The Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards

Pivot Turns Peabody Ceremony Into Special TV - Sunday, June 1 at 9pm


Noel Holston - 5/23/2014
Pivot Turns Peabody Ceremony Into Special TV - Sunday, June 1 at 9pm

Pivot, a cable and online network, will be televising a condensed, impressionistic version of our May 19 Peabody Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 1, at 9 p.m. Less almost certainly will be more.

The Peabodys have been on TV before, broadcast by PBS and A&E respectively, most recently in 2003. But in those instances, what viewers saw on their home screens was the full event, a parade of previously announced winners making acceptance speeches.

Anybody who’s ever attended a Peabody ceremony can tell you that there’s a crackling excitement, a sort of breeder-reactor effect, in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom as recipients, who range from prime-time stars to local-station investigative reporters to international documentary makers, fully realize the magnitude of the honor and the heady company they’re in. They radiate pride and camaraderie.

But that’s if you’re in the room. To see all that on television, alas, is a little like playing the CD you bought at a nightclub and realizing that the sensational band you danced to last night is not quite the greatest music-machine since the Beatles.

Pivot hired Den of Thieves, a Los Angeles-based outfit that produces specials such as the Billboard Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards, to distill this year’s three-hour Peabody ceremony into a pithy, hour-long special that’s intended to convey the feel of the event as well as representative particulars.

Producer-director Jeff Roe and his cohorts are drawing on Atlanta ImageArts’ basic ceremony video, additional ballroom footage, post-acceptance speech interviews with recipients and Peabody-related feature material.

“I’ve worked on a ton of award shows,” Roe told me the day before the Peabody ceremony. “It presents an interesting challenge. We know who the winners are. It doesn’t have categories. It doesn’t have a lot of the things that are sort of the natural drama of award shows.”

In an effort to make the event more TV-friendly, Roe studied this year’s list of 46 Peabody recipients, looking for ways to divvy them up thematically. “What do they represent?” he asked. “Is this a story about race? Is this a story about women’s rights? What came to light is that there are these themes that run through all the awards.”

Thus there’s a grouping labeled “A Government Askew” that includes Questions of Influence, an investigation of political cronyism in Tennessee by Nashville’s WTVF-TV, and ABC’s Scandal.

A “Race and Place” module includes National Public Radio’s The Race Card Project, PBS’s The Central Park Five, and The Bridge, a FX drama about American and Mexican cops trying to work together to solve a cross-border murder.

A section on gender includes an Independent Lens documentary about rape in the U.S. military, a viral video titled A Needed Response that makes a terse, undeniable point about sexual assault, and Burka Avenger, a Pakistani children’s series that turns a symbol of women’s oppression into a super-heroine’s mask.

The special covers almost half of the winners. Roe said he’s aiming to give viewers a taste of the full diversity of the honorees, a typically eclectic Peabody list that includes Breaking Bad and BBC World News coverage of the Syrian civil war, the Comedy Central satirical series Key & Peele and A Short History of the Highrise, an interactive online documentary that could also be called the multistory story.

In some instances, the footage of ceremony emcee Ira Glass announcing the recipients and their taking the stage to say their thank-you’s will be intercut with show clips and comments from the program creators’ post-acceptance interviews.

Such interviews are a longstanding Peabody tradition. You can see some from years past now on the Peabody website.

“What we want to do is do these in a little more depth, learn more about the projects from the mouths of the filmmakers,” Roe said. “Maybe we get to hear about the politics behind it or what the inspiration came from or something of that nature. In a way, to me, it’s like making a documentary. “

Along with extra cameras in the ballroom and the interview rooms, Roe had videographers roaming receptions that precede and follow the ceremony. “That’s the great thing about the Peabodys,” Roe said. “You get combinations of people that you wouldn’t get at any other award show. You might get some blogger standing next to the biggest star in the world, and they’re chatting each other up. They’re on the same playing field. And that’s awesome.”

To learn where you can see The 73rd Peabody Awards on Pivot, go to http://find.pivot.tv/.

Tweet along with us during the special @Peabody_Awards or @Pivot_TV using the hashtag #MediaThatMatters.