Almost every acceptance speech at Thursday’s inaugural Television Academy Honors dinner started with a statistic: The rise of HIV infection among teenagers; the number of severely wounded soldiers returning from Iraq; the rate of cancer in people under 40; the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among the elderly.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ newest kudo (not to be confused with a new Emmy category) aims to honor “television with a conscience.” Thursday’s gathering at the Beverly Hills Hotel was all about achieving lofty goals and using the electronic soapbox of educate, enlighten, motivate and inform — but the event itself managed to stay low-key, not too starchy and like a well-produced television program, breezy. (Dinner at 7, program at 8 and we were grabbing the goodie bags by 9:20. Event producer Phil Gurin deserves a kudo for that.)
TV Academy Honors was the brainchild of ATAS chairman and CEO John Shaffner (pictured in center above with recipients David E. Kelley and Dick Wolf), who explained at the start that he felt it was important for the org that recognizes television excellence via the Emmys to also “honor programs for their humanity and their conscience.” Event’s debut ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Ronnie Lippin, publicist and wife of longtime ATAS publicity rep Dick Lippin. Ronnie Lippin died of breast cancer last year; the TV Acad Honors idea began as an effort to pay tribute to Ronnie Lippin and her work on behalf of numerous charitable causes.
Inaugural kudos, selected by a 22-member committee co-chaired by Shaffner, went to Discovery-BBC’s “Planet Earth”; HBO’s “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq”; ABC’s “Boston Legal”; Lifetime telepic “Girl, Positive” and series “Side Order of Life”; CNN’s “God’s Warriors”; “Law & Order: SVU” seg “Harm”; Hallmark Hall of Fame/CBS’ “Pictures of Hollis Woods”; and Showtime docu “Shame.”
The standing ovation of the night went to the half-dozen servicemen and women in the crowd in connection with “Alive Day Memories.” Exec producer Dawn Halfaker (pictured at podium), an Army First Lieutenant who lost an arm during her service in Iraq, recalled being shocked when she was approached by HBO’s docu maven Sheila Nevins about getting involved with the project. “I didn’t think anyone would be interested in my story,” Halfaker said. “I’m just a soldier.”