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Downtown Night Move Aims to Revitalize Peabody Awards

This Sunday night, the 74th Peabody Awards will be held in New York. But this won’t be the staid luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria of decades past — it will be a red-carpeted affair at Cipriani Wall Street hosted by comedian and bandleader Fred Armisen. Like the Four Seasons Restaurant and Condé Nast, the venerable awards cherished by Alfred A. Knopf, Walter Cronkite and their media successors got the itch to move downtown.

Aside from the look and feel of the show itself, there are other new wrinkles emerging as the Peabodys near their 75th edition in 2016 (deeper roots than any major award this side of the Oscars or Pulitzers). “We have always quietly done our work and now we’re trying to loudly do our work,” Jeffrey Jones, director of the Peabodys, tells B&C. One reason for the increase in volume: a telecast — the second in a three-year deal — set to air on Pivot on June 21. Here are some of the ways the awards are evolving:

• Honorees get early wake-up call. Instead of sending out a press release about the 40 selections in 2015 as in years past, the Peabodys engineered a live announcement on ABC’s Good Morning America.

• International fare has a place at the table. With the Emmys overlooking international shows like Orphan Black or Black Mirror, the 18 Peabodys judges (a mix of academics, critics and government types) have shown increasing willingness to favor them.

• Peabodys on demand? While it isn’t in effect just yet, Jones says, there is “active development” of a digital platform that would enable viewing of all winning content.

One aspect of the Peabodys that won’t change anytime soon — and, in fact, is the dominant part of the Pivot broadcast — is the cross-pollination of personalities in the room. It’s a scene that will see, say, Frontline producers mingling with stars from FX’s The Americans, or local public radio crews in a mutual-admiration cluster with Gina Rodriguez from Jane the Virgin.

“It’s a marriage of a lot of things,” Jones said. “Amy Schumer (an honoree for her Comedy Central show) is as political as a lot of the news documentaries. Last year we had writers from Comedy Central in the green room saying, ‘We want to talk to those guys,’” meaning a Seattle TV station contingent. (This year the annual subset of local winners includes KVUE-TV in Austin.)

“Louis C.K. told me, ‘I typically hate these [award show] things, but this one is cool,’” Jones said. “He knows that people in the room are getting shot at recognition for something that changes the world.”