April 6, 2006

Peabody heads “South” to controversial cartoon

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - It might not be Mel Gibson
or Tom Cruise's favorite show, but the jurors for television's
prestigious Peabody Awards threw a bouquet Comedy Central's way
Wednesday with an honor for "South Park."

The animated satire was one of 32 winners of the Peabody,
given annually by the University of Georgia's Grady College of
Journalism and Mass Communications to honor the best in TV. But
for a judging committee that isn't afraid to wade into
controversy, "South Park" seems to be one of the most
controversial in recent years.

After a 10-year track record of pushing TV boundaries and
famously tangling with Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ,"
the Catholic Church, Cruise and Scientology and many others,
"South Park" won an Emmy for its Terri Schiavo-themed episode.
And after eight or nine self-submitted entries during the past
decade, "South Park" will get its Peabody on June 5 in New York
from "The Daily Show" host (and Peabody winner) Jon Stewart.

The Schiavo episode helped seal the award for "South Park"
with the Peabody judges.

"The judges felt that it was a bold program that probably
offends just about everybody at some point and in doing so
reminds us that we need to be tolerant," awards director Horace
Newcomb said. "It's also consistent in its insistence on
noncensorship." Newcomb said the decision was unanimous.

While Newcomb was sure the Peabodys would be criticized for
honoring "South Park," he said that it didn't deter the judges
from honoring the best in electronic media, just like when it
honored such shows as "All in the Family" and "The Simpsons."

"We're very proud of that, and we'll stand behind those
decisions," he said.

"South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone couldn't
be reached for comment Wednesday, but Comedy Central executive
vp and general manager Michele Ganeless said it's to the
Peabody's credit that it honored "South Park." She noted that
other winners Wednesday -- including FX's "The Shield," ABC's
"Boston Legal" and Fox's "House" as well as previous winner
"The Sopranos" -- have been lightning rods for their networks.

"People may underestimate the selection process that the
Peabody Awards undergo, but they've shown themselves to be part
of the cultural zeitgeist," Ganeless said. And while she
acknowledged that "South Park" is controversial, she also said,
"I don't think anybody can argue with the tremendous amount of
creativity and brilliance that the show embodies."

She also said "South Park" isn't just for shock value.

"We're always having a dialogue about where the line is,
and the great thing about Matt and Trey is that nothing they do
is just to shock, nothing they do is just for the sake of doing
it," she said. "There's always a point to be made."

Other Peabody winners announced Wednesday include "China: A
Million Steps Ahead" (TVE, Madrid), "American Experience: Two
Days in October" (PBS), "This World" (BBC), "POV: Chisholm '72
Unbought and Unbossed" (PBS), "Edge of America" (Showtime),
"American Masters: No Direction Home -- Bob Dylan" (PBS), "The
Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music" (CBC), "DoNation
Season" PSAs (BBC), "Classical Baby" (HBO), "A Room Nearby"
(PBS), "Viva Blackpool" (BBC America), "Save Our History:
Voices of Civil Rights" (the History Channel), "What if Winter
Never Comes?" (CBC/Radio-Canada), "The Staircase" (Sundance
Channel), "Yesterday" (HBO), "The Queen of Trees" (BBC2),
"Children of Beslan" (HBO), "Bleak House" (BBC) and "Battlestar
Galactica" (Sci Fi Channel).

Local stations winning Peabodys include KNBC-TV Los
Angeles, for an investigative series on a residential
development leaking into a reservoir; KCNC Denver, for a report
on Army recruiting practices; KCET Los Angeles, for a
public-service project titled "A Place of Our Own"; WNYC-AM New
York, for a series of reports by teens titled "Radio Rookies
Project"; and KMEX-Univision 34 Los Angeles, for a 19-part
series that looked at the past, present and future of the
Latino community in Los Angeles.

The Peabodys also recognized the above-and-beyond efforts
of four news organizations to tell 2005's biggest story:
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Two national news outlets, "NBC Nightly News With Brian
Williams" and CNN, received awards along with two local Gulf
Coast stations, WWL-TV New Orleans and WLOX-TV Biloxi, Miss.,
which stayed on the air despite incredible odds.

"Both (NBC and CNN) stayed with the story, they asked the
hard questions, they covered all angles, and they were on the
spot," Newcomb said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter