The George Foster Peabody Awards (or simply Peabody Awards) program, named for American businessman and philanthropist George Peabody, recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals.
Reflecting excellence in quality, rather than popularity or commercial success, the Peabody is awarded to about 25–35 winners annually from more than 1,000 entries. Because submissions are accepted from a wide variety of sources and styles, deliberations seek "Excellence On Its Own Terms".
Each entry is evaluated on the achievement of standards it establishes within its own contexts. Entries are self-selected by those making submissions, for which a US$350 fee (US$225 for radio) is required.
In 1938, the National Association of Broadcasters formed a committee to recognize outstanding achievement in radio broadcasting. Committee member Lambdin Kay, public-service director for WSB radio in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time, is credited for creating the award, named for businessman and philanthropist George Foster Peabody, who donated the funds that made the awards possible. Fellow WSB employee Lessie Smithgall introduced Lambdin to John E. Drewry, of the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, who endorsed the idea. The Peabody Award was established in 1940 with the Grady College of Journalism as its permanent home.
The Peabody Awards were originally only for radio, but in 1948 television awards were introduced. In the late 1990s additional categories for material distributed via the World Wide Web were added. Materials created solely for theatrical motion picture release are not eligible.
The Peabody Awards judging process is unusually rigorous. Evaluation of the more than 1,000 entries typically received begins in early February with some 30 committees composed of a number of University of Georgia faculty or staff members and selected students. Each committee is charged with screening or listening to a small number of entries and delivering written recommendations to the Peabody Board, a ~17-member panel of scholars, critics and media-industry professionals. Board members discuss recommended entries as well as their own selections at intensive preliminary meetings in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The Board convenes at the Peabody Offices on the University of Georgia campus in late March for final screenings and deliberations. Each entrant is judged on its own merit, and only unanimously selected programs receive Peabodys. There is no set number of Peabodys; the all-time record for Peabody recipients in a single year is 46 Awards in 2013.
Each spring, Peabody organizers announce award recipients for work covering the previous year. Traditionally, the winners' announcements have been made via a simple press release and/or a press conference. In recent years, however, organizers have also taken to television to reveal some Peabody recipients in an effort to expand the public's awareness of the awards. An April 2014 segment of CBS This Morning included an announcement of 2013 Peabody winners. In April 2015, the 2014 Peabodys were revealed over an 8-day period, with the entertainment-based recipients revealed on ABC's Good Morning America.
The formal presentations of the Peabody Awards are traditionally held in late May or early June, and have been usually held at a luncheon in New York City. The ceremony for 2014 recipients were held for the first time at night in a May 31, 2015 award ceremony to be hosted by Fred Armisen. Several famous names have served as Peabody ceremony hosts over the years, among them Walter Cronkite, Lesley Stahl, Jackie Gleason, Jon Stewart, Morley Safer, Craig Ferguson, Larry King, and Ira Glass. Since 2014, the Peabody ceremonies have aired on a tape-delayed basis by the TV channel Pivot, who showed the 74th ceremonies on June 21, 2015.
The Peabody Awards Collection is the flagship of The Walter J. Brown Media Archive & Peabody Awards Collection. The archives are housed in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries near the north campus of The University of Georgia. The archives mission is to preserve, protect, and provide access to the moving image and sound materials that reflect the collective memory of broadcasting and the history of the state of Georgia and its people. The collection contains nearly every entry for the first major broadcast award given in the United States. Entries began in 1940 for radio and 1948 for television, and at least 1,000 new entries are received every year—programs created by local, national, and international producers. The collection provides a cultural cross-section of television from its infancy to the present day, featuring news, documentary, entertainment, educational, and children's programming. Once judging is complete all the entries are moved to the Main Library for in-depth cataloging, access, and long-term preservation.
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