Peabodys Snub Big Four
CBS' Abu Ghraib documentary is networks' only winner
By P. J. Bednarski -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/10/2005 8:00:00 PM
The real significance of this year's Peabody Awards, whose winners were named last week, centers on who didn't win. Out of 31 program awards in what is arguably one of television's most prestigious prizes, the Big Four broadcast-TV networks won just one.
That was for 60 Minutes II: The Abuses at Abu Ghraib, the hard-hitting CBS exposé of U.S. mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, which caused worldwide alarm. In an ironic twist, the producer of the report, Mary Mapes, was later dismissed by CBS after she took the brunt of the blame for a shaky report on President Bush's National Guard record.
Remarkably, the award for Abu Ghraib is the first one given to any TV news organization for war coverage since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. National Public Radio was also lauded this year for its Iraq reporting.
“The board feels that [TV] coverage was somewhat repetitious,” explains Peabody Awards Director Horace Newcomb. “For example: Imbedded reporters, it seems to the board members, focus on the presence of the reporter on the scene rather than the issues at hand.”
Significantly, no election-related programming was honored, other than Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, specifically for its “Indecision 2004” coverage, which the Peabody board described as “satire that deflates pomposity on an equal-opportunity basis.” The Daily Show previously won for its 2000 election coverage.
Is there a message in the dearth of broadcast-network awards? “The networks ought to re-examine what they are doing,” answers Marlene Sanders, a former network news correspondent who chairs the Peabody board.
She was speaking about news, but broadcast networks' entertainment programs were also entirely overlooked. (Last year, the Big Four broadcast networks won two news awards and none for entertainment shows.)
Cable's CNN, MSNBC and Fox News were also Peabody nobodies this year. But the Peabodys were, for the most part, good to cable, which won 12 awards. The History Channel, CNBC, Trio, HBO and The Discovery Channel each won awards for documentaries. Cinemax won two.
BBC America also won two Peabodys—one for the political drama State of Play and the other for The Kumars at No. 42, a quirky comedy about an Indian family trying to fit into a new life in England.
HBO also won for Something the Lord Made, a drama about a white surgeon and a black lab technician pioneering heart surgery while struggling with the strictures of the 1940s Jim Crow South.
In its 64th year, the Peabodys, administered through the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, represent the oldest honor in electronic media. (The Peabodys also recognize international programming.) With no set categories, Peabody choices can be eclectic, ranging from this year's award for HBO's Deadwood to one for Spanish-language Univision's public-service campaign “Salud es Vida…Enterate!” (“Lead a Healthy Life…Get the Facts!”).
On the station level, WFAA Dallas, WTVF Nashville, Tenn., WBAL Baltimore and WITI Milwaukee were cited for investigative news coverage.
Several programs heard on public radio were also winners, including On the Media, the NPR show produced by New York's WNYC and hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.
The Peabodys this year will also honor Grant Tinker who, as CEO of MTM Studios and then NBC, helped foster the careers of several talented producers and writers.
Morley Safer, 60 Minutes correspondent, hosts the awards luncheon, sponsored by B&C, on May 16 at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He should feel comfortable. He won one in 1965.
The entire list of winners and descriptions is at www.broadcastingcable.com.
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