Sunday, May 25, 2003

Peabody Awards finally debut on national TV

By Frazier Moore
The Associated Press

At last, a medium the Peabodys have done much to elevate is returning the favor with some coast-to-coast face time.

This comes courtesy of A&E, where the 62nd annual Peabody awards air at 4 p.m. today.

It's only fitting.

For six decades, the Peabodys - which honor outstanding achievement from around the world in television, radio and emerging media like CD-ROMs and the Web - have been presented at a private luncheon each spring. There's no razzle-dazzle, no red carpet, no whipped-up suspense (the recipients are announced weeks earlier).

It was the same on Monday at the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York where ABC-TV's Charlie Gibson hosted the event.

You may gain a sense of why the people who win Peabodys, or aspire to, place them in a class all their own.

"This is the top of the mountain," William Mastrosimone sums up as he accepts his Peabody for Bang Bang You're Dead, the Showtime film he wrote about school violence.

The other recipients echo his appraisal.

"Everybody in the industry knows what the Peabodys mean," A&E executive Delia Fine says. "The reason we are airing the ceremony is because everybody else needs to be aware, as well."

The George Foster Peabody Awards have been administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia since 1941.

Since then, Jackie Gleason, Rod Serling, Bob Hope, Shari Lewis, Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Sagan, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand and Jerry Seinfeld (plus Lassie, Miss Piggy and robots Crow and Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000) have taken their place in the Peabody firmament, along with lesser-known filmmakers, radio producers and local TV reporters. There are no "major" or "minor" levels of accomplishment.

Nor are there fixed categories or even an annual quota of winners: The medallions are given each year as merit justifies.

Rather than by peer voting (as with Emmys and Oscars), the Peabodys are decided by a board of 15 judges who come from backgrounds that include arts, education, journalism and government.

This year the judges considered some 1,000 entries, with 31 recipients selected.

Among them: NBC's Boomtown; The Yiddish Radio Project (a special on the Golden Age of Yiddish radio aired on NPR); The Complete Angler on ESPN; an expose on smoke alarms and child safety produced by Milwaukee station WISN-TV; and the TNT drama Door to Door, based on the true story of Bill Porter, a salesman who prospered despite his cerebral palsy.

"I was surprised and shocked when we got the call that we had won," said William H. Macy, who stars as Porter in the film.

Speaking with a reporter, he hoisted the prize he had taken possession of moments before.

"This is grand," he beamed. "This feels like a really grown-up award!"

ABC News' Nightline landed its seventh and eighth Peabodys, but after the luncheon, anchorman Ted Koppel reflected on his fellow honorees.

"When you sit through this and see the excellence being awarded, you just say, 'Wow, maybe it's too soon to start despairing about the industry.' There's still great stuff being done," he declared.

Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody program, has heard that sentiment before.

"One of the comments that I get most often as people leave the ballroom is, I didn't know there was this much good work being done in the media today.' I think there's a wide perception that we have 500 channels and nothing on, but there are excellent things to be found," Newcomb said.

The Peabodys serve as a continuing reminder of that, as well as an annual tip sheet of quality. With sound and pictures, Sunday's telecast will be spreading the good word.

Television networks face reality check
Ads leave audiences grumbling
Chang examines the female experience
Play uses marriage to examine race
DEMALINE: The arts
Protests already scheduled for 'Corpus Christi'
Captivating 'Syringa' does what good drama should do
Peabody Awards finally debut on national TV
God's movie career shifts to screwy comedies
LL Cool J keeping his cool at his grandma's request
Calling out the DJs to help stop hip-hop violence
Get to it!

Unfinished Liszt opens with stunning May Festival debut

Young philanthropist rolling in cookie dough
Collecting bottle caps a snap
Prostate cancer survivor tells all men: Get tested
KENDRICK: Alive & Well

You won't have to fish very far to find fresh crabs
Serve it this week: Soft-shell crabs