This year’s Peabody Award winners were announced more than a month ago, so there was little suspense as to who would take home the statuettes at Sunday night’s glitzy ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, the Peabodys‘ first evening awards show.
“Everybody at this awards show tonight already knows that they’ve won,” host Fred Armisen joked. “Now you know what it feels like to be a producer on Modern Family,” he quipped of the Emmy favorite.
But that didn’t mean the show was without surprises. Unexpected guests Tina Fey, Cecily Strong and Charlie Rose showed up to present Peabodys to Inside Amy Schumer, Serial and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, respectively.
In addition to those winners, 37 other programs took home Peabody Awards this year, the 74th time the honors have been handed out.
Bestowed by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Peabody Awards recognize excellence and meritorious work by radio and TV stations, networks, webcasters, podcasters, producing organizations and individuals.
Armisen presented most of the awards, introducing the recipient with a few words about the program and why it was worth recognition, so it was a bit of a twist when he introduced Fey to talk about the impact Schumer has had.
Fey praised Schumer for her funny but edgy feminist-centric show, saying in part, “Many people will tell you that you can never ever joke about rape, but it is all about context and point of view, and Amy and the Inside Amy Schumer show’s brilliant sketch about sexual abuse in the military as filtered through violent, combat videogames was inarguably funny and so, so rapey,” Fey said.
“And I went to the University of Virginia, guys,” she continued as the audience started to “oooh,” “So I have an excellent education that allows me to speak intelligently about satire. Where did you think I was going with that?”
She added of the Peabody winner: “Amy Schumer is killing it, as the agents like to say. Usually they are lying. But in this case it is true. Amy is killing it. She is the biggest deal in comedy right now.”
In fact, Fey joked that Schumer’s success was what really prompted her to venture down to lower Manhattan on that thunderstorm-plagued Sunday evening.
“I really wanted to come down here tonight, and in a Madonna kind of way try to like feed off of her youth and maybe suck her soul out in a very awkward, staged lesbian kiss,” Fey explained. “But when I pitched that idea to Amy’s camp, they came back with such an immediate yes that it kind of grossed me out.”
Indeed, she argued that it “didn’t feel right” to do the kiss they’d rehearsed. “Instead, I think we should just give you a really prestigious award,” Fey said.
But the two locked lips anyway, in a moment that was captured by audience members including the Peabodys‘ TV home, Pivot, which tweeted the below image.
— Pivot (@pivot) June 1, 2015
Schumer then thanked her team at Inside Amy Schumer and Comedy Central and the University of Georgia for recognizing her show. “This is an award that you really want to get, so we really tried to get this award,” she said. “We thought we were making this secret feminist show and people weren’t going to catch on what we were doing, and they caught on very quickly and we’re so glad that they did. We just wanted to make a show that would make people laugh and feel better and we really feel like we’re doing that, so thank you so much for this award.”
When Strong took the stage, she noted that Armisen didn’t call her his “friend” as he did with Fey, even though they also worked together on Saturday Night Live.
Fey’s presentation upped the ante, as Strong began her remarks by telling Serial host Sarah Koenig, whom she played in SNL‘s Serial-inspired sketch, “I just want to say, it’s no pressure, but if you want to kiss, we can, because it’s the Peabodys, it’s that kind of night.” She then praised Serial and how Koenig and her producers “showed that podcasts have changed and can be gripping, must-listen-to storytelling that like very cool hip people like me can get obsessed with.”
Koenig didn’t go in for the kiss, but she began her remarks by indicating that many people didn’t know Strong played her in that SNL sketch.
“I also want you to know that so many people have come up to me and said, ‘Was it fun playing yourself on Saturday Night Live?’, ” Koenig said. Although Serial made history as the first podcast to ever win a Peabody, Koenig said she didn’t expect much from the low-budget recording.
“We made it mostly from my basement, with like pillows and blankets around to muffle the sound, and we had to stop recording when my kids flushed the toilet and stuff. So we really weren’t expecting it. Plus, it’s a 10-hour audio documentary about an old murder that I did not solve,” Koenig said. “But people listened anyway, and a lot of people listened. I’m hopeful about that for the future of the kind of great reporting that’s getting recognized here tonight. Because I think, I hope it means that contrary to what we thought, people out there who listen to and read and watch the kind of work that we do, they do have patience for journalism that takes its time.”
Speaking of journalism, veteran interviewer Charlie Rose presented the final award of the evening to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, saying of the Daily Show alum, “he really is a journalist, even though he is a comedian.” And he continued to make that point in his introduction. Oliver has frequently insisted he’s not a journalist, only a comedian, so it was fitting that, even though he claimed not to have heard what Rose said, Oliver began his remarks with, “I didn’t hear what Charlie said; I can only assume it was bullshit.”
Oliver did, however, curtsy and bow to Rose as he accepted his Peabody from the CBS This Morning host. He also thanked his team at Last Week Tonight, Jon Stewart “basically for everything” and Rose, saying of the latter, “Why not? You’re here.”
“This is so kind and it’s a real treat. We will try really hard not to make you regret this any more than you already do,” he said, before telling the well-heeled crowd that had sat through a nearly three-hour-long show, “Congratulations on completing what I hear is the longest evening of your lives.”
Other noteworthy TV show winners included Jane the Virgin, with executive producer Ben Silverman accepting the Peabody; The Knick, the individual team members of which spent their acceptance speech taking turns naming someone they wanted to thank, with director Steven Soderbergh ending the bit by saying his own name; and The Americans, with executive producer Joel Fields accepting the show’s Peabody and offering “special thanks to television critics, whose support has really helped to keep us on the air.”
The Americans has strong support among TV critics but hasn’t received as much awards recognition as some critics think it should. So going into Emmy season, Fields told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Sunday night’s Peabodys that he was “thinking positive thoughts” but grateful for all of the critical support.
“The truth is it would be so great to see this show get some love from more of the awards shows,” he said. “Then again, it has been such a wonderful experience. It’s such a great creative team. It’s such a wonderful artistic opportunity, the chance to work with these actors and this group of people and to have this level of love from the critics and support from the critics, people who get the show the way they do…Boy it would be wonderful to have the awards, but it’s hard to complain too hard.”
Prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney also won for his James Brown film for HBO, Mr. Dynamite, ending his speech by quoting his subject with, “I feel good.”
Ahead of the show, Gibney talked to THR about another documentary he did, Going Clear, about Scientology.
“It’s definitely raised awareness. I think people are not as afraid to speak out against Scientology now,” he said. “I think that’s one of the great contributions that Going Clear has made, I hope.”
Vice won two Peabodys, an honor CEO Shane Smith called “incredibly humbling.” Smith also said he still wants former ESPN star Bill Simmons to come to Vice after tweeting messages to that effect after ESPN president John Skipper announced that the network decided not to renew Simmons’ contract.
Pivot will edit Sunday night’s Peabody Awards down to a 90-minute special, which will air on Sunday, June 21, at 9 p.m. ET. There you’ll be able to see all of the big moments from this year’s show, including Armisen’s impressions of Ira Glass and Robert Durst and him demonstrating the Peabody Award winners’ secret language, if you tune in.
After all, as Armisen joked in his monologue, “As host of the show, I’m not going to do that thing where I go ‘Oh, we have so few viewers, nobody watches Pivot.’ That’s like a cheap joke, that’s easy. You are not going to see me do that joke. In fact, you’re not going to see me do any of this, because it’s on Pivot.”
A full list of this year’s Peabody Award winners is available here.