The TV Academy Gets Real, With a Night of Honors That Don’t Get Nearly as Much Attention as the Emmys — but May Be Even More Important

May 13, 2013

Some called the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner a “nerd prom,’ and that term also came to mind — in a completely endearing way — at the 6th Annual Television Academy Honors, held May 9 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Known for presenting the Primetime Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided in 2007 to move forward with a different sort of accolade that honors programs that inform, illuminate, enlighten and educate about social issues.

Academy Governor John Shaffner gets credit for creating the concept with former ATAS chair Dick Askin and Honors co-chair Lynn Roth. Shaffner and Roth started off the evening by chronicling the process and announcing that after six fulfilling years, they were passing the baton to new committee members.

This year’s honorees: “Hallmark Hall of Fame: A Smile as Big as the Moon,” “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List,” “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” “Hunger Hits Home,” “The Newsroom,” “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee,” “One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal” and “Parenthood,” feted in a gala sponsored by Audi, Grey Goose and BV Vineyards.

Actress Dana Delany hosted for the fifth time, lightening things up right away by telling the duo to "get a room" as they left the stage.

"I’ve noticed some trends here. Almost all of the shows are fact-based. I guess you could call them good reality shows," she said.

Whether "The Newsroom" is fact-based could make for an interesting Aaron Sorkin-written soliloquy delivered by Jeff Daniels, as fictional cable news anchor Will McAvoy.

A real newsman with a four decade-long career, Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes,” presented Sorkin with the night’s first statuette. Kroft noted that the traditional journalistic values of fairness, accuracy and integrity are pitted against corporate bosses, the demands of a 24-hour news cycle and fickle audiences, even as the characters try to hold on to their jobs.

"The actors are much more attractive and have more interesting personal lives [than] people who work in the real newsroom,” he said, introducing a clip that showcased one of McAvoy’s on-air soliloquies about the shifting ethics of the TV news business.

"Brevity is a challenge for me," Sorkin acknowledged, an admission that was met with laughter from the ballroom audience.

Producer Brian Grazer lauded "Parenthood,” and its showrunner Jason Katims for his kindness and generosity, and recalled how Katims previously had successfully made a TV series out of another of Grazer’s films, “Friday Night Lights."

As that highly acclaimed show was nearing the end of its run, Katims wanted to try his hand at "Parenthood" — although Grazer said it had already been tried with Joss Whedon and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Now, "Parenthood" is in its fifth season. In his speech, Katims talked about the pressures he felt about living up to the bouncy house poster that NBC had designed, even as he went in to pitch network executives an entire season that revolved around cancer. The show also deals with teenage alcoholism, unemployment, panic attacks, abortion and autism, among other topics.

Despite the difficult subject matter, he said the network was his biggest supporter.

"When you feel love in the Braverman family, it makes it sort of like a bouncy house,” he said.

The Food Network had never done a documentary before "Hunger Hits Home," which illustrates the serious problem of childhood hunger by focusing on three families that are having a hard time putting food on the table in this economic downturn.

"It’s unconscionable that this should happen now. Part of it is due to the shame people feel about asking for help. The problems are solvable. The [anti-hunger] programs are there,” said producer Dan Cutforth.

Showing racism in a humorous way was the goal of D.L. Hughley’s Comedy Central program. The actor said his motivation went back to the 1991 Los Angeles murder of a young black girl, Latasha Harlins, who was shot for allegedly shoplifting a bottle of orange juice. The shopkeeper was sentenced to five years’ probation, while soon thereafter, he heard about a woman going to jail for kicking a horse.

Recalling the shocking dichotomy in punishments, Hughley broke down, after he had managed to crack a joke about three Jews and a black man, acknowledging the other producers of “The Endangered List” who joined him to accept the honor.

With all this heaviness, the evening’s program ended on a brighter note with kudos for “Hallmark Hall of Fame: A Smile as Big as the Moon,” a dramatization of the real-life story of special ed kids going to NASA space camp in Huntsville, Ala. It features actor John Corbett as football coach and special education teacher Mike Kersjes, who took them there after months of preparation.

With Corbett by his side, Kersjes said, "This is really about the triumph of the human spirit — by kids who are underdogs and who were bullied.”

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