When "The Colbert Report" won its first George Foster Peabody Award in 2008, Stephen Colbert described it as "the award they would have given Shakespeare if Shakespeare had written local news."
It's true that trophies given out by the University of Georgia pay tribute to broadcast journalists who toil in places like Fort Myers, Fla.; New Britain, Conn.; and Cleveland. But they also recognize many of the glamorous scripted TV hits too, such as "Scandal," "Mad Men" and "Orange Is the New Black."
And these days whenever there are stars and a red carpet, there are TV cameras. For the second straight year, fledgling cable network Pivot will air the Peabody ceremony. But this time it's getting a glitzy upgrade as a nighttime gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan. Comedian Fred Armisen was named Wednesday as the host of the May 31 ceremony, a role that has traditionally been handled by TV journalists.
It doesn't mean the 74-year-old Peabodys are going Hollywood. But Peabody director Dr. Jeffrey P. Jones said the university is looking to raise the award's public profile and become a guide for consumers who have a vast array of media choices.
"There is so much out there and the Peabody board can play an important role as curator," Jones said.
Pivot's coverage of the awards will be taped and shown as a 90-minute prime-time program in June. Jones does not rule out doing a live awards show in the future. But he believes in the format Pivot used last year, mixing clips of the honored news stories and programs — which also include radio and online video — with backstage interviews.
"We're trying to extend the conversation," he said. "It's about storytelling. It's [still] a move away from ceremonies that are star driven and clothes driven."
Pivot, which launched in 2014 and reaches 40 million cable and satellite homes, was able to get the TV rights for the Peabodys without a fee.
Kent Rees, executive vice president and general manager of the channel owned by Participant Media, said the event will help advance an image of providing "socially relevant" programming for 18- to 34-year olds.
And while Pivot will invest in upgrading the ceremony, which had a C-Span look when it aired on public TV in previous years, it will still emphasize substance.
"It's the only awards show in the world that celebrates why you won rather than if you are going to win," he said.