Sunday, April 4, 2010

Three Cheers for the Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards were announced this week. They're primarily a journalism award for radio and television news programs, but they also honor educational and kids' programming and general televised entertainment. This is why shows like "Modern Family" and "Glee" were singled out this year along with headier fare like the "Frontline" analysis of the Bernie Madoff affair and NPR's coverage of Afghanistan. As far as media awards go, you can't do much better.

I really appreciate that the Peabody Awards exist, because they're devoid of all the politicking and all the drama that seems to go with every other media award out there. The awards are chosen by a panel of academics, critics, and faculty members of the University of Georgia. Nominees and shortlists are not announced, so there's no campaigning. The awards themselves are not televised or otherwise broadcast, so there's no publicity up until the announcement. And since they're not chosen primarily by the entertainment industry itself, but instead by outside observers following a fairly lofty set of criteria for merit, the Peabodys also have a rare prestige to them.

All awards are a popularity contest, but the Peabodys seem less so. This is certainly reflected in the award recipients. When the list comes out every year, there's always an oddball show or two that everyone else in TV land tends to have overlooked. Last year, the excellent "Avatar: The Last Airbender" was on the list. This year "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" got the honors, for a great interview with the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Since individual entertainment shows can only win once, there are almost no repeated winners from year to year.

Finally, the Peabodys are almost unique in that the winners are always accompanied by a sentence or two on why they won the award. In other words, the Peabody Board actually explains the reasoning for its picks, however briefly. "Glee," for instance, made the list for being "dependably tuneful and entertaining" and for "episodes such as 'Wheels,' about the daily struggles of a wheelchair-bound singer."

I'd love to see the Emmys or the Golden Globes try to pull that off one of these days.

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