It was a momentous night for CBS as several of its luminaries took center stage Thursday, June 16, at the Women in Film 2011 Crystal + Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills.
Hosted by Melissa McCarthy of the network’s hit show "Mike & Molly," the gala event honored CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler with the prestigious Lucy Award and "How I Met Your Mother" director Pamela Fryman with the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.
They shared the spotlight with three other honorees: Annette Bening was presented with the Crystal Award, Katie Holmes received the MaxMara Face of the Future Award and Reed Morano took home the Kodak Vision Award.
The memories of trailblazing women in the entertainment industry were never far from hand as the entire evening was dedicated to producer Laura Ziskin. Ziskin created the television fundraiser "Stand Up to Cancer" in response to her own diagnosis, produced the Academy Awards telecasts in 2002 and 2007 and was producing the latest “Spider-Man” film, her fourth, when she died of breast cancer June 12.
The legendary Elizabeth Taylor was bestowed posthumously with Women in Film's Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, which was accepted by her granddaughter Naomi Wilding. "She was an inspiration in using her celebrity to champion a cause," Wilding said in lauding Taylor for her groundbreaking work in raising awareness and funds for AIDS research.
The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television was first handed out in 1994--joining its sister, the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was instituted in 1977. It is named after Lucille Ball and is presented in conjunction with her estate to those whose creative works follow in the footsteps of Ball’s extraordinary accomplishments, particularly in enhancing the perception of women through the medium of television.
Tassler was named president of CBS Entertainment in September 2004, and has been on a roll ever since. Reporting to president and CEO Les Moonves, she never fails to give him credit for the Eye’s success, and her acceptance speech was no exception.
"I stand here as a representative of the gifted women I'm thrilled to work with every day," said Tassler. "We've shared it all, from births to bar mitzvahs." She talked about her upbringing, marching with her parents against the Vietnam War, and taking to heart their admonition to make a difference. Tassler, who oversees the network’s entertainment program for prime time, late-night and daytime as well as program development for all genres, concluded by urging women to continue to tell stories and reach for the stars.
Under Tassler’s leadership, CBS was the top-rated broadcast network in the 2009-2010 season, the seventh time in the last eight seasons that it was the most-watched network. She was responsible for introducing its comedies "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory" and expanding the network’s top-ranked Monday comedy lineup with a second night of laughers on Thursday.
She also added successful new dramas to the CBS lineup, including "Criminal Minds," "The Mentalist" and last season's top two new series, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife," along with the reality series "Undercover Boss," which became last season's No. 1 new program. Tassler joined CBS in 1997 as vice president of drama for CBS Productions before serving as SVP of drama development at CBS Entertainment from 1998-2003.
As the director and executive producer of "How I Met Your Mother," Pamela Fryman has guided the multi-camera show for six seasons. Cast member and recent Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris presented her with the directors award, introducing her as the "greatest person ever" and relating her generosity to the cast and crew.
The Dorothy Arzner Directors Award she accepted was named for the first female member of the DGA. In her speech, Fryman recalled starting out as a production assistant getting sandwiches for actor John Davidson and thinking that things didn't get much better than that.
The evening started off with McCarthy serenading Annette Bening and doing a funny spiel thanking Tassler for hiring her in a rap that also gave shout-outs to Holmes, Fryman and Morano.
Holmes’ career started off in television before she moved into motion pictures, and then she became even better known as the wife of Tom Cruise. She's making her mark again in TV, including a recent role as Jacqueline Kennedy in the miniseries "The Kennedys." She’ll next be seen in the thriller "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," opposite Guy Pearce, and the film comedy "Jack and Jill" with Adam Sandler and Al Pacino.
In accepting the Face of the Future Award from the Italian design house MaxMara, which dressed many of the women for the show, Holmes thanked a team whose commitment to work and family has inspired her, including her husband.
Cinematographer Reed Morano has been shooting documentaries, features, television series, commercials and music videos for the past 14 years, including the acclaimed film "Frozen River," which was nominated for two Academy Awards and seven Independent Spirit Awards. She is currently in preproduction on several features shooting this year.
In her acceptance speech, she cited several past winners of the Kodak Vision Award as inspirations to her, which include Joan Churchill, Mandy Walker, Petra Korner and Cynthia Pusheck.
The incomparable Annette Bening, who last wowed filmgoers and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with her role as Nic in “The Kids Are All Right,” was the evening’s final honoree, taking the stage to a standing ovation after an introduction from Martin Sheen, who joked that it was difficult not being the president anymore.
"I feel like I'm entering a new phase and finding real internal freedom reflected in my work now," Bening said, referring to a stellar career that includes "Bugsy," "An American President,” "American Beauty" and “Being Julia,” for which she also won a Golden Globe Award. Many people may not realize that one of her first acting jobs was a bit part in the 1980s hit series "Miami Vice."
It being a Women in Film event, Bening said it was only appropriate that she thank her main man in film, husband Warren Beatty, who beamed his approval from the audience.