Magazine article Variety

TV Org Rewards Stories of Protest

Magazine article Variety

TV Org Rewards Stories of Protest

Article excerpt

SINCE ITS INCEPTION, TV has demonstrated the power to enact positive social change - from political elections to humanitarian crises and beyond. Today, with the medium ballooning in prevalence and an ever-expanding slate of programming available to audiences all over the world, television has arguably become the mightiest arbiter of pop culture and society at large.

To that end, the eighth annual Television Academy Honors, held May 27 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, has chosen to celebrate six programs that best exemplify the facility of the smallscreen to inspire, educate and raise awareness of social injustices: "Black-ish" (ep. "Crime and Punishment" from ABC); E:60 Presents "Dream on: Stories of Boston's Strongest" (ESPN); "The Normal Heart" and "Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert" (both HBO); "Transparent" (Amazon); and Netflix's "Virunga," exec produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

"People need to be reminded of the power that we have to do good," says TV vet and "The Comedians" player Dana Delany, who's hosting the event for the seventh time. "Once people in the television world know that this honor is out there - and I think people are aware of it now - they actually start creating programming thinking in terms of this. They create programming that does some social good. Every year the show is different, and it reflects the times. And I find that fascinating because you get a sense of the types of themes that are really resonating in the world and how we choose to tell those stories."

While each program deals with a particular theme - from AIDS and gay activism in the early 1980s ("The Normal Heart") to determination in the face of terrorism ("Dream on: Stories of Boston's Strongest") to family values ("Black-ish") to protecting endangered species in the Congo ("Virunga") - a common thread woven throughout is that of protesting the status quo, says Dede Gardner, executive producer of "The Normal Heart."

"When I think about all of these shows as a whole, the theme of protest keeps coming up," she says. "Because protest is not glamorous, and it's often very unpopular and very lonely, and you can spend years without finding an audience and without a groundswell beneath you. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't (protest), because it's not about a popularity contest. It's about having a voice and using it - regardless of whether or not you have an audience."

That "The Normal Heart," which won two primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe in 2014, is still registering on the TV industry's radar is something for which Gardner is "incredibly grateful," she says.

"To be recognized by your peers and by the governing body of the medium in which we made the film is very moving and we are all incredibly appreciative. The fact that (the film) has got staying power and has remained in people's minds and hearts is what you hope for when you make something like this."

Perhaps no other show has sparked more profound conversation than "Transparent," Jill Soloway's semi-autobiographical account of the Pfeffermans, a broken but loving Jewish family whose patriarch (a beautifully nuanced Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as transgender.

" 'Transparent' is a show about giving voice and protagonism to characters who would normally be the 'other' on another show," says Soloway, who's at work on season two of the Golden Globe-winning series. …

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