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Just as film and TV have the Oscars and the Emmys, The Podcast Academy is positioning the Ambies to become the event of the year for the podcast industry as well as the newest fixture of Hollywood awards season, complete with shiny statuettes and a swanky ceremony that, for at least one evening, compels podcasters to dress for the camera.
Hosted by Larry Wilmore, the annual event’s third edition is taking place March 7 at the Westgate Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The company to beat will be Audible, which received a total of 19 nominations across the 26 Ambies categories, including several nods for podcast of the year (see below).
The Podcast Academy received a record 1,700 submissions this year, which were narrowed down by a blue-ribbon panel of judges — who apply every year to be part of the panel — to determine the nominees in each category. From there, voting opened up for the roughly 1,000 members of The Podcast Academy, comprising professionals from across the industry.
There are other podcast awards vying to be the most prestigious, including the Webbys’ Signal Awards and the Quill Podcast Awards. But Donald Albright, chair of the academy, emphasizes that the Ambies are among the only honors determined solely by a large group of podcast pros. “This is about community,” he says. “If you’re in this industry, you should want it to thrive and be successful. We’re all making content, and we should want that to be recognized at the highest level. I don’t think there’s a higher level than your peers, who do what you do, saying that your project warrants an award.”
Chameleon Wild Boys
Campside Media, Sony Music Entertainment
The true story of the untrue story told by two young men who said they were raised in the wild.
FAVORITE EPISODE? “I like the pilot,” says host Sam Mullins. “There’s something so classic about a story that begins with a couple of curious strangers blowing into town.”
Design Matters with Debbie Millman
TED Audio Collective
The O.G. podcast (launched in 2005) features interviews with creators and tastemakers, with a focus on design.
WHY A PODCAST? “It creates a uniquely intimate atmosphere where my guests are able to share who they are without reservation,” says host Millman.
Tech entrepreneur turned author Chad Sanders — a Spike Lee mentee and writer on Rap Sh!t — speaks with Black luminaries about thorny questions of wealth.
QUOTED “I just didn’t know what it meant to have money. I was eating the $3 knishes on the street.” — Issa Rae, in episode one
Fiasco: The AIDS Crisis
In Fiasco’s fifth season, journalist Leon Neyfakh examines the origins of the AIDS epidemic.
WHY A PODCAST? “What someone sounds like when they speak about the past tells you so much,” says Neyfakh, “and can leave a mark on a listener’s consciousness in a way no other medium can.”
Gay Pride & Prejudice
Spotify, Gimlet Media
A comedic retelling of the Jane Austen classic, set just after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
FAVORITE EPISODE? “Episode eight,” says creator Zackary Grady. “Chris Ryan’s score (which was also nominated for an Ambie) lifts everything in such a beautiful way.”
Audible, Treefort Media
The 10-episode series revisits the Sherlock Holmes tales from the perspective of the detective’s archnemesis.
WHY A PODCAST? “Our goal was to captivate listeners with a cinematic experience in their minds, transporting them to a time period that would have cost millions of dollars to create in visual media,” says Treefort’s Kelly Garner.
30 for 30, Shirazad Productions
A three-decade saga about Iranian women fighting for the freedom to attend live soccer games.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE? “I established numerous channels of communication inside Iran that changed over time to evade surveillance,” says creator Shima Oliaee. “Securing the women’s trust in the most difficult of times was key.”
Reclaimed: The Story of Mamie Till-Mobley
The docuseries recounts how Emmett Till’s mother’s courage in publicizing his murder helped spark the civil rights movement, drawing from archival recordings among other sources.
QUOTED “I can’t remember a day that I have been free from the memory of Emmett’s death.” — Mamie Till-Mobley
The Outlaw Ocean
CBC, Los Angeles Times
The New York Times’ Ian Urbina leads a seven-part investigation of piracy, murder and other crimes in the lawless high seas.
FAVORITE EPISODE “Episode seven,” says Urbina. “It’s the most personal and reflective about the larger context in which all of the stories happen. It’s the combination of almost a decade of reporting and it gets crystallized in that episode.”
Sue-Lin Wong, The Economist’s China correspondent, chronicles the rise of Xi Jinping, China’s all-powerful premier.
WHY A PODCAST? “Podcasting allowed us to embrace the ambiguous parts of this complicated story,” says Wong, “to encourage the audience to make up their own minds and to move listeners in a way that is harder in print.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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