Athens, Ga. – Thirty-six recipients of the 68th Annual Peabody Awards were announced today 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 2008, were named in a ceremony in the Peabody Gallery on the University of Georgia campus.
“The works recognized by the Peabody Board this year not only reflect great diversity of content and genre, but also true technical innovation and the varied roles of new distribution systems,” said Peabody Director Horace Newcomb. “The list of winners this year clearly indicates a changing media environment that will continue to require judgment and evaluation through the Peabody Awards process.”
The recipients included Lost, ABC’s innovative, mind-bending adventure serial; “The Giant Pool of Money,” a remarkably comprehensible explanation of the current financial crisis from public radio’s This American Life; and YouTube, the video-sharing Web site that puts a boundless array of video artifacts, from historic political speeches to cell phone videos, at every Internet user’s fingertips. Black Magic, ESPN’s fascinating examination of the integration of basketball and its impact on the programs of historical black colleges and universities, received a Peabody, as did Saturday Night Live’s campaign-season political satire.
A Peabody went to Sichuan Television for its immediate coverage of the deadly earthquake that struck its Chinese province. For several days, SCTV was the only source of video for television news organizations around the world. National Public Radio was also recognized for its exhaustive and sensitive daily reporting on the quake. Peabodys went to CNN’s coverage of the Presidential primaries and debates, and to the election-year broadcasts of Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. The Hearst-Argyle television-station group was awarded for its extensive Commitment 2008 coverage of local and regional political contests.
In the realm of the arts, Peabodys went to The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series; The Gates, an HBO documentary tracking the 24-year making of a now-celebrated installation in New York’s Central Park; and to NBC’s dazzling telecast of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and the ceremony director, Zhang Yimou. An institutional Peabody was awarded to Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel devoted to showing, preserving and fostering a critical appreciation of vintage films.
The entertainment series selected included Breaking Bad, AMC’s thorny drama about a terminally ill science teacher who turns to making and selling methamphetamine to build an estate for his wife and disabled son. John Adams, HBO’s richly detailed miniseries about the lawyerly founding father, his wife, Abigail, and the times in which they lived, received the award. Also cited was HBO’s comedy Entourage, a wicked take on Hollywood and the joys and sorrows of minor stardom. Avatar: The Last Air Bender, an animated, Asian-influenced mythological epic shown on Nickelodeon, received a Peabody, as did Jungle Fish, a handsomely stylized slice of South Korean teen life from the Korean Broadcasting System.
In addition to YouTube, a Peabody was awarded to The New York Times’ Web site (www.nytimes.com). Another went to Onion News Network (www.theonion.com/content/video), where video parodies of newscasts and newsmakers are so shrewdly conceived and produced that they’re often hard to distinguish from the real thing.
“We recognize the great transformations affecting dissemination of news and information,” Newcomb said. “The variety of choices available to citizens does in fact range from the best traditional journalism expanded for the Web, to sharp critiques in the form of parody and satire. Both can achieve a level of excellence that reaches the Peabody standard and both require citizens to respond with careful analysis of their own.”
A Peabody went to NOAH Housing Program Investigation, a series of more than 50 reports by New Orleans’ WWL-TV exposing problems and possible fraud in a multi-million dollar program designed to help homeowners rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Awards also went to Failing the Children: Deadly Mistakes, Denver TV station KMGH’s multi-part expose of tragic incompetence in the city’s Department of Human Services. National Public Radio’s 36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Justice on Angola received a Peabody for a gripping investigative report questioning the guilt of two inmates at Louisiana’s notorious prison farm. The two have been kept in solitary confinement for more than three decades.
Newcomb commented on a “stunning array of notable documentaries,” saying “This year the Peabody Board was faced with what can only be described as a renaissance in the form. Our decisions came after difficult, but thorough reviews of one of the best pools of docs ever submitted.”
Among the documentary winners, Shanghai Television Group’s The Red Race provided a shockingly intimate portrait of the rigorous-some would say sadistic-training that Chinese child gymnasts undergo. Campaign, a quirky P.O.V. film, illuminated Japan’s political system by following one guileless candidate’s run for a city-council seat. Hear and Now, shown on HBO, poignantly chronicled the process and consequences of a middle-aged deaf couple who undergo cochlear implant operations. One splendid Independent Lens documentary, Mapping Stem Cell Research, followed a neurologist obsessed with discovering a way to reverse the effects of his beloved daughter’s spinal injury, while another, King Corn, is a deceptively whimsical exploration of what our corn-syrup saturated diet means to our health and the environment.
Peabodys also went to Ape Genius, a NOVA documentary examining the latest research on how the intellectual capacity of gorillas, chimps, bonobos and orangutans compares to ours. Cinemax’s Nanking offered a wrenching remembrance of a small group of Westerners who tried to save Chinese civilians from the horrors of the 1937 Japanese invasion. Crossfire: Water, Power and Politics, a documentary from Las Vegas’ KLAS-TV that achieved network quality, dared to look hard at a plan to pump massive amounts of water from rural Nevada to its booming, major city and at what this will mean to ranches, farms, Native Americans and the environment.
Depression: Out of the Shadows, a multi-dimensional, ultimately hopeful examination of the devastating disorder that affects millions of Americans, received a Peabody, as did Hopkins, ABC News’ compelling verite series filmed in the halls and operating rooms of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
A Peabody also was awarded to Richard Engel Reports: Tip of the Spear, a series of reports under-fire by the NBC News correspondent from the deadliest zone in Afghanistan. Lifeline, a CBS News 60 Minutes report, received a Peabody. It memorably encapsulated the plight of America’s 47 million uninsured by showing some of the 18,000 people who showed up when a free-clinic mission, designed for Third World charity, set up shop for a weekend in Tennessee.
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 University of Georgia 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.
Established in 1915, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication offers seven undergraduate majors including advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to WNEG-TV, the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards, internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious prizes for excellence in electronic media. For more information, see www.grady.uga.edu.