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Television Academy Recognizes Shows That Go Beyond the Headlines

Finding examples of television series that promote positive social change isn’t the challenge for the seventh annual Television Academy Honors, which take place June 1 in Beverly Hills. The difficult part is narrowing down the 120 to 130 submissions to just six to eight honorees each year, says TV Academy senior awards VP John Leverence.

“They struggle mightily every year because there is so much really good television with a conscience,” Leverence says.

The series receiving recognition this year are Showtime’s “The Big C: Hereafter” and “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor”; ABC Family’s “The Fosters”; HBO’s “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” and “Vice”; CBS’ “Mom”; and Glamour.com’s “Screw You Cancer.”

Although the honorees typically cover subjects that are in the news — most notably last year’s breast cancer storyline on NBC’s “Parenthood” and Food Network’s childhood poverty documentary “Hunger Hits Home” — the TV Academy doesn’t specifically target headlines when making selections.

“In any given year, we’re going to have recurring societal issues that will be addressed,” Leverence says, pointing to cancer, autism and brain disorders, AIDS, racism and post-9/11 themes as the most prevalent topics among the first six years of honorees.

The submissions process is similar to the Emmys, with entrants paying a fee and submitting a DVD, but the rules are a little looser. There’s only one group of honorees that covers a wide range of topics in series, specials and documentaries. The qualifying year also runs with the calendar, rather than June 1 to May 31 like the Emmys.

“In terms of scale, it’s a boutique as opposed to the Wal-Mart of the Emmys,” Leverence says.

A 25-member Television Academy Honors Selection Committee, chaired this year by producer Lucia Gervino, is tasked with judging the entries through a three-step process that takes place over several months. In the entry round, each member is assigned a cluster of shows to watch and reports back.

The semi-finalist round narrows the field to about 50 shows that everyone on the committee watches.

The final round is 20 shows, and members generally have emotional discussions in determining the final honorees, which is why the final number varies between six and eight.

This year’s Television Academy Honors will be smaller and less formal than previous years and will take place at the SLS Hotel. To help shorten the ceremony, each of the honorees will be spotlighted in longer clip packages that debut on TelevisionAcademy.com each day in advance of the show.

“It’s a lot of the same components,” Leverence says of the revamped event, “but an expansion of the reel and a contraction of the actual presentation.”

THE NOMINEES

“The Big C: Hereafter” (Showtime)
Laura Linney stars in this conclusion to the groundbreaking dramedy as a woman with terminal skin cancer on a search
to find happiness before she dies.

“Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor” (Showtime)
In John Wager’s documentary, five severely wounded vets find solace in standup.

“The Fosters” (ABC Family)
Teri Polo and Sherri Saum star in this warm-hearted drama, executive produced by Jennifer Lopez, about a multi-ethnic blended family.

“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” (HBO)
Pedophilia in the Catholic Church is the focus of this emotionally charged documentary from writer-director
Alex Gibney.

“Mom” (CBS)
Anna Faris plays a newly sober single mom trying to get her life together in the freshman series from Chuck Lorre, co-starring Allison Janney as Faris’ recovering
alcoholic mom.

“Screw You Cancer” (Glamour.com)
This docu-series chronicles the journey of 28-year-old NYC comedian Caitlin Brodnick, who undergoes a preventative double mastectomy.

“Vice” (HBO)
This newsmagazine shines a spotlight on shocking stories overlooked in the mainstream press, from children used as suicide bombers to political assassinations in
the Philippines.

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