The Peabodys: Dramatic Shift

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The NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams and CNN were named Peabody Award winners last week for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina, but otherwise, commercial network news outlets were shut out of the winner’s circle.

Instead, in something of a departure for the prestigious Peabodys, four of the 32 medallions were won by dramatic series: ABC’s Boston Legal, Fox’s House, FX’s The Shield and Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica. Also singled out for honors was Comedy Central’s often bold and sometimes crude adult-cartoon comedy, South Park.

Peabody Awards go to series and fictional treatments yearly, but rarely, if ever, have so many been awarded to regularly scheduled series in one year, acknowledges Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabodys, the oldest honor given out to electronic media.

The awards are administered by the University of Georgia. Winners are decided by the Peabody Board, a select group including media critics, scholars and viewers.

Also winning honors were WWL New Orleans, the Belo station that stayed on the air continuously throughout Hurricane Katrina, and WLOX Biloxi, Miss., the Liberty Corp. (now Raycom) station that provided 12 straight days of heroic coverage after the vicious storm destroyed two of its bureaus, one of its transmitters and part of its main building.

WWL’s award included reference to its two days of coverage prior to Katrina, when the station was keeping viewers aware of the looming danger.

Newcomb says he thinks the selections for the 65th annual awards, winnowed down from more than 1,000 entries, are “a good picture” of the Peabody Award mindset.

The Peabodys don’t have set categories or an absolute number of awards to give away every year; the judges laud them as they see ’em.

This year’s awards will be officially presented June 5 at a luncheon in New York.

Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s Peabody-winning Daily Show, will be master of ceremonies. Unlike in past years, the presentation avoids Upfront Week, when networks announce their fall schedules.

(The entire list is on B&C’s Web site, www.broadcastingcable.com).

Other station Peabody winners were KCNC Denver, the CBS-owned station whose news report on Army recruiters’ desperate and unethical efforts to enlist high school students was the subject of news reports, and KNBC Los Angeles, which reported a four-part investigative series about a residential/commercial building being constructed over a leaking gas reservoir.

KMEX Los Angeles, the Univision station, was lauded for a 19-part series that took a deeper look at Latinos’ contributions to California’s history.

PBS won four Peabodys, more than any other single entity, most notably for its No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. In addition, two other PBS shows, co-produced with the BBC, were honored. KCET, the public station in Los Angeles, was awarded a Peabody for a public-service project that aimed to help Hispanic parents/child-care providers teach preschoolers how to develop social skills.

HBO, a Peabody mainstay, won three this year but none for any of its highly touted series. In fact, it was the surprise first-time winners—including FX, The Sundance Channel and Sci Fi—that made this year’s Peabody winners the kind of eclectic group that Newcomb says he is especially proud of.

Newcomb was surprised himself by a certain Peabody winner. He was doubtful about the merits of Sci Fi’s Battlestar Galactica when the judging began.

Now, he says, he’s a big fan.

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