As ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to occupy broadcast journalists’ attention and resources, the University of Georgia continues to take note. When the 67th annual Peabody Awards are handed out June 16 at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, war will for the second consecutive year be the topic of many of the winning programs.
Six of the honors will go to coverage stemming from the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, including awards for ABC’s Bob Woodruff and CBS’ Kimberly Dozier, both injured in Iraq in the course of reporting. Two awards will recognize programs, one cable and one radio, that sought to illuminate religious currents in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Another will go to a documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In all, 35 awards will be given out, the same as last year, at a luncheon where “NBC Nightly News” anchor and managing editor Brian Williams will be the master of ceremonies. But the event won’t be all seriousness: This year a number of comedy programs got the nod as well, including Comedy Central’s news sendup “The Colbert Report,” NBC’s network workplace comedy “30 Rock” and National Public Radio’s irreverent news-based quiz program “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
AMC’s “Mad Men,” a drama set in the advertising world of the 1960s, and Showtime’s “Dexter,” about a serial killer who channels his efforts into killing psychopaths, were singled out in the drama world.
The awards are administered by the university’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. As in past years, there were about 1,000 entries, with documentaries the most-often entered genre, said Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards.
The war-related topics include Mr. Woodruff’s and Ms. Dozier’s reporting on veterans recovering from Iraq war injuries, Vice President Dick Cheney’s philosophy of presidential privilege, the death of an Afghani taxi driver while in U.S. custody, the killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha, Iraq, and a Bulgarian report on efforts to supplant poppy production with roses in Afghanistan.
While war and the Middle East were popular topics, documentaries on other subjects caught the judges’ attention as well, including Sundance Channel’s eight-part series “Nimrod Nation,” about a snowy town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, PBS’ “Nova” dramatization of a trial over the teaching of intelligent design and a profile of jazz arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn, which aired on PBS’ “Independent Lens.”
On the radio side, recognition went solely to public radio productions, with six programs singled out, including a series about rockabilly and another featuring the insights of Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony.
The weekly series “Speaking of Faith,” which Mr. Newcomb said had been considered “over and over again” by the judges in past years, was honored for its report on the Persian poet Rumi.
Two of the radio honorees were local productions. “The Brian Lehrer Show,” a two-decade-old two-hour daily call-in program from New York’s WNYC that swings from local to national news and prides itself on civil debate, was lauded as “community-building radio.” Baltimore’s Center for Emerging Media was honored for “Just Words,” 55 four-minute documentary pieces of personal reflection on issues such as homelessness and youth violence.
Overall, Mr. Newcomb said, it was a particularly strong year for local news reporting.
When four reports from Dallas-Fort Worth station WFAA-TV stood out, Mr. Newcomb said, the decision was made to combine the entries into a single award, so the station wouldn’t have a monopoly. “They just have an incredible investigative reporting unit there,” Mr. Newcomb noted.
A PBS series about contemporary art and another about American craft were recognized, as were two reality series, public television’s “Design Squad” and, in what some thought was a surprise, Bravo’s “Project Runway.”
“Project Runway” is “clearly different from Bob Woodruff’s excellence,” Mr. Newcomb said, but “what we say is that we recognize excellence on its own terms.” The program, he said, offers a clear insight into the creative process. And, he added, “It’s fun.”
Not all the television reports have aired in the U.S. and some, like the Balkan News Corp.’s Afghanistan report, may never do so. Others haven’t been released on DVD, so viewers who missed them may be out of luck. Mr. Newcomb said the Peabody Awards hopes someday to overcome rights issues and perhaps put the recognized work on a Web site so it is more widely accessible.
In this special report, TelevisionWeek profiles some of this year’s Peabody-winning projects, with the emphasis on those most closely related to TV journalism.