On the face of it, it might be surprising to learn than a CW series based on a telenovela would take home a prestigious Peabody Award.
Yet Peabody’s jurors look beyond the surface to honor shows that expand horizons, defend the public interest and encourage empathy with others.
The Peabody Awards began in 1941 as the radio equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes, but have expanded to include all media from television to Web-based programs. This year, winners included such wide-ranging genres as NPR’s podcast “Serial,” Comedy Central’s sketch comedy “Inside Amy Schumer” and CW’s campy telenovela spoof “Jane the Virgin.”
“Jane” follows the unlikely tale of a virgin who accidentally has been artificially inseminated and lives with her single mom and widowed grandmother. She becomes involved in crime syndicates, murder and a relationship triangle — all in good soapy fun. However, “Jane” also takes on religion, feminism and illegal immigration.
“Even though what we do has wacky twists and turns, we still show compassion towards our characters,” says “Jane” creator and executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman. “We wanted a show that had a really good person at the center who is faced with moral dilemmas. We show a strong matriarchy where these women are not defined by the men in their lives.”
Urman’s particularly proud of how “Jane” was able to put a face on the issue of immigration when Jane’s grandmother Alba was faced with being deported.
“We made the political personal,” Urman says. “(Alba’s) not a criminal, she’s part of the fabric of this country. It’s a story that needed to be told.”
The awards also recognized NPR’s “Serial,” an unlikely cultural phenomenon. Sarah Koenig co-created and hosted the podcast with Julie Snyder, both producers of “This American Life.” It leisurely told one true story over the course of 10 weeks about the 1999 murder of a high school student and the former boyfriend convicted of killing her.
“We are in this media world dominated by the quick, the fast and the 140 characters,” Koenig says. “We were inviting people to sit down and listen to an audiocast.”
Koenig says there is a lot of reporting where people are telling you what to think, especially on television.
“From what I heard from young people who listened to the podcast, they felt it was the first time they weren’t being shouted at by the media, and they were responding to that.”
Koenig says there was a sense that they were inviting people to slow down. “I think we underestimate the attention spans of people and their ability to be captivated by a story.”
For three seasons, young comic Amy Schumer has been inviting people into her world of sketch comedy on “Inside Amy Schumer.” Shumer’s first viral video skewered women who can’t take a compliment.
The strength of Schumer, according to producer Dan Powell, is her gift at pinpointing various idiosyncrasies of human behavior especially when it comes to how women and men interact with each other.
“Amy is fearless and won’t hesitate to shed light on controversial topics (like) rape in the military as long as we’re certain we can make it funny,” Powell says. “We are aware that the best sketches aren’t just a series of jokes but also have something new and interesting to say.”
And, as Powell points out, “You have to respect a writer who reads about something as horrifying as the Steubenville (high school rape) case and thinks, ‘How can I turn this into a sketch?’ ”
Peabody juror Maureen Ryan, TV critic for the Huffington Post, says it’s heartening to see how many worthy shows are out there.
“Last year we honored a minute-long PSA on sexual assault, and then ‘House of Cards,’” Ryan says. “It’s all about the presentation, the craft and the connection these programs make with people.”