×

Why Honoring Socially Conscious Storytelling Is Key to Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards have always been about more than a gorgeous face and a compelling tale told right — they also recognize stories that reflect where we are as a society. The 77-year-old awards pride themselves on maintaining relevance. And this year’s winners grapple with women’s rights, racism, nationalism, guns and environmentalism.

The Peabody Awards examines how TV does “something for us as citizens,” says Jeffrey Jones, director of the Peabody Awards. “It was formed as the Pulitzer Prize for broadcasting. When we gave an award to Amy Schumer, it was not just because she’s funny, but because she’s saying important things about misogyny and rape and sexism in the industry.”

Though Jones cites Schumer’s win from 2014, these topics have only intensified, and this year’s awards recipients — including, in the entertainment categories alone, HBO’s “Insecure,” NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Netflix’s “American Vandal,” Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — reflect that.

The Board of Jurors meets three times a year in face-to-face meetings. Eighteen journalists, showrunners and documentarians reach a unanimous decision on 30 winners selected from 60 nominees.

Their vote is strictly on the works’ “relevance in the world in which we live,” Jones says.

“Handmaid’s Tale” showrunner Bruce Miller works closely with the U.N. and a couple of non-governmental organizations to research how “for political and environmental reasons, a lot of people are moving around the world right now.” This informed the refugee storyline about characters fleeing oppressive regimes to Canada in his dystopian drama. He also took inspiration from movements including Occupy Wall Street for key flashback protest scenes.

“We always want to focus on the realism,” Miller says. “Not what we think should happen in this fictional world we created, but what would really happen? We tried to find out exactly what really would happen and kind of walk through that.”

Similarly, Peabody nominee “One Day at a Time” draws its stories from experiences its writers have had — whether it’s immigration, religion, colorism or sexual identity.

“One example is Elena’s coming-out arc, which was infused with many actual, funny, bittersweet emotional moments and events from our writers’ lives. That’s a big method by which we try to keep the show real,” say executive producers Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce.

American Vandal,” which executive producers Tony Yacenda, Dan Perrault and Dan Lagana say was birthed from “fascination with criminal injustice,” not only plays with the idea of misconceptions but also citizen journalism.

“It’s so incredibly rewarding to have the Peabody committee validate our loftier ambitions behind our seemingly juvenile mystery. We just wanted to do something different — something that merged documentary tools with scripted narrative in a way that had never been done before,” the executive producers say, before adding, “we’re so proud that we ended up with a Peabody award-winning dick joke.”

The awards, administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the U. of Georgia, were announced in a rollout. Hasan Minhaj, who won a Peabody for his Netflix standup special “Homecoming King,” hosts the May 19 ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

“This is a tip of the hat to the power of storytellers to shape how we as a country think. What makes it special are the people in journalism standing arm-in-arm with the people of entertainment,” says Jones.

Danielle Turchiano contributed to this story.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Laverne Cox arrives at the 71st

    Laverne Cox Raises Awareness About LGBTQ Supreme Court Case With Rainbow-Colored Purse

    “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox strutted down the purple carpet at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards flaunting a small, rainbow-colored purse with the words “Oct. 8, Title VII Supreme Court” across the front. “Oct. 8 there’s an incredibly important case going to the Supreme Court involving Title VII,” she told Variety as [...]

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge accepts the award for

    Emmys Surprise: Phoebe Waller-Bridge Wins Lead Actress in a Comedy

    Phoebe Waller-Bridge won the 2019 lead comedy actress Emmy for her titular role on Amazon Prime Video’s “Fleabag.” Waller-Bridge created the streaming series in which she stars and was nominated in the comedy writing category this year (the show was also up for comedy series overall). Her MI6 drama “Killing Eve” was also nominated in [...]

  • Alex Borstein Emmys

    Emmys: Alex Borstein Pays Tribute to Grandmother Who Survived the Holocaust

    After winning the supporting comedy actress Emmy for the second year in a row, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Alex Borstein paid tribute to her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, in a powerful speech. She started by thanking a number of women, including “Maisel” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and the cast and crew of the Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Politician - Ben Platt

    Netflix Drops Final 'The Politician' Trailer (Watch)

    As Netflix is busy battling HBO on stage for Emmys supremacy, the streamer also released the final trailer for Ryan Murphy’s latest series “The Politician.” The series centers around Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), an aspiring politician from Santa Barbara, California who must navigate the ins and outs of high school if he’s to ever win [...]

  • Atmosphere71st Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations Announcement,

    Emmy Awards 2019: The Complete Winners List (Updating Live)

    Television’s biggest night is currently underway at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are expected to be big winners at the 2019 Emmy Awards, but a handful of small-screen favorites are also vying for top prizes. Among drama series, the epic conclusion to HBO’s “Game [...]

  • Bethenny Frankel arrives at the 71st

    Bethenny Frankel Reveals Her New Slate of 'Female-Centric' Shows For MGM

    Reality star Bethenny Frankel is still staying busy after announcing her plans to exit the “Real Housewives” franchise last month. She left because she wanted to “explore my next chapter,” and entered a production partnership with Mark Burnett and MGM television. “Most of them happen to be female-centric,” she said on the Emmys purple carpet [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content