Fred Armisen to Host Revamped Peabody Awards

Fred Armison Peabody Awards Host
Kevork Djansezian/Getty

At age 74, the Peabody Awards are getting a facelift via innovations to boost their profile, including host Fred Armisen and a red-carpet televised ceremony on May 31.

“Armisen is not just a comedian but an inspired citizen whose singular take on life and politics exemplifies the Peabody mission to honor stories that matter,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, director of the George Foster Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia, said in a statement. Armisen — whose series “Portlandia” with Carrie Brownstein was a past Peabody honoree — earned praise when he and Kristen Bell hosted the Indie Spirit Awards Feb. 21 in Santa Monica.

The awards themselves will remain the same: saluting dozens of TV, radio and digital works for excellence in storytelling. But the Peabody style is changing, with winners announced in four stages over a two-week period (including a portion on “Good Morning America”), while the evening ceremony will be aired as a primetime special on Pivot.

“The changes better represent what the awards are and have been,” said Jones. Many think the awards salute public-affairs programming (i.e., dry, good-for-you fare). But Jones points out that a quarter of last year’s 46 winners were for entertainment properties; honorees of the past few years include “Breaking Bad,” Louis C.K., Key & Peele, “Scandal” and the Danish “Borgen.”

Under the new format, the first set of winners, for individual/institutional works, will be announced April 14. Entertainment winners will be revealed live on ABC’s “Good Morning America” April 16. Winners in news and radio will be named April 20, while honorees for documentary, Web/interactive, public service, education and children’s programming will be unveiled April 23.

The ceremony will be held May 31 at Cipriani Wall Street. Highlights of that evening will be incorporated into a 90-minute primetime special in June on Pivot, the TV network from Participant Media, that also will use clips of honorees and interviews with recipients. The ceremony and primetime special are being produced by Den of Thieves.

This marks the first network home for the Peabodys in more than a decade. The Peabodys’ previous TV presence on A&E and PBS consisted simply of ceremony broadcasts.

The awards, for calendar year 2014, are chosen by an 18-member board. There are no categories; the sole criteria for winning is excellence in storytelling. Jones said the number of honorees has inched up, with a record 46 last year, up from 39 two years ago; there were 1,175 submissions, slightly higher than the 1,100 last year. The increases reflect “the ever-expanding landscape of media, with new platforms, new producers and quality material,” said Jones. The Peabodys are increasingly international in scope as well.

The Peabodys, based at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, are the oldest in electronic media. They recognize work by radio and television stations, networks, webcasters, podcasters, producing organizations and individuals.

The awards were created in 1940, with the first ceremony held the following year. The luncheon format made sense, since most of the honorees were in radio, either news or public-affairs work, said Jones. This year’s changes reflect the higher profile of some of the honorees and of the awards themselves. The changes “better represent the ecumenical nature of the Peabodys,” says Jones, ranging from online documentaries, children’s shows, as well as dramatic and comedy shows, both domestic and abroad.

The choices are made by an 18-member Peabody board, a panel of television critics, industry workers and experts in culture and the arts. “We have face-to-face deliberations, with several meetings, and all the honorees are selected by unanimous choice,” says Jones. “We want people to understand this is not just another awards show. We’re honoring stories that invigorate people, that have a transformative power.”

The TV presence this year will give the Peabodys a stronger public face, after having been hidden too long, he adds.

Pivot, which launched Aug. 1, 2013, is available in 47 million homes. Den of Thieves’ credits include Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele Super Bowl Special,” Pitbull’s “New Year’s Revolution” and numerous awards shows.

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