By Natalie Finn
Special to TelevisionWeek
ABC leads all the networks in nominations for the 37th NAACP Image Awards, which will honor achievements in television, film, music, literature and, for the first time, directing. The awards ceremony is set to air Friday, March 3, on Fox.
ABC received 23 nominations (up from 10 last year), including four for “Grey’s Anatomy” (which had the most nods for a drama series) and four for the original movie “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films.
UPN scored 15 nominations, including outstanding comedy series nods for “Girlfriends,” “Half & Half” and newcomer “Everybody Hates Chris.” CBS follows with 13 and HBO with 12. The seven nods for HBO’s original film “Lackawanna Blues” make it the most-nominated TV program.
“We’re thrilled,” said ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson. “It’s so great for the people who work so hard on these shows and are involved at every level. I think it’s a testament to hard work and initiative that has happened over many years. It’s certainly been a goal of ours to reflect the society that we live in in our programming and be a broadcast network in the truest sense of the word.”
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim garnered the network’s first-ever Image Award nomination with “The Boondocks,” an entry for Outstanding Comedy Series.
More than 1,200 entries were submitted, and a 300-person committee of industry professionals and NAACP leaders whittled that down to five nominees in each of 38 categories. NAACP members vote on the final selections and the winners will be announced during the show’s Feb. 25 taping at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Musician Carlos Santana will perform and receive this year’s Hall of Fame Award, a choice that emphasizes the NAACP’s commitment to recognizing outstanding contributions of people of all colors.
“Even though a lot of people think the organization and the show are maybe from an African American perspective, that doesn’t mean it’s not inclusive of other minorities,” said Image Awards executive producer Vicangelo Bulluck. This is Mr. Bulluck’s fourth year in the role.
“Carlos Santana is a visionary artist whose work has inspired and motivated people of all races and cultures,” NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon said in a statement. “We are honored that he is joining us to celebrate his remarkable life and accomplishments.”
Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. is hosting the event, which ran for eight years in “Saturday Night Live’s” spot on NBC before coming to Fox in 1996. The theme for the evening is “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Acts.”
DaimlerChrysler, a sponsor since 1998, is back on board as a top-level contributor, joined by FedEx, Verizon, American Airlines and others. “You’ve got a core group that believes in what the NAACP stands for and in the work they’ve been doing over the years,” said Mitsy Wilson, senior VP of diversity development for Fox Entertainment Group. “They really want to support the effort and the fact that they’re committed to diversity within their own organizations.”
In 1999 the NAACP held the Television Diversity Hearings, during which actors, writers, union and guild representatives and other industry professionals testified before a multicultural panel about hiring, programming and minority discrimination at the four major networks. In January 2000, NBC signed an agreement with the NAACP promising to promote diversity in hiring and programming, increase internship opportunities for minority students and increase its spending from minority-owned businesses. Within weeks, ABC, CBS and Fox reached similar agreements.
“We’ve had a very good creative relationship with Fox,” Mr. Bulluck said. “They brought us into prime time and the show continues to grow-artistically, in stature and in viewership.”
The Image Awards, which over the years have become one of Fox’s signature variety shows, have also served as a launch pad for the network to expand its own community outreach and diversity development programs. For the fourth year in a row, Fox is inviting 120 Los Angeles-area high school students to attend the awards show. The students are participants in the Fox Academy, a monthly workshop held at 15 schools to provide mentoring in education and life skills.
This week, “24” star Dennis Haysbert, a nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, will meet with college-level broadcast and drama students to discuss the experiences and challenges he has faced as a black actor. While Fox considers this event to be another lead-up to its Image Awards telecast, it is also linked to the network’s recognition of Black History Month.
Because it is taped in February, the show is a natural showcase event for Fox to recognize the achievements of black artists, but network executives do not want it to be viewed as an event that runs only because it is Black History Month. “We do not look at February and say we need to run special programs,” Ms. Wilson said. “If we are actually going to embrace diversity in all of its aspects, we can’t leave it to just this month.”
However, she also reiterated how exciting it can be when “community members, politicians, actors, writers and directors from all walks of life” come together for an event like the Image Awards during a special time of the year.
“It’s the premiere show that focuses on the achievements and accomplishments of people of color,” she said. “While there may be a predominance of African Americans, the audience will really be a rainbow.”
37th NAACP Image Awards
Where: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
When: Saturday, Feb. 25
Telecast: Friday, March 3, on Fox