A cable and online network called Pivot will be televising a condensed version of the May 19 Peabody Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 1, at 9 p.m. Less almost certainly will be more.
The Peabodys, based at UGA’s Grady journalism school, have been on TV before, broadcast by PBS and A&E respectively, most recently in 2003. But in those instances, what viewers saw on their home screens was the full event, a parade of previously announced winners making acceptance speeches.
Anybody who’s ever attended a Peabody ceremony can tell you that there’s a crackling excitement, a sort of breeder-reactor effect, in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom as recipients, who range from prime-time stars to local-station investigative reporters, fully grasp the magnitude of the honor and the heady company they’re in. They radiate pride and camaraderie.
But that’s if you’re in the room. To see all that on television, alas, is a little like playing the CD you bought at a nightclub and realizing that the sensational band you boogied to last night is not quite the greatest music-machine since the Beatles.
Pivot hired Den of Thieves, a Los Angeles-based outfit that produces specials such as the Billboard Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards, to distill this year’s three-hour Peabody ceremony into a pithy, hour-long special that’s intended to convey the feel of the event as well as representative particulars.
Producer-director Jeff Roe and his cohorts are drawing on Atlanta ImageArts’ basic ceremony video, additional ballroom footage, clips from the winning programs, post-acceptance speech interviews with recipients, and Peabody and UGA-related feature material.
“I’ve worked on a ton of award shows,” Roe told me the day before the Peabody ceremony. “It presents an interesting challenge. It doesn’t have categories. We know who the winners are. It doesn’t have a lot of the things that are sort of the natural drama of award shows.”
In an effort to make the event more TV-friendly, Roe studied this year’s list of 46 Peabody recipients, looking for ways to divvy them up thematically. “What do they represent?” he asked. “Is this a story about race? Is this a story about women’s rights? What came to light is that there are these themes that run through all the awards.”
Thus there’s a grouping labeled “A Government Askew” that includes Questions of Influence, an investigation of political cronyism in Tennessee by Nashville’s WTVF-TV, and ABC’s delirious D.C. drama Scandal.
A section devoted to race and ethnicity includes National Public Radio’s The Race Card Project, Ken Burns’ documentary The Central Park Five, and The Bridge, a FX drama about American and Mexican cops trying to work together to solve a cross-border murder.
A section on gender includes an Independent Lens documentary about rape in the U.S. military, a viral video titled A Needed Response that makes a terse, undeniable point about sexual assault, and Burka Avenger, a Pakistani children’s series that turns a symbol of women’s oppression into a super-heroine’s mask.
The special will cover almost half of the winners. Roe said he’s aiming to give viewers a taste of the full diversity of the honorees, a typically eclectic Peabody list that includes Breaking Bad and BBC World News coverage of the Syrian civil war, the Comedy Central satirical series Key & Peele and Hollow, an interactive online documentary that immerses visitors in the life of a West Virginia county that could any one of thousands of battered American communities.
In some instances, the footage of ceremony emcee Ira Glass announcing the recipients and their taking the stage to say their thank-you’s will be intercut with show clips and comments from the program creators’ post-acceptance interviews.
Such interviews are a longstanding Peabody tradition. You can see some from years past now on the Peabody website.
“What we want to do is do these in a little more depth, learn more about the projects from the mouths of the filmmakers,” Roe said. “Maybe we get to hear about the politics behind it or what the inspiration came from or something of that nature. In a way, to me, it’s like making a documentary. “
Along with extra cameras in the ballroom and the interview rooms, Roe had videographers roaming receptions that precede and follow the ceremony. “That’s the great thing about the Peabodys,” Roe said. “You get combinations of people that you wouldn’t get at any other award show. You might get some blogger standing next to the biggest star in the world, and they’re chatting each other up. They’re on the same playing field. And that’s awesome.”
To learn where you can see The 73rd Peabody Awards on Pivot, go to www.pivot.tv and use the handy channel finder to see what cable provider or satellite network in your area offers the channel. All you have to do is type in your zip code.
Pivot, by the way, was launched last August by Participant Media, the global entertainment company that has produced such films as Lincoln, Good Night, and Good Luck, Food Inc. and Waiting for ‘Superman.’ Pivot’s focus is on entertainment that sparks conversation, inspires change and illuminates issues — the very sort of programs that the Peabodys have been honoring since 1941.