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And the Peabody Awards Go to...
April 1, 2013  | By Noel Holston  | 5 comments

What do Lena Dunham, Lorne Michaels, Sarah Palin and Vladimir Putin have in common?

No, not megalomania. Interesting guess, but wrong. Dead wrong. Each was in fact involved with a winner of the 72nd annual George Foster Peabody Awards, either as subject or creative force.

The list of 2012 programs picked for Peabody recognition on Wednesday, March 27, totaled 39 and included everything from a documentary about Tibetan nomads to Dunham’s HBO wildlife series Girls to a minimalist Japanese series that teaches the art of design to kids.

The ceremony at which the Peabody statuettes will actually be handed out will be staged May 20 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. If we’re lucky — and I say “we” because I moonlight as a publicist, writer and event-stager for the Peabodys when I’m not working on my memoirs or playing senior-league basketball — a lot of celebrities associated with winners will show up. That group could include all the aforementioned — well, maybe not Putin or Palin —  plus Louis C.K., D.L. Hughley, Diane Sawyer, Julianne Moore, Robin Roberts, the casts of Southland and Switched at Birth and more.

For a full measure of what won this time around — and a look at what a huge range of excellent programming the world of electronic media entails — here are the initial descriptive citations I prepared, inspired by the comments and deliberations of our feisty, free-thinking 16-member board.

In no particular order:

Doctor Who (BBC America)

The BBC Cymru Wales

Seemingly immortal, 50-years-old and still running, this engaging, imaginative sci-fi/fantasy series is awarded an Institutional Peabody for evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe.

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (documentary channel hd)

JUF PICTURES, INC, documentary channel, Canada

A fascinating exploration of the mentality of war-zone reporters and the toll their dangerous, chosen work can have on them.

Why Poverty?

Steps International

Televised by 69 networks around the world, including PBS, DR (Denmark), TVP (Poland) and ZBC (Zimbabwe), this collection of eight films, each distinctive in tone and style, gives us parallax views of poverty today and through the ages.

Michael Apted’s Up Series (ITV 1)

ITV Studios

Originally conceived to illustrate class immobility, the series that revisits the same group of British citizens every seven years, most recently in 56 Up, has long since become more personal than political. Notable for its creator’s patience and its subjects’ humanity, the Up series receives an Institutional Peabody.

Putin, Russia & The West (BBC2 UK)

Brook Lapping Productions, National Geographic Channel US

How a former KGB spy made himself the Czar in the Grey Flannel Suit — and what his reign has meant for the United States and Europe — is detailed in this monumental four-part documentary.

Independent Lens: Summer Pasture (PBS)

True-Walker Productions, Independent Television Service

A rare account of Tibet from the inside, this unhurried, quietly powerful film focuses on one nomadic family and through them illuminates an entire culture’s struggle with nature’s hardships and China’s oppression.

Louie (FX)

Pig Newton, Inc., FX Productions

Louis C.K.’s self-reflective, shape-shifting series about a single, show-biz dad is daring and endearing, scandalous and sensitive, a milestone of comedic reach and candor.

MLK: The Assassination Tapes (Smithsonian Channel)

1895 FILMS for Smithsonian Channel

Painstakingly configured from rare footage collected at the University of Memphis in 1968, the documentary relives the events leading up to the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s and its aftermath.

Reel Time: Salat (Bone Dry) (GMA News TV)
GMA Network, Inc. (GMA News TV)
This unflinching portrait of a widow with six mouths to feed personifies a brutal statistic: two out of 10 Filipino children are malnourished.

Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighborhood (Al Jazeera)

Al Jazeera, Just Vision

A Palestinian teenager whose family is evicted from an East Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers finds unexpected allies in this honest, hopeful documentary.

The Loving Story (HBO)

Augusta Films and HBO Documentary Films with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities

A fresh, poignant reconsideration of the now almost unthinkable arrest and prosecution of Richard and Mildred Loving in 1958 for the “crime” of interracial marriage.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished (Channel 4, UK)


Combining amateur film and “trophy” videos with the results of a three-year reporting effort, the filmmakers document the civilian death toll — as high as 40,000 — of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Robin’s Journey (ABC)

ABC News

By allowing her network to document and build a public service campaign around her battle with rare disease, Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts inspired hundreds of potential bone marrow donors to register and heightened awareness of the need for even more donors.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (HBO)

Show of Force, Mudpuppy Films and HBO Documentary Films

Like the “godmother of performance art” herself, this film about Abramovic and her Museum of Modern Art retrospective is performative, challenging and provocative.

Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile (ITV1)

ITV Studios


Exposure: Banaz: An Honour Killing (ITV)

Hardcash Productions/Fuuse Films

A hard-hitting pair of ITV films examines two different cultural horrors in Great Britain, the first the predatory sexual perversity of beloved TV icon, the second the murder of an independent-minded Kurdish-British girl by her own family.

Ford Escape: Exposing a Deadly Defect (KNXV-TV, Phoenix)

KNXV-TV/ABC 15 News, E.W. Scripps Company

Investigating a teenager’s car-crash death, KNXV’s five-month investigation revealed an acceleration problem that inspired a federal inquiry and the recall of more than 700,000 SUVs.

Deception at Duke (CBS)

CBS News, 60 Minutes

This meticulous 60 Minutes report documented the failure and possible fraud behind a much ballyhooed experimental cancer treatment by a Duke University doctor.

Superstorm Sandy (ABC)

ABC News

ABC’s exemplary coverage of the monster storm was enabled by the 20-20 foresight with which it deployed its journalistic resources, including embedding a reporting team with a family in Breezy Point, New York.

Investigating the IRS (WTHR-TV)

WTHR-TV, Indianapolis

WTHR’s station’s stunning investigation exposed not only how illegal immigrants were bilking billions in tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service but also how the IRS had known of the scamming and failed to stop it.

Joy in the Congo (CBS)

CBS News, 60 Minutes

This beautiful, inspirational report about Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, a Congolese orchestra and chorale with 200 members, sounded a note of hope for a war-ravaged nation.

Game Change (HBO)

Playtone Productions and Everyman Pictures in association with HBO Films

A behind-the-scenes account of what happened after John McCain picked Alaska’s charismatic, combative governor to be his running mate, it’s a story worthy of Euripides and Robert Ripley.

Investigating the Fire (KMGH-TV)

KMGH-TV, Denver

After a controlled burn by the Colorado State Forest Service turned deadly, KMGH reporters uncovered mistakes and miscommunication that resulted in legislative changes that will compensate the victims and guard against future tragedies.

D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List (Comedy Central)

Comedy Central, Five Timz Productions

In this provocative satirical documentary, the comedian goes on a crusade to get American black men the same EPA protections afforded snail darters.

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)


Covering 2012 stories as diverse as fan-on-fan violence, NFL painkiller abuse and the lethal hazing of a Florida A&M drum major, Gumbel’s show continued to be one of TV’s finest news magazines, period.

Rapido y Furioso (Fast &Furious) (Univision)

Univision Network

The scope and human impact of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ infamous, ill- conceived gun-tracking program was enlarged and made clearer by the Mexican perspective of Univsion’s exhaustive reporting.

Breaking News: Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School (WVIT-TV)

WVIT-TV, West Hartford, CT

The first TV-news outlet to report the horrendous shooting spree at Sandy Hook, WVIT broadcast careful, comprehensive coverage that informed not only its own audience but viewers around the country.

CNN’s Coverage Inside Syria & Homs 2012 (CNN)


As political unrest in Syria disintegrated in civil war, CNN’s news teams provided unmatched eyewitness documentation, analysis and context.

Southland (TNT)

John Wells Production in association with Warner Bros Television

Shot on location in Los Angeles neighborhoods both posh and blighted, focusing on characters whose personalities have become more nuanced by the season, it’s a gritty, weekly ride-along, as convincing as cop drama gets.

Switched at Birth (ABC Family)

Prodco, Inc. in association with ABC Family

What could be a reality-show premise — two families discovering their teenage daughters, one of whom is deaf, were switched at birth — is explored with honesty, imagination and humor in this superior family series.

Girls (HBO)

Aptow Prod and I am Jenni Konner Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

Creator/star Lena Dunham’s singular, decidedly unglamorous take on sex and the single girl and the city reverberates with anxiety, angst, insight and rueful humor.

Syria 2012 (NPR)


Finding ways to get deep into Syria even after their official visas were revoked, NPR’s Kelly McEvers and Deborah Amos delivered detailed reportage, often from dangerous locations.

Teen Contender (NPR’s All Things Considered)

Radio Diaries

Vivid in its personal insights and ambient sound, this engaging radio diary documented the quest of 16-year-old Claressa Shields to box for the U.S. team in the 2012 Olympics.

This American Life: What Happened at Dos Erres (WBEZ Radio)

WBEZ’s This American Life, Pro Publica, Fundacion MEPI

Though this masterful documentary illuminates a larger event, a Guatemalan civil-war massacre, its dramatic heart is the astounding story of a child survivor of the 1982 atrocity who learns the man he believed to be his father had in fact been commander of the military unit that wiped out most of his village.

Inside the National Recording Registry (WNYC/Public Radio International)

Media Mechanics, The Library of Congress

These are marvelous micro-documentaries, each one presenting a registry inductee — Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” score, for instance, or Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” — and describing how and why it was chosen.

The Leonard Lopate Show (WNYC FM & AM)

WNYC Radio

Lopate presides over New York’s most revered radio forum for exploring the arts, cultural affairs and the public life of the city.

SCOTUSblog (SCOTUSblog.com)


News, calendars, live updates, commentary — the website provides everything you ever wanted to know about the U.S. Supreme Court and its cases but didn’t know where to look.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (www.nytimes.com)

The New York Times

A spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling, the website combines thorough traditional reporting of a deadly avalanche with stunning topographic video.

Design Ah! (NHK Educational Channel)

NHK Educational Corporation for NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation)

Celebrating the joy of design, this minimalist, all but wordless series aims to help children perceive objects and ideas from different perspectives.

Lorne Michaels

A rare Individual Peabody goes Lorne Michaels because he’s the patron saint of satirical television comedy and, as one of his old co-conspirators would say, you’re not.

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