dr. Kuba,” he said. “They’ve put me in touch with other professors there. Everyone is so kind and smart and helpful, and the rare times it’s cold here I wear my Cal U red hoodie with pride!”
Sweitzer believes the consulting work she and her colleagues do benefits Cal U students.
“This is something positive for Cal U that lets students see that their opportunities and career options are endless if they just apply their skills.”