The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Modern Family and Glee were among the winners announced today for the 69th Annual George Foster Peabody Awards. The best in electronic media for 2009 were chosen—as always–by a board associated with the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. These aren’t “people’s choice” awards or prizes doled out by the easily lobbied Hollywood foreign press. They aren’t the “jury of your peers” awards like Oscars or Emmys, either. They also have nothing to do with Sherman’s pet pooch and his wayback machine. Peabody’s are recognized as a true mark of distinction, a prize beyond just being popular, a judgment that your show is special and has had a lasting impact on the TV landscape. American Idol is the most popular show on TV. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a Peabody Award-winning classic.
Modern Family was recognized, according to today’s release, as a “droll, perceptive comedy about a multicultural extended family.” The excellent HBO sports documentary “Thrilla in Manila” was singled out for probing “the hype, mythology and meaning of the politically charged Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights in the early 1970s.” (Too bad Vancouver filmmaker Derik Murray didn’t merit a similar nod for his equally excellent Facing Ali.)
The Peabody’s perfectly described The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson as “a talk show without borders.” That’s been especially true this season. The show surprises day to day with wild swings in tone and content, from silly puppet dances to intimate one-on-ones. An episode featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu visiting Craigy got Peabody’s attention. (Tutu is also the one guest Ferguson has said really changed his show for the better, allowing him to swing as mad and thoughtful as he wants to be.) The board commended him for making late night, “safe again for ideas.” This recognition must be especially sweet for Ferguson in a year dominated by headlines for Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman.
Here’s Ferguson’s reaction, fresh off twitter (@craigyferg): “Holy crackers. A Peabody. Congrats to Lisa Ammerman the segment producer who made the Father Tutu visit happen. I am genuinely shocked.”
Glee was described as an “invigorating musical dramedy.” The board especially liked the episode “Wheels” where the rag-tag Ohio glee club performed “Proud Mary” in wheelchairs. HBO’s In Treatment and the short-lived The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency both were recognized.
Several PBS programs received merit, including the American Masters feature Jerome Robbins—Something to Dance About, The Madoff Affair from Frontline and Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times, a portrait of the civic-minded California newspaper dynasty. Peabody also singled out “an exhilarating, awe-inspiring study of the art of origami and paper folding” called “Between the Folds” and another Independent Lens doc “The Order of Myths,” a look at race relations in Mobile, Ala.
CBS’s long-running 60 Minutes picked up two awards for a report Steve Kroft did last season on “The Cost of Dying” and for investigating cyber threats to America in “Sabotaging the System.”
Foreign television shows and specials from China, Korea and the BBC in England were also honored as were several local TV efforts as well as outstanding radio programming. BBC World News America was also singled out as “a model world newscast crafted for U.S. cable subscribers.”
Inexplicably shut out were Jon & Kate Plus 8, The Osbournes Reloaded and The Jay Leno Show.
Anything else left out? Take issue with some of the picks? Feel free to leave a comment.

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