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Peabody Awards Honors TV At Its Best

From HBO’s "Girls" to FX’s" Louie," the Peabody Awards honor quality on the tube

Thirty-nine recipients of the 72nd Annual Peabody Awards will be honored May 20 at the Waldorf-Astoria in Gotham. The Peabodys, bestowed by the U. of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, cite the best in electronic media. Herewith are a few of the projects and people being honored.

The Smithsonian Channel’s “MLK: The Assassination Tapes” couldn’t have been made if professors at Memphis State U., back in 1968, didn’t have the foresight to preserve the historic TV, radio and police-report tapes regarding the Martin Luther King assassination. Typically, those tapes were reused and hence lost.

“It was extraordinary to find this treasure trove,” says David Royle, exec VP of programming and production at the Smithsonian Channel. Equally extraordinary, filmmaker Tom Jennings “crafts a film from these tapes that is entirely dramatic and immediate, taking the reality that existed at the time and infusing it with drama and intensity.”

HBO’s Michael Lombardo, having worked with Jay Roach on “Recount,” was confident that “Game Change” would be equally good. “He finds the film in real events and real people. The only challenge was, can you find somebody who can embody Sarah Palin to do justice to the story? That’s no easy feat. You forget it is Julianne Moore. It took a brave actor to do that,” says the HBO co-prexy and head of programming group.

The cabler’s “Girls” is also receiving a Peabody. “’Girls’ and ‘Game Change’ are very different shows, but really, it was so clear from the scripts that these are pieces we had to make,” Lombardo says. “These two shows had very unchallenged, uncomplicated histories in getting to the screen.”

Lombardo says it did not give him pause that the very young Lena Dunham would wear several hats on ‘Girls.’ “We had the benefit of seeing her film ‘Tiny Furniture,’” he says. “It had been written, directed and starred Lena Dunham. The clarity of the voice on that film was really why we wanted to be in business with Lena.”

Two HBO documentaries are also Peabody-honored: Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre’s Marina Abramovic, the “Artist Is Present” and Nancy Buirski’s “The Loving Story,” about interracial married couple Richard and Mildred Loving. The subjects of those films are not well-known to the general public, as Sheila Nevins quickly admits.

“But I’m not in the bold-face name business,” says the cabler’s president of docs. “I’m in the John Q. Public business. I want to elevate people who may not be known to you. I can’t chain you to your couch, but I can invite you to learn about things.”

“Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” is the fifth HBO project being awarded a Peabody.

FX’s John Landgraf vividly recalls one of the meetings with Louis C.K. that led to the network making “Louie,” another Peabody award winner. C.K. told the TV topper, “I don’t work in an organized system. When I get notes, I don’t like to rewrite. I don’t rewrite.”

As the FX prexy also tells it, other nets were offering significantly more money. “I’m not going to give you that much money, but I’ll give you freedom,” Landgraf told the comic-writer-filmmaker.

Given C.K.’s freedom on the “Louie” series, Landgraf was concerned about the comic’s frequent use of the word “faggot.” That conversation led to C.K. doing an entire dialogue on the history of the f-word. “A lot of stand-up comics don’t like to be wrong,” says Landgraf. “Louie is frequently wrong in his show; that’s the way he structures the dialectic. He likes to be wrong and explore other people’s views.”

A rare individual Peabody is being awarded to Lorne Michaels, now in his fourth decade as exec producer of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

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