By Sheree R. Curry
Special to TelevisionWeek
The 36th NAACP Image Awards, set to tape Saturday, March 19, for broadcast the following week on Fox, processed a record-breaking 1,200-plus entries this year.
A committee of 300 industry professionals and NAACP leaders from across the country narrowed the list down to five nominees in each of 36 categories. In addition, talk show host, philanthropist and cultural pacesetter Oprah Winfrey will be honored with a special Hall of Fame award.
The Image Awards celebrate outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the world of TV, film, literature and music, as well as individuals or groups that promote social justice.
UPN leads the network category with 14 nominations, including entries for Outstanding Comedy Series (“Girlfriends” and “Half & Half”) and Outstanding Drama Series (“Kevin Hill”). CBS nabbed 12 nominations and HBO 11.
Winners are selected by votes of the 500,000 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People through an online ballot or via a form appearing in Crisis, the association’s magazine. If past awards trends hold up, honorees will include established stars as well as unheralded newcomers.
“We tend to recognize artists earlier in their careers [than do other awards], to give them the support they need to go on and become the Halle Berrys and Denzel [Washingtons],” said Vicangelo Bulluck, executive producer of the show, which will tape in Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
“We have loved Denzel since he was a third lead on ‘St. Elsewhere,'” Mr. Bulluck said. “This year, in addition to established stars, we are also celebrating Dul%E9; Hill from ‘The West Wing,’ Hill Harper from ‘CSI: NY’ and Gary Dourdan from ‘CSI,'” among many others.”
Fox, which has been airing the Image Awards show in prime time since 1996, has its own reasons to celebrate. The program has seen an uptick in the number of participating advertisers in the past few years.
In addition, said Mitsy Wilson, senior VP of diversity development at Fox Entertainment Group, the network is proud to host the awards show, which over the years has honored much Fox programming.
“Our history as a network began with ethnic programming, with shows like ‘In Living Color,’ ‘Martin’ and ‘Roc,'” Ms. Wilson said. “And the Image Awards [program], which plays a very critical role in the celebration of people of color, complements our lineup in TV, film and cable production.”
The NAACP has been supporting the participation of African Americans in the entertainment industry and the unprejudiced depiction of black people on the screen since 1915, when it launched a nationwide protest against the showing of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” That film is still controversial for its blatant racism.
DaimlerChrysler, which has an automotive exclusivity in the first 30 minutes of the Image Awards, has been a sponsor since 1998, said David Rooney, director of marketing operations for Chrysler. “For us, it is important to maintain a presence with the NAACP and the African American audience,” he said. “This show is different than others in that though it acknowledges and congratulates, at the same time it is an inspirational and motivational program.”
This year’s ceremony should be as elegant as its venue, Mr. Bulluck said. With a brand-new set design by Bruce Ryan, the show will feature African motifs.
“On the surface it may look glamorous, but why it is important is the historical legacy behind it,” Mr. Bulluck said.