Announcement from the Peabody Awards, April 23, 2015 (Noel Holston):
An out-of-sight biography of James Brown and an out-of-this-world tour of the heavens were among the diverse documentary, education and public service winners of the 74th annual Peabody Awards announced Thursday by the Peabody program at the University of Georgia. Adventure Time, a surreal cartoon series that enthralls teens and adults as well as kids, and the gentle, educational Doc McStuffins, aimed at a much younger audience, were also honored.
The Peabody Board of Judges cited HBO’s Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown for its revealing portrait of the famous but enigmatic soul-music pioneer and COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey, shown by the National Geographic Channel and FOX, for its dazzling virtual tour of the final frontier and its energetic evangelizing for science.
The Judges also cited United States of Secrets, a deeply researched “FRONTLINE” documentary about the alarming growth of government surveillance at home and abroad since 9/11; Human Harvest: China’s Illegal Organ Trade, a chilling investigation by Flying Cloud Productions that implicates the Chinese government in the murder of political prisoners to meet the demand for transplantable organs; Brakeless, a cautionary film from “Independent Lens” about a train crash and our obsession with going ever faster; and Freedom Summer, an “American Experience” remembrance of a pivotal Civil Rights campaign: the life-risking voter-registration expedition to Mississippi in 1964.
Other documentary winners included Children on the Frontline, a portrait from Britain’s ITN Productions of Syrian children coping with wartime chaos and danger; Virunga, a Netflix documentary about Congolese game-keepers trying to save gorillas from war, poachers and corporate exploitation; and The Newburgh Sting, an HBO documentary about four New Jersey men enticed into a terrorist plot by an FBI informant.
The documentary list also includes American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, a “POV” film of a remarkable Chinese-American human-rights activist; and Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa, a thoughtful portrait of an inspirational anti-apartheid activist.
Public service honorees included the BBC World Service’s invaluable, multi-platform conveyance of news and information about the Ebola outbreak, directed as much toward preventing the deadly virus’ spread in Africa as informing western listeners; and Entre el Abandono y el Rechazo (Between Abandonment and Rejection), Univision’s thorough and timely reporting about the thousands of unaccompanied Latin American children seeking asylum in the U.S.
Disney Junior’s preschooler series, Doc McStuffins, was cited for its disarming, inspiring storytelling about a female, African-American doctor’s daughter who “treats” other kids’ broken toys, while Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time was praised for its uniquely imagined, truly odd fantasy world and for stories about exploration and adventure to help kids work through their anxieties about growing up and maturing.
As previously announced, Individual and Institutional Peabodys are respectively going to Sir David Attenborough, the renowned British nature documentarian, and Afropop Worldwide, a long-running public-radio series devoted to the diasporic music of Africa.
The entertainment winners for the calendar year 2014 are The Americans, Black Mirror, Fargo, The Honorable Woman, Inside Amy Schumer, Jane the Virgin, The Knick, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Rectify.
News, radio and podcast winners for 2014 are KVUE-TV’s The Cost of Troubled Minds, VICE News’ The Islamic State and Last Chance High, Scripps Washington Bureau’s Under the Radar, CNN’s coverage of the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls and its exposé of deep systemic malfunction at Veterans Administration hospitals, and NBC/MSNBC’s continuing coverage of ISIS.
Other winners included the podcast miniseries Serial, Latino USA’s Gangs, Murder, and Migration from Honduras, WNYC Radio’s 60 Words and Chris Christie, White House Ambitions and the Abuse of Power, Minnesota Public Radio’s Betrayed by Silence, NPR’s Reporting from the Frontlines: The Ebola Outbreak, and WJCT Public Broadcasting’s State of the Re:Union.
All the winners of the 74th annual Peabodys will be presented with their awards on Sunday, May 31, at the first-ever nighttime, red-carpet Peabody ceremony. Fred Armisen, a Peabody winner for his work on Saturday Night Live and his series Portlandia, is set to host the gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. Pivot, Participant Media’s TV network, will premiere The 74th Annual Peabody Awards on Pivot, a 90-minute special on Sunday, June 21 at 9pm ET/8pm CT.
74th Annual Peabody Award Winners
American Experience: Freedom Summer (PBS)
With archival images, animation and fresh interviews, “Freedom Summer” recalls the voter-registration “freedom rides” of 1964, a campaign planned and trained for like a Civil Rights D-Day. The documentary is not only inspiring and instructive, it holds surprises even for those who believe they know this epochal American story.
Children on the Frontline (Channel 4)
This “Dispatches” documentary addresses one of the most tragic facets of the civil war in Syria, the impact on the country’s children. Yet by focusing on five kids who go on learning and playing amid the chaos and danger, it becomes a powerful testament to resilience and adaptability.
Human Harvest: China’s Illegal Organ Trade (International Syndication)
With powerful testimonials about the intricacies of the trade and the human cost, including interviews with Chinese doctors who confide they’ve been coerced into removing organs from live political prisoners, this is a harrowing exposé of a fiendish system of forced organ donor transplants.
Independent Lens: Brakeless (PBS)
A cautionary tale that vividly evokes a deadly, 2005 commuter-train crash in Japan as a metaphor to explore modern society’s relentless pursuit of speed and efficiency, it’s beautifully made and scored like a real-life thriller.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (HBO)
Alex Gibney’s biography of the hardest working man in show business gets up and gets on the scene, telling a fascinating story about race and culture and politics with amazing archival clips and interviews with musicians who worked with him.
The Newburgh Sting (HBO)
A powerful, fascinating documentary, it uses archival surveillance video and eloquent, emotional interviews to deconstruct and discredit the case against four Newburgh, New Jersey, men lured into a would-be terrorist plot by an FBI informant in 2009.
POV: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (PBS)
Engaging on multiple levels, the documentary surveys the life of a Chinese-American philosopher, writer and activist who devoted 75 years to the labor, civil rights, and black power movements. Now 98, with a grandmotherly smile, she’s a charismatic presence on camera and still a challenging thinker.
Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa (SABC 2, DStv, channel 190 / GOtv, channel 65)
Compelling and inspiring, this well-constructed documentary chronicles the life and times of a hero of the anti-apartheid movement who championed nonviolence even after he survived a car-bomb maiming.
United States of Secrets (PBS)
With extensive, candid interviews from both critics and defenders, FRONTLINE provided a great public service, revealing in clear, comprehensible detail how the U.S. government in its post-9/11 zeal came to monitor and collect the communications of millions of people around the world – and here at home – and the lengths to which officials have gone to hide the massive surveillance from the public.
An unusual but successful melding of investigative journalism and nature filmmaking, “Virunga” documents the work of courageous park rangers in the Congo to protect Africa’s mountain gorillas from war, poaching and industrial expansion.
COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey (National Geographic Channel, FOX)
An update of Carl Sagan’s famous series for the age of CGI, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “COSMOS” is not only an educational, eye-popping, near-psychedelic tour of our universe and beyond, it’s a passionate brief on behalf of science itself.
Ebola (BBC World Service)
An incredibly important and consequential response to a global crisis, this multi-pronged BBC World Service effort shrewdly employed a variety of platforms – Twitter, website and apps as well as radio – to keep Africans abreast of the epidemic’s advance and provide people the world over with reliable news.
Entre el Abandono y el Rechazo (Between Abandonment and Rejection) (Univision)
Reflecting the high level of public interest in abandoned children at the southern U.S. borders, Univision’s coverage provided multi-perspective context that’s often missing in mainstream media’s English-language reports. It skillfully combined an overview of the phenomenon while following one family whose child disappeared trying to cross the border.
Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
An animated amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and fairy tale, it chronicles the escapades of an odd-looking human boy named Finn and his best friend, a shape-shifting dog named Jake, in the surreal Land of Ooo. Purely and wonderfully imaginative in the manner of classic theatrical cartoons past, it entertains even as it subtly teaches lessons about growing up, accepting responsibility, and becoming who you’re meant to be.
Doc McStuffins (Disney Junior)
Charming, sweet and gently humorous, this animated series, featuring an African-American physician’s daughter who attends to damaged stuffed animals and other broken toys, allays children’s fears about doctor visits even as it promotes medicine as a profession.
Betrayed by Silence (MPR News)
This sobering investigative documentary took listeners inside the child sex-abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, uncovering among other things how the archbishop who headed of the committee that wrote the U.S. Catholic Church’s landmark abuse policy – the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – not only failed to follow it but participated in cover-ups.
Chris Christie, White House Ambitions and the Abuse of Power (WNYC Radio)
In a series of pithy news reports about the “Bridgegate” scandal, WNYC helped to link a disruptive bridge closure to a broader pattern of questionable political operations by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office. Its coverage sparked national news coverage, high-profile resignations in the Christie administration, and criminal investigations into the Port Authority.
The Cost of Troubled Minds (KVUE-TV)
Reporter Andy Pierrotti’s heavily-documented investigation of Texas’ mental-health care policies demonstrated that the state’s penny wisdom has been profoundly pound foolish. Cutbacks and indifference ending up costing taxpayers more.
CNN’s Coverage of Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls (CNN)
CNN approached the Boko Haram kidnapping horror from many angles, even moving Isha Sesay’s daily show to Abuja to raise the profile of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Sesay’s tough, live-TV interviewing, along with high-risk field reporting of Nima Elbagir, Arwa Damon and other CNN journalists, made the network’s coverage comprehensive and indispensable.
CNN Investigative Reports: Crisis at the VA (CNN)
High-impact journalism, CNN’s investigation into delays in care at Veteran Affairs hospitals exposed a systemic VA breakdown, eventually leading to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the passage of federal legislation, and a dramatic change in how veterans’ medical appointments are made, recorded and reported.
ISIS – Continuing Coverage (NBC, MSNBC)
Reports on NBC and MSNBC about the rise of ISIS had an unsurpassed depth, contextualization and clarity thanks in large part to NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, whose years of experience in the Middle East proved invaluable.
The Islamic State (VICE News)
Journalist Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks filming inside the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State, and his resulting VICE News reports are remarkably up-close and enlightening, sometimes surreal, sometimes terrifying.
Last Chance High (VICE News)
Students at Chicago’s idyllic-sounding Montefiore Therapeutic Day School are actually one mistake away from jail or a mental hospital. This dramatic series of web reports and podcasts delved sympathetically but unsentimentally into their lives, contextualizing their problems and giving them a chance to speak.
Latino USA: Gangs, Murder, and Migration in Honduras (NPR)
Vivid and scary, this hour-long report by Maria Hinojosa and “Latino USA” producer Marlon Bishop makes it clear why large numbers of Hondurans seek to escape the violence back home and enter the U.S.
Reporting From The Frontlines: The Ebola Outbreak (NPR)
NPR had a reporter in Guinea in early April, months before even world health officials understood the magnitude of the Ebola threat, and its coverage throughout 2014 was unsurpassed in scope and variety: insightful reports that didn’t feature just Western experts, but also doctors, nurses, government officials from the heart of where Ebola was breaking out.
An audio game-changer, this compelling, multi-episode podcast closely examined the evidence against an 18-year-old facing a life sentence for murder, illuminating disturbing flaws in the justice system along the way. The first unquestionably mainstream podcast, it has been downloaded nearly 60 million times.
60 Words (WNYC Radio)
A “Radiolab” collaboration with Buzzfeed reporter Gregory Johnsen, it takes a hard, disturbing look at the broad, malleable wording of the Authorization of Use of Military Force Act, approved by near-unanimous Congressional vote shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and how its interpretation has expanded military power and secrecy.
State of the Re:Union (NPR and PRX)
The great news about SOTRU is that it purveys good news–not soft, sugarcoated features but grassroots reporting that demonstrates how everyday people, both rural and urban, are figuring out ways to tackle their communities’ problems.
Under the Radar (Scripps Washington Bureau)
Mark Greenblatt’s outstanding, exhaustive investigative review of court martial cases uncovered more than 240 convicted rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders who have slipped through loopholes that allow them to stay off public sex-offender registries when they leave the brig and return to civilian life.
In this ingenious, addictive cliffhanger, Reagan-era Soviet spies – married with children and a seemingly endless supply of wigs – operate out of a lovely 3BR home in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Between their nail-biter missions (and sometimes in the midst of them), the series contemplates duty, honor, parental responsibility, fidelity, both nationalistic and marital, and what it means to be an American.
This cinematically arresting, brilliantly written series from England is an anthology of dark-side tales – dark as a black hole. If its narrative shocks don’t wreck your sleep pattern, its moral conundrums will.
Fargo, the series, boasts the same snow-swept backdrop and dark, deadpan ambience as the Oscar-winning movie but tells a different, more complicated story. Its villain, Billy Bob Thornton’s mischievous, murderous, charismatic Lorne Malvo, is a character worthy of Norse mythology.
The Honorable Woman
A visually rich, densely-plotted thriller set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it suggests complexities and age-old vendettas that often escape even the best documentaries, to say nothing of the evening news.
Inside Amy Schumer
Schumer’s wholesome, disarming “Brady Bunch” looks belie and enhance a comic intelligence that’s smart, distinctively female and amiably profane, whether she’s applying it to sketch comedy, stand-up, or person-on-the-street interviews.
Jane the Virgin
Immaculately conceived, it’s a smart, self-aware telenovela that knows when and how to wink at itself. Its Latina lead, Gina Rodriguez, is incandescent.
Graphic, gripping, unapologetically grisly when it has to be, this lavish historical drama masterfully dissects surgical experimentation, doctors’ egos, race relations and social mores in the New York City of 100 years ago. It gives new meaning to the term “operating theater.”
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
A most worthy addition to the news-as-comedy genre, Last Week Tonight doesn’t just satirize the previous week’s news, it engages in fresh, feisty investigative reports that “real” news programs would do well to emulate.
A powerful, subtle dramatic series about a death-row inmate released after nearly two decades thanks to new DNA evidence, it ponders whether what’s been lost can ever be repaid, not just to him but to everyone he and his alleged crimes touched.
Personal Award: Sir David Attenborough
No other living creature has shown us more about life on Earth than David Attenborough. He’s a credit to his species.
Institutional Award: Afropop Worldwide
Afropop Worldwide revels in and reveals the music Africa has inspired at home and around the globe. It’s cultural anthropology with beats you can dance to.