Open Mic

December 2012

TVWeek Says Time to Set Your DVRs Again for a Wonderfully Entertaining Courtroom Drama, Made By Otto Preminger. Why Moviegoers, Music Lovers and Design Freaks All Owe A Debt of Gratitude to Preminger

Chuck Ross Posted December 22, 2012 at 8:44 PM

There was a time, when I was in college, when I flirted with the idea of becoming a lawyer. As far back as I can remember I’ve been a person who asks question and more questions and then even more questions, leading or not. And trying to figure out the logic of a line of questions, or of an argument, has always thrilled me.

Thus I’ve always loved a good legal thriller. There has never been a time when I'm channel surfing and I happen across “The Firm” that I don’t stop and watch it from that moment on until its conclusion. Love that movie. Love the performances, love the script, love the Dave Grusin jazz-tinged score.

But the first legal thriller I fell in love with was Otto Preminger’s 1959 classic “Anatomy of a Murder.” Like “The Firm,” which was based on a best seller by John Grisham, “Anatomy of a Murder” was based on a best seller by Robert Traver. Traver was the pen name of a Michigan Supreme Court Justice named John D. Voelker. Like Grisham, Voelker had previously been a defense attorney, and based “Anatomy” on a real case of his.

When “Anatomy” came out – and I believe this is true even today – after seeing the movie real lawyers say it’s far more authentic in its legal detail than most courtroom dramas we see on TV or on stage or in the movies.

The performances in “Anatomy” are top notch. James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton, Eve Arden – I could go on and on.

The movie is in glorious black & white. That the production looks so good is because of Sam Leavitt’s Oscar-nominated cinematography in this film, and the production design by Boris Leven.

“Anatomy” checks in at 2 hour and 41 minutes, but it’s superbly paced, so don’t let its running time put you off. If you get TCM, “Anatomy” is on at 11:15 p.m. tonight, Pacific Time Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, which is actually 2:15 a.m. tomorrow morning Eastern Time. "Anatomy" is also available on iTunes and Amazon's streaming service. If you're an Amazon Prime customer, it's free to stream. On Netflix "Anatomy" is available as a DVD, but not to stream.

I don’t want to say too much more about the movie, but I think the subject matter will surprise you, especially considering it was dealt with so frankly on screen more than 50 years ago.

I do want to say more about the film’s director, Otto Preminger. Preminger made some remarkably engaging movies, such as “Anatomy” and “Laura.” And he made his share of clunkers.

But what was really important about Preminger is that he was the first person to hire Saul Bass to do title sequences for the movies. It was a collaboration that lasted through 13 movies, starting in 1954 with “Carman Jones” and ending in 1979 with “The Human Factor.”

Here’s what Bass, who died in 1996, once said about Preminger: “He is a man noted for his willingness to blaze trails. Perhaps his most notable act of courage was to have the vision, or the temerity, depending on how you look at it, to pick a young designer who had never worked in film before and launch him on a second career. He’s a man who taught me that temperament and talent are not mutually exclusive. A man who I worked and fought with over the years and learned to love and appreciate.” This quote and the others below come from the exquisite biography of Bass published last year, "Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design," by Jennifer Bass (one of Saul's daughters) and Pat Kirkham.

Specifically about the work Saul Bass did on the poster and title sequence of “Anatomy of a Murder” the great director and film historian Martin Scorsese has said, “Here’s another emblematic image, instantly recognizable and intimately tied to the film. There’s something lurid and garish about the black on red, which is perfectly keyed to the subject matter, then risqué, of ‘Anatomy of a Murder,’ one of Preminger’s best. And since the film is all about moral ambiguity and different points of view that never converge, it was brilliant to separate the [image of] the corpse in seven pieces.”

So for the movie sequences and the iconic posters Bass designed for Preminger’s films, we are eternally grateful.

And if, like me, you love a good movie score, you should also be singing Preminger’s praises. He was insistent – and remarkably consistent – in hiring composers who were beginning their film music careers or who rarely worked on films, to score his movies.

For example, the pulsating, throbbing score of “Anatomy of a Murder” was by Duke Ellington. On “Man with a Golden Arm,” Preminger hired Elmer Bernstein fairly near the start of Bernstein’s career. I would say that the music from that film is better-known than the movie itself.

Other outstanding composers Preminger hired include Jerry Fielding, David Raksin, Jerome Moross, Jerry Goldsmith, Mischa Spoilansky and Georges Auric, to name but a few.

The last word about Preminger I’ll give to Bass: “Otto had a vision. A true, artistic visual vision. He believed that what he knew…together with what would come out of our work, was worth defending to the death…I discovered that what we wound up with together was better than what I started with on my own. It was stimulating to me as a designer to have such strong opinions from someone who knew what he was talking about in terms of design.”


Wildly Funny, But Never Common. Today's TWeek Highly Recommended Movie on TV: A Romantic Comedy Filled With Deft Sardonic Humor -- and a Touch of Clowning Slapstick

Chuck Ross Posted December 21, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Quick -- name the best Hollywood directors from the 1930s and 1940s. You’ll likely answer Wyler, Curtiz, Hawks, Capra, Cukor, Stevens, Hitchcock, Ford, Preminger. Some might include Lang and Mamoulian and a few other wonderful directors less well known by the general public.

Too often, too many of us forget the great Preston Sturges, who was one of the best writers and directors of comedies in American film.

And Sturges’ best movie, “The Lady Eve,” starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, is showcased on TCM tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time -- which is 8:30 p.m. here in the Pacific time zone. It’s also available on Netflix’s streaming movie service if you subscribe to that plan.

It’s not a holiday movie, but it is a wonderful movie to see during the holidays. The adjectives “delightful and amusing” were designed to describe “The Lady Eve.”

When “The Lady Eve” was released in March 1941, it was the third feature Sturges had directed -- and he wrote the screenplays to his films as well. The first was “The Great McGinty,” and the second was “Christmas in July.” Before that Sturges had written the screenplays to at least seven movies directed by others before he took the helm for “McGinty.”

One of those who hailed Sturges as a “comedy master” upon the release of “The Lady Eve” was The New York Times' famous movie critic Bosley Crowther.

In a March 2, 1941, column singing Sturges’ praises, Crowther wrote, “This thing called cinema style is sometimes hard to define but never hard to spot -- and that of Mr. Sturges pops out all over the screen. It is evidenced in the main by a sharp and sardonic wit, expressed not only in dialogue and a run of superlative sight gags, but more generally in his themes. Mr. Sturges revels in irony, in unsentimental exposures of human caprice …

“His pictures bubble with civilized, adult humor and sparkle with mischievous gibes. And they all end in the proper way for comedy to end. But they never go soft at any point. Even his coziest love scenes have a brittle, sardonic edge. Love, in a Sturges picture, is obviously just slightly refined sex and he happily never lets you forget it.”

Those are some of the reasons, I think, that a Sturges film like “The Lady Eve” plays so well today, more than 70 years after it was made. It appeals to today’s sensibilities.

As Crowther also noted in this piece he wrote seven decades ago, “A distinction of the Sturges style is its deft and perfect etching of character in quick but penetrating strokes. His people have vigorous personalities because he gives them the words to speak and the things to do.”

And what terrific words. Here’s an example. Near the beginning of “The Lady Eve,” Charles Coburn, playing the father of Barbara Stanwyck’s character, Jean, is displeased with something Jean has said. He rebukes her with: “Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked but not common.”

Writing more about the performances Sturges is able to get out of the actors in his movies, Crowther notes “the truly delightful clowning of Henry Fonda as [the] clumsy clutch in ‘The Lady Eve.’"

Great perfomances are hallmarks of Sturges movies. In “The Lady Eve,” besides Fonda, Stanwyck is at her seductively wisecracking best, supported by impeccable comedic role-playing by Charles Coburn, the hysterically deadpan antics of William Demarest, plus Eugene Pallette and Eric Blore, two of the best, most reliable supporting actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

One of the best things I love about “The Lady Eve” is that I can watch it over and over again and enjoy it as much I did the first time I saw it in an introductory film class I took at UCLA in 1971.

So please, watch “The Lady Eve” tonight or in the next few weeks, either for first time or for the umpteenth time. It’s a wonderful tonic for the holiday season.

Anatomy of Reporting Mass Murder: Why Were We Told So Much Wrong Information During the Live Reporting Last Friday of the Killings in Newtown, Conn.? Should Reporters Have Done a Better Job?

Chuck Ross Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:44 AM

[Updated 12/20/12 at 10:25 am, PT to correct the number of adults killed in Newtown by Adam Lanza on Dec. 14, 2012, not including his shooting himself.]

Scott Pelley, the anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News,” who is also a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” reported a story on “60 Minutes” last Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, about the killings of 20 children and 6 adults that had happened in Newtown, Conn., about 48 hours earlier. The children had all been killed at an elementary school.

Pelley led off his segment by saying that in first reports from Newtown “we were told that the gunman’s mother was a teacher at the school. That he was allowed in because he was recognized and that he targeted his mother’s classroom with two handguns. Tonight, we know that all of that is wrong.” Pelley could have added that we were also told, initially, the wrong name of the shooter, and that two bodies had been found at the shooter’s home.

Not everyone at the news outlets covering the shootings live made all of these mistakes.

Still, these errors in fact -- and a few others -- did make it out over the airwaves. Was this because reporters were doing their jobs poorly, or was something else going on?

“In the first place, almost all information gathered hurriedly is questionable,” says Richard Wald. “Almost all information passed from one human being to another has errors in it. And the thing that you do most quickly is usually most wrong. “

Wald knows of what he speaks. Wald is a former president of NBC News who then spent 20 years at ABC News. When he left ABC News at the end of 1998 he was senior vice president of editorial quality. He is currently the Fred W. Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media and Society at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. We spoke on the phone on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012.

Wald continued to explain what he thinks happened with the initial reporting from Newtown by explaining how reporting on live events has changed over the years.

“Let’s say you covered a breaking news event in 1950 and you worked for a morning newspaper. You would have had all day to gather and check one piece against another, and then write a story at 7 o’clock that night that would appear in the newspaper you worked for the following morning. It would be a story in which most of the mistakes would have been corrected, but it would still have errors in it.”

I also spoke to Marvin Kalb. Kalb reported for CBS News and NBC News for about three decades, and was the moderator for NBC’s “Meet the Press” for three years in the 1980s. Kalb is currently the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice, and Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

He also invoked the past to illustrate how different it was from reporting in the 21st Century. He said that in April 1945, Edward R. Murrow was “one of the reporters who got into Buchenwald. And he saw, for the first time with his own eyes, what had happened at one of these German death camps. What did Murrow do after he had seen this? He did not rush to the CBS radio bureau to report this news. He went back to his hotel room and he sat there for two days, trying to find the words to express that kind of horror. Now, that is no longer acceptable journalism." [You can listen to the radio report Murrow finally did file about Buchenwald if you clike here. Once you click through to the page, click on the words under the photo to hear the report.]

Kalb continued, “The point I am trying to make is that we don’t give our reporters any time to think any longer. The business has become so incredibly competitive. So my own gut feeling is that yes there were some mistakes made in the reporting from Newtown, and a couple of them were inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable. And the reporters who made them simply did a lousy job. But most of the reporters who were there did a very good job.”

Wald also thinks most reporters usually do a very good job covering breaking news stories. The biggest barrier to getting things right, he says, is likely built into the system: “Today, if you have to gather information in minute one and report it on-air in minute two, the chances are that you are going to make an error. The world is full of errors. The errors are not necessarily the fault of the reporting system. They are the fault of the information-generating system. As for instance, you say to the policeman, did he have any connection to the school? Yes, says, the cop, I’ve heard his mother was a teacher. So you report that his mother was a teacher. It’s just the by-blow of speed, and it’s a by-blow of people saying things they believe to be true, but have not had the opportunity to check out. It happens all the time. There is nothing that takes at least 800 words in the form of reporting that does not have at least one error. The more quickly you do it, the more errors there are. There is probably a good mathematical formula for this -- I just don’t happen to know it.”

I countered that perhaps reporters covering live events, despite the competitive pressures to get information on the air quickly, could take a little more time with their reporting, and not rush to broadcast the first thing a policeman says might have happened.

Wald responded, “But when would you know if it’s true? So don’t go on the air is what you’re saying?”

No, I said, I’m saying slow it down and do some more checking. Then I asked Wald whether he was saying that the parameters of reporting done during live events are less than what we ask reporters to do in checking out stories that are not breaking at the moment.

Wald said, “The parameters during live events are the classic parameters. Those aren’t changed. You report, we publish, and we correct if we need to. It’s just that in reporting a live event those parameters are compressed in time -- they are just squeezed into a shorter time frame.”

I said, “Let’s say the standard for reporting something is that you have to have two sources. But during live reporting a reporter may not do this. He or she may talk to just one cop, who says, ‘I think this is what’s going on.’ “

Wald answered, “Well, maybe the reporter hears it from two cops who’ve both heard the same story. Or let’s say a cop is standing on a street corner and sees someone shoot someone else. He says someone shot someone on the street corner. You gonna ask him for another source? You’re asking a question that’s very nice but it doesn’t have a sensible answer."

Wald continued: “So let’s say you are told by the Secret Service that the president has been shot. You cannot not report it. But you don’t know if he’s been shot fatally or not. You take the word of the Secret Service guy speaking to you. It’s ineluctable that that’s the way it works. That’s the way people get information.”

Indeed, Wald noted that when President Reagan was shot on Monday, March 30, 1981, in front of the Hilton hotel in Washington, D.C., “It was first reported that he was unhurt. That was dead wrong. He had a bullet in him. Later, he was reported to be at death’s door. Also dead wrong. Getting breaking news wrong is not news."

Wald added, “And there’s a further complication: If you withhold the information you do have, people begin to distrust your reporting. It took about a half-hour for the precise information about the shooting of President Reagan to be reported carefully. Suppose that no one had reported anything about Reagan being shot for 30 minutes? Do you think that this country would have said, gee, there’s no conspiracy --the press isn’t hiding anything?”

Wald then reiterated his original point: “The astounding thing about the mass of information reporters get is how accurate so much of it is, not how inaccurate it is.”

Some of what happened in the reportage coming from Newtown is illustrative of Wald’s explanation of how the facts were gathered for reporting. For example, a number of reporters initially got the name of the shooter wrong. At first they said it was Ryan Lanza, when, in actuality, it was his brother, Adam.

Here’s what NBC News’ Miguel Llamos wrote on the NBC News website on Friday, Dec. 14: “The gunman who killed 26 people, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Conn., was 24 year-old Ryan Lanza, and he targeted his mother, a kindergarten teacher who was among the dead, sources told NBC News on Friday.”

Whoever these “sources” were, they were wrong about both the shooter's name and that his mother was a kindergarten teacher.

Later, NBC News took down this story and replaced it with one carrying the byline of Llamos and two of his colleagues. The new story said, “The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, 20, was found dead at the scene of the slaughter, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, law enforcement officials said. The body of a woman believed to be his mother was found at their home in Newtown, authorities said.

“Officials initially misidentified the shooter to NBC News as Lanza's brother, Ryan. But a senior official later said that Ryan was nowhere near the shooting, is not believed to be involved, and is cooperating with the investigation.”

One question I have is why, in the initial story, it just says “sources” told NBC News, while in the corrected story it says the sources were “law enforcement officials.” In the interest of transparency, why didn’t NBC News say initially that the identification of Ryan as the shooter came from “law enforcement officials”?

I wanted to ask that of someone at NBC News, but the PR person for NBC News never got back to me for this story, despite my making two requests to talk to someone.

In fact, I would have also liked to discuss this subject with news executives or reporters at ABC News, CBS News, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel , but PR spokespeople for all of these news entities said no one in their organizations was willing to talk about this with me.

That’s too bad. Kalb suggested to me that I had run into a stone wall because “they are all afraid of what you might write about this. They figure it’s going to be negative and of no gain for them to participate in a discussion whose outcome they might not like.”

Too bad their collective skin is so thin. The danger is not in what I might write. The danger is in what they might report.

The Sports Move of the Century: The Jets Should Trade Tim Tebow to L.A. ... But We Have No Pro Football Team Here in L.A., You Say. Well, Here's the Plan ...

Chuck Ross Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a column saying how exciting TV watching was each Sunday, thanks to Tim Tebow’s miracle success with the Denver Broncos.

But with the hapless New York Jets refusing to play Tebow this season, I’m one of the millions of fans of the man who has been dubbed the Mile-High Messiah who feels like a denuded disciple. But I am determined to be denied no more.

The Jets need to trade Tebow to L.A.

But wait, you protest, that makes no sense. We have no pro football team here in Los Angeles.

Yes, pigskin breath, I realize that.

The situation here in L.A. is that we have two football stadium projects eagerly waiting to intercept some NFL team that wants to move here. One proposal is a long-standing one by real-estate mogul Ed Roski Jr., who wants to build a stadium just south of downtown L.A.

The second proposal, which just cleared its final hurdles in the last few months, is a proposal by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to build a stadium in downtown L.A. itself, next to the L.A convention center and Staples Center.

Interestingly, AEG and Roski have had close ties in the past. Roski built the Staples Center, which AEG owns. Among other teams, AEG owns the L.A. pro soccer franchise the Galaxy, and half of the L.A. Kings, the current Stanley Cup champion hockey team. Roski also owns a stake in the Kings. And both AEG and Roski own stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers, who play their home games at the Staples Center.

So we have two stadium projects all set to break ground on construction, once an NFL team says it will move here. But no team has thus far said it will to come to the City of the Angels.

Time to get more creative. AEG or Roski needs to put up the bucks -- and either could easily afford it -- to acquire the services of Clarence the Angel’s No. 1 protégé, Tim Tebow.

Like many others, I believe that the Jets will release Tebow at the end of the season. To do anything less would be even more stupid and heartless than they have been in signing up a player they never really intended to let play.

And as soon as the Jets let him go, AEG or Roski needs to sweep in and sign up Tebow.

Then, not only will we have a great new stadium to offer some NFL team, but the next great quarterback for the team comes with the deal as well!

Tell me, how can the Jaguars -- currently tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the worst record in the NFL with only two victories this season -- turn down this arrangement?

So what does Tebow do here while waiting for the Jaguars, or some other team, to arrive?


He joins the lineup of our powerhouse 50,000 watt ESPN radio station here. He starts slowly as a summer vacation replacement for the “V Show” on weekends, as it becomes the “T Show.” Within two months it’s “Mike, Mike and Tim” in the morning and then “Max, Marcellus and Tim” in prime drive time every weekday afternoon.

Tebow makes his first foray into regular series TV. Given the amount of sex and violence in most prime time today, both in sitcoms and dramas, Tebow instead makes a deal with Nick at Nite and Warner Bros. With the miracle of modern technology, a special season of “Full House” is created, inserting Tebow as the regular baby sitter of the Tanner family in 24 old episodes of the series.

Tebow also finds time to star in Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump 2,” in which Forrest Gump Jr., now all grown up, is played by Tebow.

On Sundays, until he plays football again, Tebow presides over the 11 a.m. service at the Crystal Cathedral, bringing that Southern Califiornia landmark back to a prominence it hasn’t had for years.

Tebow’s just the Angeleño we need.

Hey Jeff, Here's How You Can Fix CNN, Part 2. This Time the Advice Comes From a Broadcaster in This Guest Commentary

Chuck Ross Posted December 7, 2012 at 8:02 AM

[Note: This guest blog entry is written by Bill Bauman, who addresses his comments to new CNN boss Jeff Zucker. For many years Bauman was the GM of WESH, Hearst Television's NBC affiliate serving Orlando, Fla. He retired five years ago. Bauman's last guest commentary for us was "Some Questions for the New CEO of The New York Times About the BBC Child Abuse Scandal"]

Dear Jeff:

Congratulations. It is good to see that you are back in a big chair. And the age of 47 is perfect for taking on this task. Old enough to have learned a lot, and young enough to still have the energy and confidence for the mission.

To my mind, CNN is one of the three most iconic brands of news in the world. The BBC, The NY Times, and CNN, in no particular order, are the very best. I flipped around a lot on election night, and kept coming back to CNN. Your technology, graphics, coverage and analysis were head and shoulders above your competitors.

I am probably biased towards CNN because of a lunch I attended years ago with Ted Turner. I remember him saying that he set out to do something completely audacious. He said, “I’m going to put reporters, photographers, and producers all over the world. And I’m going to send up a bunch of satellites. And I’m going to do the news from around the world, 24 hours a day, every day, forever.” Ted was pretty impressive. Visionaries tend to be.

Obviously your big challenge is prime time, and I have a few modest suggestions about that. First, I would get rid of Piers Morgan. He is just awful. Second, I would flip Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer. Anderson is good, but I think his demographic appeal is similar to Oprah. Give him 4-6 p.m. Move Wolf to 6-8 p.m.

I would create a new national newscast at 8 p.m. I don’t know if it is one or two hours. How about Matt Lauer as the anchor? He might be available, and would probably love to work for you again. I would model it after the longest-running, highest-rated, best news program on the air for the past 25 years. I would do "60 Minutes" every night. You certainly have the infrastructure. Like the BBC, you have people all over the world. What I don’t think you have are great storytellers. In my experience, audiences respond to great stories.

So I’d go out and get some of those people. You know who they are. I’d start by looking at ESPN and "Real Sports." Jeremy Schaap comes to mind. Mike Lupica, Frank Deford, Bernie Goldberg, Mary Carillo. From the nets I’d steal Steve Hartman and Armen Keteyian. They may be unavailable, but you know what I mean. You must have some already. Where has Christiane Amanpour been? These are the kind of correspondents I would recruit. And I would turn prime time over to them.

I would banish meaningless live shots, streaming video and intrusive graphics. I would charge these reporters with telling great, compelling stories. Just look at the success of "60 Minutes." I think under your leadership, CNN could produce a show like that every night.

You’ve taken charge of a great news organization. Go back to your roots. Do what Ted said CNN was all about.

God Speed,

Stars Come Out for CNN's Tribute to Heroes -- But the Focus Is on Everyday People Doing Extraordinary Things

Hillary Atkin Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:31 AM

It is an awards show where you hear some unusual words coming out of the winners’ mouths, as in, "It's not about me." And therein lies the spirit of celebrating everyday people who are changing the world in the two-hour program that is "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute.”

The sixth annual edition of the show, hosted again by the cable news net’s Anderson Cooper, was broadcast live Sunday, Dec. 2, from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and honored 10 individuals who are making extraordinary contributions to improving the lives of others – in communities from Kathmandu to Butte, Boulder to Port-au-Prince and Boca Raton to Cartagena.

Actor Harvey Keitel set the tone as he opened the show against a stark background by describing heroes like Malala Yousufzai, the young girl who was shot in Pakistan for promoting girls’ rights to an education, and the father who died as a result of Hurricane Sandy with his arms around the son he was trying to save from the floodwaters.

"As a young Marine, I was taught to help people who can't help themselves," Keitel said. "Heroes speak the language of humanity. There are those who rise to the occasion and those who wake up every day and do heroic work."

CNN’s honorees are all inspirational individuals who seem to have certain characteristics in common. As their stories unfolded in well-produced pre-taped packages, it was apparent they were motivated by personal tragedy, such as losing a child, or were struck by a tremendous injustice, or in a moment of clarity, simply recognized a gaping need.

Many work with children, like Nepal’s Pushpa Basnet, who discovered eight years ago that children whose parents are sent to prison in Kathmandu are forced to live behind bars as well -- in dire conditions. She started a day care center for the incarcerated children where they could learn to read, sing and draw, and eventually a home where dozens of children were able to live and start a new life. Within a few years, she hopes to build another group home with its own school for the kids and to create a college savings fund so they can continue their educations.

Basnet was introduced by Susan Sarandon, who is making a documentary about her. And like every one of the heroes, the audience gave her a heartfelt standing ovation. She was later awarded the Hero of the Year honor.

Then there was Connie Siskowski, introduced by Adrien Brody, who is shining a light on the more than 1 million children who are caregivers to disabled, ill or aging family members, and as a result struggle in school. She witnessed this growing crisis in her community of Boca Raton, Fla., and started the American Association of Caregiving Youth, which provides counseling, tutoring, transportation, computers and household items -- with the goal of making sure that no child drops out of school because of caregiving responsibilities.

Young girls in Afghanistan have a difficult time getting access to education at all, and that's where Razia Jan stepped in to make an impact. After living in the United States for 30 years and seeing what the Taliban was doing to her native country, she returned and acquired a piece of land on which to build a school for girls. After meeting with the village leaders and explaining why it would be a wonderful thing for their daughters to attend, it opened its doors in 2008 to 140 girls, 90% of whom couldn't read or write. Now the youngsters study math, science and language, even while under constant threat of attack from those who oppose their learning.

"Please hold my hand [through this],” said Jan, after being presented with her commendation by actress Viola Davis.

Underscoring the treacherousness in that part of the world, Cooper then read a message from Malala, who is recovering from her gunshots in a British hospital, acknowledging the global outpouring of love and support she has received. In her message, she praised girls in northwestern Pakistan "who are continuing their studies despite threats from militants" and urged people to "work together to educate girls around the world."

The plight of girls and their lack of education is also being addressed by another CNN hero, Catalina Escobar of Cartagena, Colombia. After a newborn died in her arms while she was volunteering at a local hospital maternity ward because the baby’s teenage mother could not afford the $30 treatment that would have saved his life, Escobar endured another heart-breaking tragedy -- her 16-month-old son was killed after falling eight stories from a balcony. She started a nonprofit named for him, the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation, building a state-of-the-art neonatal unit at the hospital. Then, realizing that most of the mothers were just children themselves, often trapped in the cycle of poverty and abuse, she built an education center where they take classes and learn skills. More than 2,000 young mothers have passed through its doors in the past 10 years.

Trying to help heal the scars of war was what motivated another hero, Mary Cortani of Gilroy, Calif., who three years ago got a call from a Marine who had been waiting more than a year for a service dog to help him with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Herself a veteran and an experienced dog trainer, she was motivated to start Operation Freedom Paws in 2010. Since then, she has assisted more than 80 veterans struggling with outwardly invisible wounds of war by matching them with service dogs who can help them overcome their struggles and avoid anxiety attacks.

"We need to do more to let them know we care about them,” Cortani said in accepting her honor from Jane Lynch, who credited her own dog with increasing her emotional stability.

Lest this subject matter was all too heavy, there were a few moments of humor, most notably from David Spade, who inevitably joked about Lindsay Lohan in his introduction to one of the "Young Wonders” who were highlighted -- kids doing significant work to help others, like the boy who raised $20,000 for a local food bank and the girl who thought to recycle cooking oil from her town’s restaurants and use it for home heating in low-income neighborhoods.

Ne-Yo’s performance of the song “Heroes” closed out the program with a fitting tribute to the exceptional people who were spotlighted, each of whom receives $50,000 from CNN and nonprofit training from the Annenberg Foundation.

(A full list of honorees is at