‘Master of None,’ ‘Jessica Jones’, and David Letterman Headline 75th Peabody Awards

Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg used her time to point out the still ongoing struggle of women in media.

Steve Martin and David Letterman at the 75th Anniversary Peabody Awards.
Steve Martin and David Letterman at the 75th Anniversary Peabody Awards.

The 75th Anniversary Peabody Awards ceremony recognized the power of electronic media as the organization honored a cross section of genres and platforms highlighting content creators who tell stories that matter.

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To cull the nearly 1200 entries down to the 30 or so that received awards on this night, a team of 18 jurors, made up of scholars, critics and broadcast industry veterans, meet and deliberate the worthiness of each entrant.

“This is not a popularity contest,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jones, Director of the Peabody Awards. “We determine why certain stories matter at this moment in time and the ones that we feel have the most impact are the ones that we recognize with awards.”

He went on to say, “The platform on which the story is presented is irrelevant to us really; if the story is powerfully told and available via electronic media, that’s all that matters. You don’t have to have a broadcast license to be eligible. We welcome all content.”

Winners included narrative television, documentaries, and news reports, among other content.

One factor that made the evening so memorable was that each of the recipients gave an acceptance speech that was generally as inspirational as the creative piece that got them to the podium.

Television series Transparent, Black-ish, UnReal, Master of None, Mr. Robot, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Deutschland 83, and The Leftovers were among those who picked up awards.

Accepting for Master of None, creator and star Aziz Ansari acknowledged the streaming service that carries his show for understanding a key element of the series. “I want to thank Netflix (NFLX) for believing in us, and letting us tell our stories. I think they really seem to get what diversity really is. It’s not, ‘Hey, let’s give this white protagonist a brown friend!’ No. It’s ‘let’s have a show where there’s a token white guy,’” he said, as the audience launched into an appreciative collective laugh.

Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg used her time to point out the still ongoing struggle of women in media, saying that while 51 percent of the population is women, they are still a minority in front of and behind the camera. “But I believe that stories can create change and if we tell them honestly, bravely and loudly, we can do that,” said Rosenberg, then adding, “Everyone who’s been on this stage has done that. You’re all my heroes.”

Popular and acclaimed documentaries The Jinx and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief were honored along with several other films that explore the current status of the human condition.

Director of Going Clear, Alex Gibney, dedicated his win to the brave men and women who came forward to testify about the human rights abuses in the church of Scientology. “I think we really made a mark,” he said succinctly.

Najibullah Quraishi, director of ISIS in Afghanistan, pleaded with the crowd to not forget the atrocities still occurring in that country, while Leslee Udwin, director of India’s Daughter, talked about the horror of violence against women. She noted there is still no equal rights amendment in the United States. “When you lay bare a problem with such blinding clarity as we do in [our film], what happens is that the solution looms with equal searing clarity.”

Correspondent Caitlin Dickerson, who helmed NPR’s Secret Mustard Gas Experiments investigative report, talked about the challenge of getting reluctant military veterans to revisit the painful of experience of being exposed to the chemical gas as part of sanctioned U.S. military experiments during World War II. “It was an honor to be able help bring their experiences to life,” she said.

Veteran TV reporter Carol Marin, while being recognized as part of the team behind Chicago’s WMAQ-TV’s investigation into the police shooting of LaQuan McDonald stressed the power of investigative journalism to shine a light on societal problems. She also thanked the people of the Midwest city, “for trusting us to tell them terrible truths.”

This year’s 75th anniversary Peabody Awards also honored documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and David Letterman, giving the latter two gentlemen the chance to make rare public appearances after ending their respective shows last year.

Nelson was given an award for his body of work, which includes films The Murder of Emmett Till, Freedom Summer, and Freedom Riders. He remarked that he grew up in the 1950s, when the only African-Americans on TV were those who were performing on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.

He praised the Peabody Awards for consistently recognizing diversity but added, “The work isn’t done. It’s not only important what we put in front of the camera; it’s also important we think about who’s behind the camera. There we can do a better job.”

Stewart thanked his team but admitted that he was shocked to be in a room with the other recipients, saying, “The amazing work that you’re doing, I’m shocked at the breadth, and somewhat disappointed at the just terrible conditions in the world that you all are addressing through your good work, because I thought that we, over our 16 years, had healed a lot of this through witty repartee. But apparently shit’s still going down.”

Surprise guest, comedian Steve Martin, stepped on stage to introduce Letterman with a recap of Mr. Worldwide Pants’ career, but hilariously kept getting facts about Dave’s history incorrect with Letterman shouting out the correct information from backstage. The retired Late Show host finally made his entrance, sporting the bushy, white Santa Claus-esque beard he’s acquired since leaving his late night show last May.

He paused a moment but then launched into a bit about an incident he’d experienced when he and his wife were invited to a state dinner at The White House recently. In that moment, it seemed as though Letterman may miss giving his nightly monologue and was using this opportunity to experience those feelings again, if only for this one night.

Bestowed by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the awards ceremony, took place at New York’s Cipriani Wall Street.

A special broadcast of the event will air in an edited form on June 6th at 8pm e/p. on Pivot. A complete list of this year’s Peabody Award winners is available here.

‘Master of None,’ ‘Jessica Jones’, and David Letterman Headline 75th Peabody Awards