NEW YORK — Two of TV’s most highly lauded series, HBO’s “The Sopranos” and NBC/Warner Bros.’ “The West Wing,” have captured top prizes from the 59th annual Peabody Awards.
“These choices prove that glossy, well-produced episodic drama still has an important place in the industry,” said Barry Sherman, the director of the 1999 George Foster Peabody Awards, in an interview following the announcement of the winners at a press briefing Thursday.
Sherman said the total of 36 prizes for 1999 programs, winnowed down from more than 1,200 entries, “represents the most Peabodys we’ve ever handed out.” In recent years, Peabody has ponied up an average of about 30 awards a year.
HBO ended up with bragging rights as it harvested six nods from the Peabodys. They were for “The Sopranos”; the original movie “A Lesson Before Dying,” with Don Cheadle; the children’s show “Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepytime Tales”; the documentary “Dare to Compete: The Struggle of Women in Sports”; another sports docu, “Fists of Freedom: The Story of the ’68 Summer Games”; and a “personal award” to Sheila Nevins, HBO executive VP of original programming.
NBC pocketed only the award for “The West Wing,” but the Peabody committee called it a “magnificent episodic series that depicts the tension and backroom drama of presidential politics with an unusual mixture of maturity and humanity.”
By chalking up three awards, ABC came out ahead of its broadcast-network rivals. ABC won for its “exciting and innovative” telecast of the TV adaptation of the musical “Annie,” from Columbia TriStar TV and Walt Disney TV; “ABC 2000,” the 24-hour millennium coverage spearheaded by the late Neil Patterson, an “outstanding technical achievement and a tour de force for anchor Peter Jennings and the global ABC News community”; and the series of “20/20” reports by Brian Ross called “Those Were Our Children.”
CBS wound up with two awards: one for the TV movie “Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years,” a docudrama from Col TriStar TV starring Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee, as well as a personal award to Bob Simon, for his body of work as an “outstanding international journalist.”
Showtime grabbed an award for “Strange Justice,” a biopic about the battle over the nomination of Clarence Thomas, played by Delroy Lindo, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
ESPN won an award for its “Sports Century” “retrospective of the people and events that shaped the face of sport in North America over the past 100 years.”
MTV claimed a prize for the “imaginative and, most important, informative” “BIOrhythm” biographies. MTV sister network VH1 received an award for its “Save the Music Campaign,” which Peabody praised for “restoring music-education programs to public schools and (for) putting musical instruments into the hands of schoolchildren.”
The rest of the winners constituted a mixed bag of PBS documentaries, international specials, local-TV investigative reports and even three radio programs.
The 15-person awards committee consists of TV critics, industry executives and culture mavens. The U. of Georgia, in Atlanta, created the Peabodys in 1940.
For the first time in the history of the Peabodys, the awards luncheon will be taped and edited down to 84 minutes for air this summer on Georgia Public TV. Sherman will exec produce the coverage of the May 22 event, to be hosted by Matt Lauer, co-anchor of the “Today” show.
“We’re considering the summer telecast a pilot for a full PBS showing of the awards luncheon starting next year,” Sherman said. “My main worry,” he added, “is that some purists are convinced that we may be diminishing the awards by televising them. But the real reason for the telecast is to get more recognition for the great TV shows that are getting these awards.”