'Writers,' 'Venus' enrich

Humanitas to 'ER,' 'Christine'

Writers of the films "Freedom Writers" and "Venus" and the TV series "ER" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" were among the recipients of this year's Humanitas Prizes, handed out during a luncheon ceremony Tuesday at the Hilton Universal.

The prize, which rewards film and TV scribes whose works "entertain, engage and enrich the viewing public," is handed out in eight categories, each of which carries a monetary prize of varying amounts. Twelve writers were named recipients this year.

In addition, writer Larry Gelbart, whose numerous credits range from the TV series "M*A*S*H" to the film "Tootsie," was honored with the Kieser Award, named after producer and priest Fr. Ellwood "Bud" Kieser, who founded the Humanitas Prize. In his keynote address, Gelbart noted how the industry has changed since "M*A*S*H" was on the air in the 1970s and early '80s.

"(Our shows were) 26 minutes and 26 seconds," he said. "That's almost five more than the 22-minute new and improved half-hour (of today). Time used to fly; now it barely gets off the ground. What's next? … '101 Arabian Nights?' 'Prince Lear'?"

On the other hand, he said, when it comes to politics and war, not much has changed since the Korean War-set "M*A*S*H" in terms of what's going on in the world today. "It was a questionable war decreed by a questionable president. … (It's like) an endless stream of 'M*A*S*H' reruns," he said. "History seems to be on a loop."

Gelbart also shared the story of the CBS executive who, in the show's second season, told Gelbart and fellow writer/executive producer Gene Reynolds (who was on hand Tuesday to present Gelbart with his award), "Someday I'm going to tell you guys just how you blew this series."

"I think the same guy parked my car a few minutes ago," Gelbart joked.

Meanwhile, a new documentary award was announced Tuesday during the 33rd Humanitas Prize luncheon, attended by more than 350 writers, directors, producers and industry executives. Davis Guggenheim, director of the docu "An Inconvenient Truth," came onstage to give details about the new honor, which will be handed out next year.

The honor will carry a prize of $5,000, with The Hollywood Reporter committed to funding the award for five years. Guggenheim thanked THR publisher John Kilcullen and senior vp/ publishing director Eric Mika for their support of the new award.

"We need documentaries now more than ever as the end run to get to the truth," Guggenheim said. "At their heart, documentaries are about storytelling."

Meanwhile, there was a tie in the feature film category, which carries a prize of $25,000. The award went to Richard LaGravenese, who wrote the screenplay for Paramount Pictures' "Freedom Writers," and Hanif Kureishi, who wrote Miramax Films' "Venus."

Salvatore Stabile won the Sundance feature film category, worth $10,000, for his film "Where God Left His Shoes."

In the TV categories, R. Scott Gemmill and David Zabel won the $15,000 60-minute category for the episode of NBC's "ER" titled "There Are No Angels Here," which features two characters traveling to a crowded refugee camp in Darfur in the western Sudan to treat victims of the war. Both writers noted in their acceptance speeches how important they believe it is to tell entertaining stories that also educate viewers.

In the 30-minute category, Jennifer Crittenden took home the $10,000 prize for CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine," for the episode "Oh God, Yes." Peter Morgan won the $25,000 90-minute category for HBO Films' "Longford."

In the $25,000 children's categories, the animation prize went to Sindy McKay, Dennis Haley and Marcy Brown for PBS' "Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks," for the episode titled "The Gift." Anna Sandor, who wrote the teleplay for Disney Channel's "Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front," won in the live-action category.

As previously announced, USC student Jonny Mais was named the recipient of the David and Lynn Angell Fellowship in Comedy Writing, worth $10,000, for his spec script titled "Pot Chocolate" for Showtime's "Weeds." Humanitas president Frank Desiderio said Tuesday that a new student fellowship in drama writing will be handed out next year. That prize also will be worth $10,000 for a student-written spec script.