The winners of the George Foster Peabody Awards were announced Wednesday morning, and among the entertainment winners are "Game of Thrones," "Parks and Recreation," "Homeland," "Portlandia," "The Colbert Report" and "Treme."
In the television news and documentary categories, Al Jazeera English, NPR and CNN all won Peabodys for their coverage of the Arab Spring, and two Japanese networks won for their coverage of the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.
The Peabody Awards honor excellence in all electronic media, and in the program's 71st year, 38 awards were handed out. Those winners range from Web sites such as TED.com and Human Rights Watch to ongoing programs like American Masters to the radio series StoryCorps to long-running shows like "Austin City Limits" and "Jeopardy!" See a full list of winners is below.
I am fortunate enough to be one of the 16 Peabody board members, and it's been an honor and a great pleasure to spend much of the last two months reviewing submissions and meeting with the rest of the board to discuss and debate the merits of the hundreds of worthy television programs, radio shows and Web sites. I am very pleased with the list of winners the board came up with.
As explained on the Peabody site, each winner must receive a unanimous vote from the entire board. And as you can see from the list below, entertainment programs are just one of the categories that the Peabody board considers. I think the fact that more than a dozen people with disparate tastes and interests found all these programs worthy of commendation speaks to the extraordinary quality of all 38 winners.
Without further ado, here is the complete list of Peabody Award winners and where to find them. (I've appended a few personal comments about some of the winners.)
"The Untold Stories of the Tsunami in Japan," Fuji Television, Japan
Peabody writeup: Detailed, thorough and heart-stopping, this reliving of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster painstakingly combines familiar and unseen video, expert commentary and interviews with survivors.
"Operation Deep Freeze," WEWS-TV, Cleveland
Peabody writeup: This investigation of Navy personnel unwittingly exposed to radiation at an Antarctica base sparked public hearings by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Their Crime, Your Dime," KING-TV, Seattle
Peabody writeup: KING’s investigation of food stamp and welfare scams prompted Washington’s state legislature to fund a $5 million fraud-prevention squad.
"Toxic Secrets," CBS 5, KPHO-TV, Phoenix
Peabody writeup: A dying veteran’s confession sparked this powerful account of secretly buried drums of Agent Orange on a South Korean U.S. Army base. Reporter Tammy Leitner traveled to Korea and examined the chemical’s effects on Korean kids and U.S. military personnel.
Mo comments: The three local news reports above were thorough, wide-ranging, well-paced and, at times, shocking. They were terrific examples of an array of wonderful local news reporting that not only went above and beyond the call of duty but reminded us of how much solid work is being done by local broadcast outlets.
Brian Ross Investigates: "Peace Corps - A Trust Betrayed," ABC News
Peabody writeup: Looking into the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Ross’ team made stunning discoveries of sexual assaults and official cover-ups. The result was a Congressional investigation of the iconic humanitarian program.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," CNN:
Peabody writeup: Zakaria applies his interviewing and analytical skills to impressive effect in his prime-time special devoted to America’s education quandary and in his measured, insightful ruminations on Iran.
Mo comments: "GPS" wins for two wonderfully explanatory and informative programs, "Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education" and "Interpretation and Commentary on Iran." Zakaria brings insight, knowledge and a delightfully puckish wit to subjects that often bog down more heavy-handed commentators.
"Reporting on the Arab Spring," CNN
Peabody writeup: "With seasoned correspondents already stationed throughout the Middle East, CNN was prepared when revolution began to leap like wildfire across the region."
"CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley: Inside Syria"
Peabody writeup: With a small, disguised camera and no crew, CBS correspondent Clarissa Ward entered Syria posing as a tourist. Her courageous, undercover reporting gave viewers a rare, close-up glimpse of a country falling toward civil war.
Mo comments: At great personal risk, CBS reporter Clarissa Ward traveled into Syria to do outstanding reporting on the uprising there.
"Desert Underwater," KLAS-TV, Las Vegas
Peabody writeup: The station used a sharply detailed series of reports and a prime-time special to explain how Las Vegas came to take such a crushing hit when the housing bubble burst. The excellent online data base still helps foreclosure-threatened homeowners.
Mo comments: The housing crisis, which deeply and disastrously affected the economy of Las Vegas, isn't necessarily the easiest topic to explain, but this Las Vegas station came up with a thorough, intelligent and easy-to-follow explanation of exactly what went wrong.
Coverage of the Arab Awakening, Al Jazeera English
Peabody writeup: From December 2010, when protests erupted in Tunisia, through 201, Al Jazeera was a network of record for millions of viewers throughout the world. On-the-ground reporting was thorough, enterprising and brave.
Mo comments: From Bahrain to Egypt to Libya, Al Jazeera's grippig coverage of the Arab Spring was essential viewing (and could be seen not only on the network itself but via a live feed that was made available online).
Peabody writeup: A funhouse mirror reflection of Portland, Oregon, a city that takes its progressivism – and its diet – very seriously. The satire is fresh, organic and, yes, cage-free.
Mo comments: A knowing satire of everything hipsters and urbanites cherish, "Portlandia" manages to retain some affection for the things it sends up, whether they are organically raised food purveyors, hypersensitive bookstore owners, put-a-bird-on-it craft enthusiasts or goofily enthusiastic public officials. Watch some Season 1 highlights here.
Peabody writeup: This serial drama from Showtime is a game of cat and mouse, a psychological thriller and a Rorschach test of post-9/11 doubts, fears and suspicions rolled into one.
Mo comments: This acclaimed drama made a lasting impression by being both a tense espionage thriller and a surprisingly complex and compassionate psychological drama.
"The Colbert Report," Comedy Central:
Peabody writeup: Launching his own SuperPAC as a satirical protest against megabucks politics, Colbert mixed cerebral comedy with inspired sight gags, interviews and preposterously funny monologues.
Mo comments: "The Colbert Report" wins a Peabody Award for several 2011 episodes that focus on the creation of his Colbert SuperPAC, a vehicle he has used to wittily and yet thoroughly expose the darker and scarier corners of campaign finance. If nothing else, winning a second Peabody will allow Colbert to once again celebrate the "Turducken of awards."
Peabody writeup: TV quiz shows for $500, please. “Encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge is this Peabody Award winner’s legacy.” Buzzzzz. “What is Jeopardy!?” Correct.
Mo comments: For 28 seasons and 6,000 episodes, "Jeopardy!" has been one of television's most respected and enduring institutions, and Alex Trebek's 2011 encounter with a computer named Watson was a memorable instance of the hard-working show raising its game.
"Parks and Recreation," NBC
Peabody writeup: This shrewd, good-natured comedy about parks department staff in Pawnee, Indiana, never condescends or caricatures. Instead it confronts the characters with problems from the trivial to the serious.
Mo comments: This sterling NBC comedy isn't just funny and tremendously well-acted, it's got a point to make: People who don't necessarily agree with each other (and may not even like each other) can work together to do good things for their friends and their community. In an age in which cynicism about politics is fashionable and the political discourse is often toxic, "Parks and Recreation" is a smart, entertaining and ultimately hopeful story about believing in something and, despite one's personal flaws and foibles, attempting to do something positive with those beliefs.
"Game of Thrones," HBO
Peabody writeup: Adapted from dark-age fantasy books by George R.R. Martin, the series immerses viewers in a multilayered, distinctly imagined world of mysticism and earthiness, fidelity and deceit, wonder and mayhem.
Mo comments: A dense, compelling saga of intrigue and survival in an unsettled kingdom, "Game of Thrones" examines themes of loyalty, family and ambition against an epic backdrop. Just as a previous Peabody winner, "Battlestar Galactica" ably transcended the "science fiction" label, "Game of Thrones" is more than just a "fantasy" drama; it's a deeply relatable story about flawed, complex people trying to figure out the right course of action in a world that is crumbling around them.
Peabody writeup: The storylines snake and swoop like an unhurried jazz jam in this rich drama in which everyday people get on with life in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Mo comments: A tapestry of life in New Orleans, this drama draws viewers to not just the lives of the residents but to the city's vibrant musical and culinary culture.
"Austin City Limits," KLRU-TV, PBS
Peabody writeup: Austin City Limits receives a rare Institutional Peabody Award. Thirty-seven seasons on air make it the world’s longest running live music television program. Concerts by the likes of Coldplay, Widespread Panic and Randy Newman made 2011 a banner year for the Lone Star State’s music showcase.
Peabody writeup: By turns poignant and exhilarating, this documentary appraises the impact of the 9/11 attacks on five individuals. Their stories illuminate movement from anger and grief to hope, purpose and renewed spirit.
Mo comments: Over a 10-year period, this sensitive documentary followed the lives of those deeply and personally affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Somalia: Land of Anarchy," BBC, U.K.
Peabody writeup: Six years after his producer was gunned down in Somalia, a BBC reporter returns to provide the world with an unflinching look at life in a failed state.
"Surviving the Tsunami," NHK, Japan
Peabody writeup: Combining its own archival footage with video shot by ordinary citizens, this documentary meticulously examines what happened the day the monster wave hit and what Japan’s people and leaders can learn from it.
"Charles and Ray Eames - The Architect and the Painter," American Masters, Thirteen/WNET/PBS
Peabody writeup: This fascinating and visually inventive biography demonstrates that the mid-century “modern” furniture for which the Eameses are best remembered represents merely a fraction of their ingenious and influential design work.
Mo comments: A sprightly, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the lives and collaboration of two of America's foremost designers.
"News Magazine," TVB Jade Channel, Hong Kong:
Peabody writeup: The Hong Kong-based magazine series excelled on two reports, one dealing with the spurious and plagiarized academic publications and dissertations, the other with unjust arrests and prosecutions.
Mo comments: This Hong Kong news program wins for two tenacious, in-depth reports, "People's Republic of Cheating," which examined rampant cheating and plagiarism among Chinese academics, and "Misjudged Cases," a well-constructed expose of the legal system.
"Who Killed Chea Vichea?," ITVS, KBDI Denver
Peabody writeup: This investigative documentary, produced on a shoestring budget, covers the 2004 assassination of a Cambodian trade union leader and exposes corruption in one of the world’s top exporters of low-cost clothing.
"My Perestroika," POV, PBS
Peabody writeup: Russia’s past, present and possible future are revealed in nuanced detail by this beautifully constructed film about five schoolmates, now adults, who lived through that country’s difficult transition from communism.
"Bhutto," Independent Lens, PBS
Peabody writeup: In this documentary, former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto’s life story unfolded like an epic novel, with a fairy tale beginning, a martyr’s death and years of social awakening and political courage in between.
Mo comments: A fascinating and fabulously crafted documentary about Pakistan's Shakespearean Bhutto clan.
"Earth Made of Glass," HBO
Peabody writeup: This moving documentary explores how Rwanda is dealing with its horrific legacy of genocide. Both the country’s president and an ordinary survivor offer personal perspectives.
"A Year in the Clouds," PTS, Taiwan
Peabody writeup: Beautifully photographed, the film records a year among indigenous Taiwanese mountain people who rely on eco-tourism and shared ownership of land and property to support their communal way of life.
American Experience, PBS
Peabody writeup: Three exceptional documentaries – "Triangle Fire," "Freedom Riders" and "Stonewall Uprising" – are recognized this year under the banner of this grand American history anthology.
Mo comments: This venerable PBS franchise wins a Peabody for three stellar examinations of important historical events. "Freedom Riders" tells the story of the brave men and women who, at great personal risk, worked to desegregate the transportation systems of the Deep South in the early '60s (and it's viewable in its entirety here); "Triangle Fire" chronicled the story of the 1911 garment-factory fire that changed the course of American history; and "Stonewall Uprising" expertly gave context to the infamous bar raid that helped bring about to the modern gay-rights movement. They're all well worth your time.
Peabody writeup: The star-studded, televised tribute is the culmination of a year-long effort to identify and reward 10 people from around the world who’ve made truly significant differences in the lives of others.
"Intersexions: Full Circle," SABC 1, South Africa
Peabody writeup: Aimed at stemming South Africa’s AIDS epidemic, "Intersexions" is public service as educational serial entertainment. The HIV virus itself plays a role as a seductive voice in this well-acted, candidly written program focused mostly on young, restless, high-risk adults.
Mo comments: A clever, juicy soap opera that actually served as an effective educational tool about HIV.
"Arab Spring from Egypt to Libya," NPR
Peabody writeup: Eloquently describing events or passing her microphone to everyday protesters or regime supporters, NPR foreign correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro provided exemplary coverage throughout the Middle East.
"Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families," NPR
Peabody writeup: This three-part report detailed how cultural bias and possible financial gain led North Dakota and 32 other states to ignore federal law barring the separation of Native American children from their families or tribes.
Mo comments: NPR's thorough and thoughtful reporting found that, despite a Federal law that says that, if at all possible, Native American children should not be separated from their families or tribes, every year, hundreds are removed from their homes and sent to live with non-Native foster families, even if the children's own relatives have offered to look after them. In this three-part series, NPR uncovered the troubling financial arrangements that appear to give the state of South Dakota (one of 32 states found to be in violation of the law regarding Native American children) an incentive to place the children in group homes or foster care.
"StoryCorps 9/11," NPR
Peabody writeup: The oral history project’s powerful response to the 9/11 anniversary presented authorized excerpts from interviews with survivors and victims’ relatives as well as YouTube postings of short animated features inspired by their remembrances.
Peabody writeup: "An outgrowth of a 1984 conference that brought together leaders in technology, entertainment and design (TED), the site makes creative thinkers and their ideas available everywhere, anytime."
Mo comments: An invaluable online compendium of hundreds of famous (and less famous but no less interesting) TED talks.
Global Post, "On Location"
Peabody writeup: Focused on news and events neglected or ignored by other media outlets, the site’s growing cadre of writers and videographers posted video reports from 34 different countries in 2011.
Peabody writeup: With access to more than 2,000 journalists and the BBC’s 72 overseas news bureaus, the site is uniquely situated to provide immediate, evolving coverage of news events great and small.
Human Rights Watch
Peabody writeup: These arresting, detailed online reports (Acting Up: Russia’s Civil Society and
Gold’s Costly Dividend: The Porgera Joint Venture) combine photography, video, interviews and written analysis. One documents Russian dissidents, the other the abuse of inhabitants of a remote part of Papua New Guinea by mine security personnel.
Mo comments: This invaluable watchdog wins for two reports that expose serious social problems and enlighten in thoughtful and intelligent ways.