Peabody Awards Are (Finally) Ready for Their L.A. Debut (2024)

When Peabody holds its 84th awards ceremony on June 9, it will finally be in Los Angeles — after four years of trying. The org had decided in 2020 to move its annual event from New York to the West Coast. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the ceremony went virtual for three years. Last year, it was ready to try again — until the Hollywood strikes forced another in-person cancellation.

Now, Peabody and its executive director, Jeffrey Jones, are ready to give it another shot. “I don’t know what’s going to stop us now,” says Jones, trying not to jinx it. But speaking to Variety just weeks before the event, he was optimistic that this year’s Peabody Awards, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and hosted by Oscar- and Emmy-nominated comedian-actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani, would be worth the wait.

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Jones has been eager to expand the awareness of Peabody (which is based at University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication) and share its mission with creative talent on the West Coast.

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“It’s such a great opportunity for what distinguishes Peabody and the kinds of storytelling we recognize, to finally have the Hollywood creative community be able to attend and see for themselves,” Jones says. “It is really a different type of celebration of award-winning content than what often happens in Los Angeles.”

Jones says that’s because of Peabody’s mission of recognizing storytelling that tackles important social and political issues, like women’s health, the justice system, LGBTQ equality and the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

What also sets Peabody apart from other Hollywood kudos is the breadth of its focus in one place: Not only entertainment series, but also programs like documentaries children’s youth, interactive, news, public service and radio-podcast.

This year’s 34 winners — which must receive a unanimous vote by Peabody’s awards jury — were announced in early May. The roster includes critically acclaimed series like FX’s “The Bear,” HBO’s “The Last of Us” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (scoring its third Peabody).

But Jones is particularly proud of series that haven’t received as much attention from the Emmys, like FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” which is receiving its second Peabody, and HBO’s “Somebody Somewhere.” Jones takes pride in the fact that the program recognizes stories big and small.

“It’s great for Peabody to be able to hold all those up at the same time and for the creative community to see that it really is about issues like women’s health in ‘Dead Ringers’ or the importance of children in ‘Judy Blume Forever’ and ‘Bluey,’” he says. “So it’s a beautiful mix.”

Documentary winners include PBS Frontline’s “20 Days in Mariupol,” HBO’s “The Stroll” and Nat Geo’s “Bobi Wine: The People’s President.” In news, PBS won for the “Frontline” report on “Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Power and the Supreme Court” and the PBS NewsHour entry “War in the Holy Land.” PBS and “Frontline” also landed a public service nod for “America and the Taliban.”

All told, HBO/Max led the roster of winners, with seven total, followed by PBS with five, three for Amazon MGM Studios and two each for FX and the Washington Post.

“I’ve always loved how the entertainment people are so excited to see the news and documentary winners,” Jones says. “It may be things that they haven’t heard about, but it’s clearly great storytelling. And the news documentary people are so happy that their work is to stand beside these multimillion- dollar entertainment productions and these stars who bring those stories to life. It’s a wonderful, warm room.”

And because the crowd attending already knows that they’ve won, there’s no tension in the audience, he adds: “Everybody’s pretty happy about the evening. Instead of hurt feelings, everybody is there to appreciate each other.”

That includes the special achievement awards, which this year includes legendary actor-writer-comedian-producer Mel Brooks, who will receive the Peabody Career Achievement Award.

“Mel Brooks, I just can’t say enough,” Jones says. “I mean, here’s a guy who was at the beginnings of television and still just put out in the streaming era ‘History of the World Part II’ on Hulu. He truly played such a role in shaping higher comic sensibilities and is a master at parodying various types of storytelling. It’s just such a privilege and honor that he can come to the show and let us celebrate him, his longevity and his meaning to the medium of television.”

Jones likes to point out that Brooks will become only the fourth person to become a “PEGOT” winner — that’s Peabody, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. The only others are Mike Nichols, Barbra Streisand and Rita Moreno. “It’s an exclusive group.”

Another special achievement award will go to “Abbott Elementary” creator and star Quinta Brunson, who will be presented the Peabody Trailblazer Award by Donald Glover (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”). The honor recognizes “visionaries that are impacting our culture and affecting social change through their innovative storytelling.”

Peabody Awards Are (Finally) Ready for Their L.A. Debut (4)

In additon, an Institutional Award for “Star Trek” will be (understandably) presented by J.J. Abrams to Alex Kurtzman, while the international rights group Witness, which assists people to help protect and defend human rights through the use of video and digital technologies, will receive Peabody’s first ever Global Impact Award.

In the case of “Star Trek,” Jones noted that since the original series’ premiere in 1966, it’s expanded into several films, TV series, video games and novels. “It has used deep space travel to deal with issues about humans and our relationship to each other,” he says. “It uses fantastical scenarios to talk about thorny issues, including race – and has been doing that ever since through all of its various franchise iterations. We just thought it was long past time to recognize its place in American culture, in telling those kinds of narratives.”

The awards ceremony will be produced by Bob Bain Prods., and this year the show will take a “more lively” approach than past New York events by incorporating more presenters. So far, besides Glover and Abrams, Regina King will present the Peabody to documentary “Judy Blume Forever”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt will present the award to the film “Reality”; and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez will present to documentary “The Stroll.”

“We’re running through so many awards,” Jones says of trying to keep the presentation moving. “It’s not as many as the Creative Arts Emmys, but it’s a bit of awards. So, we’re trying to make it a little more of an exciting show. Even though it’s not that long, it’s still a lot of programming to work through. It’s this ecumenical mix of documentary, news and entertainment and children’s programming and interactive, that I think says it’s not so important what the genre is, but that these are all important stories told well.”

Peabody Awards Are (Finally) Ready for Their L.A. Debut (2024)


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