Thirty-six recipients of the 69th Annual Peabody Awards were recognized May 17 by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The winners, chosen by the Peabody board as the best in electronic media for 2009, were named in a ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
Diane Sawyer, the award-winning anchor of ABC's "World News," was the host of the 69th Annual George Foster Peabody Awards ceremony.
Sawyer was the first media personality – news or entertainment – to emcee a second Peabody ceremony, having presided over the 56th annual awards in 1996. She shared in the Peabody Award bestowed upon "Rush to Read," a 1994 investigative report presented by ABC News' "Prime Time Live."
"Diane Sawyer has worked in every facet of broadcast journalism," said Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia. "Now, as anchor of ABC's World News, all her prior experience is brought to bear on the most significant events of our time in the most professional manner. We are delighted that for the second time she served as our host and master of ceremonies for the 69th Peabody Awards presentation."
The latest Peabody winners reflect great diversity in genre, sources of origination and content. The recipients included Modern Family, ABC's droll, perceptive comedy about a multicultural extended family; HBO's Thrilla in Manila, a documentary that probes the hype, mythology and meaning of the politically charged Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights in the early 1970s; and The Great Textbook War, a fair, balanced radio documentary from West Virginia Public Broadcasting about a 1974 skirmish that presaged "cultural wars" still raging in America. Jerome Robbins – Something to Dance About, a richly insightful portrait of the director-choreographer from Thirteen/WNET's American Masters, received a Peabody Award, as did the Desmond Tutu installment of CBS's consistently surprising The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, a talk show without borders.
Peabodys went to Sichuan Earthquake: One Year On, a thorough assessment of the damage, grief and anger in the quake ravaged Chinese province by Hong Kong's Now-TV News, and A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains, ABC News' illumination of the abiding poverty of our most forgotten region, Central Appalachia. Peabodys also were awarded to The Madoff Affair, a comprehensive examination by WGBH's FRONTLNE of the Ponzi scheme that cost investors $65 billion, and "Hard Times," Oregon Public Broadcasting's smart, compassionate radio coverage of the impact of the financial crisis on ordinary folks.
Other entertainment programming recognized by the Peabody Board included Glee, Fox's invigorating musical dramedy about the diverse members of a high-school choral club; In Treatment, HBO's mesmerizing therapy-session drama; The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, HBO's charming series about a female private eye in Botswana; and Endgame, a PBS/Masterpiece film about secret negotiations that facilitated the end of apartheid in South Africa. A Peabody also went to The Day That Lehman Died, a riveting radio docudrama from the BBC World Service that reconstructed the frantic negotiations that preceded the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing that shook the financial world.
In the realm of arts and culture, Peabodys were awarded to Noodle Road, a visually scrumptious survey of the Asian culinary staple by South Korea's KBS 1TV; PBS' Inventing LA: The Chandlers and
Their Times, a portrait of a family newspaper dynasty that pursued civic goals and personal agendas with equal zeal; and two Independent Lens documentaries: The Order of Myths, a look at race relations through the prism of the Mardi Gras of Mobile, Ala., and Between the Folds, an exhilarating, awe-inspiring study of the art of origami and paper folding.
A Personal Peabody was awarded to Diane Rehm, whose eponymously titled show on Washington, D.C.'s WAMU-FM and National Public Radio epitomizes vigorous, courteous political discourse.
Peabodys also went to BBC World News America: Unique Broadcast, Unique Perspective, a model "world" newscastcrafted for U.S. cable subscribers by BBC America; National Public Radio's topically boundless Web counterpart, npr.org; and SesameStreet.org, the celebrated children's television series' cheery, interactively educational Web site.
"Every year the Peabody Board faces the daunting task of selecting examples of the most outstanding work in electronic media," said Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards. "Our work is made more difficult because every entry is selected by a producer, a studio, a network or cable channel as their best work of the previous year. We begin at the top and have to go even higher."
The Peabody Board recognized the meritorious efforts of several local news organizations. Awards went to "Under Fire: Discrimination and Corruption in the Texas National Guard," a startling investigative series by Houston's KHOU-TV that led to the firing of three Texas Guard generals; "Derrion Albert Beating," a series of reports by Chicago's WFLD-TV about the sidewalk murder of an honor student that had national repercussions; and "BART Shooting," a series of reports in which KTVU-TV in Oakland, Calif., doggedly pursued the facts of a deadly, train-station confrontation.
In the Peabody-honored "Up in Smoke," Los Angeles' KCET-TV explored the state's cannabis culture and found, among other surprises, that medicinal marijuana clinics, thanks to an inadvertent regulatory loophole, outnumbered Starbucks shops in the city. In "Chronicle: The Gift," WYFF-TV in Greenville, S.C., made a man's tragic, accidental death the impetus of a public-service campaign on behalf of organ donation, showcasing the stories of the recipients his generosity saved.
Radio winners included Mind the Gap: Why Good Schools Are Failing Black Students, a documentary in which independent producer Nancy Solomon focused on a suburban New Jersey high school, asking difficult questions of teachers and students alike, and "Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson: Covering Afghanistan," a collection of uniquely insightful reports about everyday life as well as the ongoing warfare by the chief of National Public Radio's Afghan bureau.
"To those who say all media content is the same, or presented from a single perspective, we offer this great range of material as a response," said Newcomb. "Our selections demonstrate that great work available in 2009 varied widely and appealed to viewers and listeners with very different tastes interests, and concerns."
CBS News's 60 Minutes added another pair of Peabodys to its collection: "Sabotaging the System" looked at the clear and present danger of cyber attacks from Russia and China on America's computer-dependent infrastructure and what is being done to thwart them. "The Cost of Dying" took a courageous, objective look at the actual monetary cost of end-of-life care even as airwaves and town halls were buzzing with talk of health-care "death panels."
A Peabody also went to "Where Giving Life Is a Death Sentence," a BBC America news report by Lyse Doucet about a remote Afghan province that has the world's worst recorded rate of maternal mortality.
The notable documentaries honored also included Iran and the West, BBC2's comprehensive, three-hour explanation, complete with newly conducted interviews with key leaders, of how the current nuclear impasse evolved, and The OxyContin Express, a shocking documentation by Current TV of the extent of prescription-drug abuse in America. Brick City, a gritty documentary series shown on the Sundance Channel, paints an unvarnished picture of life, politics and hopes for revival in gang-banged and impoverished Newark, N.J. I-Witness: Ambulansiyang de Paa, from the Philippines' GMA Network Inc., memorably chronicled how residents of a poor, remote town can only get their sick and injured to medical care using the "ambulance on foot," woven hammocks that they carry over dangerous terrain.
The Peabody Awards, the oldest honor in electronic media, do not recognize categories nor are there a set number of awards given each year. Today the Peabody recognizes distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, cablecasters, Webcasters, producing organizations and individuals.
The Peabody Board is a 16-member group, comprised of television critics, broadcast and cable industry executives, academics and experts in culture and the arts. They make their annual selections with input from special screening committees of UGA faculty, students and staff.
All entries become a permanent part of the Peabody Archive in the UGA Libraries. The collection is one of the nation's oldest, largest and most respected moving-image archives. For more information about the Peabody Archive or the Peabody Awards, see www.peabody.uga.edu.