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TV Academy Honors Tough but Sweet

Katims sets tone for evening

Bouncy houses and cancer. Jason Katims‘ eloquent juxtaposition of the two set the tone for the sixth annual TV Academy Honors on Thursday at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Katims, the showrunner of “Parenthood” – one of eight programs being honored at the Phil Gurin-produced event for their use of television to promote positive social change – described in his acceptance speech how an NBC marketing clip, showing the series’ cast frolicking in a bouncy house, made him question whether to dedicate the show’s fourth season to a plot in which the character played by Monica Potter would suffer through cancer.

“Must we continue to dwell,” on such grim events, Katims wondered to himself, “when the world offers bouncy houses?”

Katims said that over the first three seasons of “Parenthood,” featuring numerous storylines of challenge and struggle, the writing staff was digging deep within themselves to tell great stories – “and saving a fortune in therapy,” he noted – but as he approached a meeting with NBC to discuss the plans for season four, he wondered if they were going too far.

“You couldn’t really call it a pitch – it was more like an apology,” Katims recalled. “This was clearly the most depressing pitch in the history of television.”

But finally, before he was through, Katims said the NBC execs stopped him and expressed complete support for the storyline that ultimately landed him at the Beverly Hills Hotel dais.

Befitting the entire evening, though the content of Katims’ speech was serious, the delivery was warm – and not without humor, as when Katims teased “Parenthood” exec producer and and Imagine co-founder Brian Graser for not having seen all the episodes of the show.

There was even some melancholy housekeeping, as TV Academy Honors co-chairs John Shaffner and Lynn Roth announced they were stepping down after running the event for its initial six years, to be succeeded by Lucia Gervino and Bambi Moe.

The night proper, hosted by Dana Delany, then began with “60 Minutes” co-anchor Steve Kroft introducing wordsmith Aaron Sorkin, the man behind honoree “The Newsroom.”

“I am going to be brief, but as you know, brevity is a challenge for me,” said Sorkin, following a show clip that showed a lengthy and exceedingly serious speech delivered by lead actor Jeff Daniels. After a few quick jokes and acknowledgments, however, Sorkin was indeed off the stage as quickly as he came.

Linda Ellerbee had a smiling apology on tape that she couldn’t accept in person the honor for “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee/Forgotten But Not Gone: Kids, HIV and AIDS,” because she had a fall in Mexico and was not cleared for air travel. But that also came with a serious message.

“News that is news every day eventually stops being news and becomes truth,” Ellerbee said. “The problem is, journalists report news.”

As the night proceeded, speakers frequently remarked on the growing emotional cavalcade.  “I feel like I’ve cried at every film,” said Food Network senior marketing and brand strategy veep Susie Fogelson, one of those accepting on behalf of the network’s first original documentary, “Hunger Hits Home.”

Added D.L. Hughley, discussing how his own project, Comedy Central’s “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List,” fit into the picture: “My mother used to give me aspirin and orange juice, (saying) I’m going to give you something you need with something you like.”

Without a doubt, the night climaxed on a truly warm note. John Corbett, the star of ABC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame film “A Smile as Big as the Moon,” came to the podium with the man he played – teacher and coach Mike Kersjes – and announced that just before people sat to dinner, Kersjes proposed to his girlfriend outside in the hotel courtyard. She said yes.

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