Peabodys honor TV, Web, news stars

Brian Williams emceed Monday event

NEW YORK -- The cream of the crop in electronic media gathered at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel mid-day Monday for the annual George Foster Peabody Awards ceremony.

The event, emceed by NBC anchor Brian Williams, brought together such diverse talent as "Saturday Night Live" boss Lorne Michaels along with Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen, CBS News and CBS Sports president Sean McManus, ABC News president David Westin, Turner Classic Movies and THR veteran Robert Osborne, NBC Sports & Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol along with Bob Costas, Matt Lauer and CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Also on hand were some of the people behind "Breaking Bad," "Lost," the website of the New York Times, the Onion News Network and YouTube.

The independent nonprofit organization behind the Peabodys is based at the University of Georgia in Athens and has been honoring the electronic media since 1940. The 16-member Peabody board includes THR editor Elizabeth Guider.

During Monday's ceremony that celebrated the 36 winners, Williams entertained the crowd with some comedic zingers.

Introducing "Breaking Bad," he quipped it was the Wolf Blitzer story. After the acceptance of the award for "Breaking Bad," he joked that the celebration of crystal meth would continue in a few moments with another award.

Here are backstage comments from some of the Peabody winners and attendees:

Lorne Michaels said that now that the "SNL" season is over, his team will start looking at new people and new writers in the coming weeks.

When the show returns in September, "there will be something interesting to do" with political specials and "Weekend Updates" given that the elections are done, he said when quizzed about the next step for the political sides of "SNL." He didn't provide specifics.

He also told THR that a "McGruber" film is still being looked at. "It would have to be in the summer because we are back in production in the fall," he told THR when asked about the possible production timing. "We're still in discussions" on details, he added.

The award is the second Peabody in SNL's history.

Seth Meyers said there remains room for smart political comedy, even though President Obama is harder to poke fun at than many past presidents. "He is just so aware and has a great sense of humor himself," Meyers told THR.

"It's tougher to really beat him, because in speeches he often makes the best jokes himself."

Vince Gilligan, creator and executive producer "Breaking Bad," said he won't have much time to enjoy New York, because he has to fly back to LA. "I have to go back to the writers' room," he told THR before the awards ceremony.

"We are working on season three now."

Asked if he has time for other projects as well, he said he is "impressed" with J.J. Abrams and other people who can juggle multiple projects, but likes to keep his full attention on his show.

"I'm very much focused on 'Breaking Bad' right now," he said. "It's really all I can muster."

Brian Williams told THR that he enjoys the Peabodys, because they celebrate the best work in the industry. "This is the most important of all the awards in our industry -- whether you're the Onion or 'Saturday Night Live' or NBC News," he said.

He also told THR that he felt "fortunate" to have won a Peabody with his team before for their Hurricane Katrina coverage. "It is not why you do this (job), but it is a lovely validation. It is the last thing you're thinking of in the field when working out of a rental car in the water in New Orleans."

Asked how he feels about the strong presence this year of online media, Williams told THR: "We happily share the electronic space. There's not a day in my life when I'm not on the Onion and YouTube."

He also said that "there's so much good writing on the Web" that the Peabody board must have a tough time narrowing done contenders.

Peabody director Horace Newcomb said that the selection and review process in the digital age is indeed tricky. "The whole change in the media arena makes it tough. We see so many things," he told THR.

While the awards for the Onion and the New York Times Web staff are "a natural evolution" of the Peabodys, the honor for YouTube is somewhat different. "It was our attempt to step into the new arena," he told THR.