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
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
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
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