How the Sentinel Awards Honor TV’s Toughest Subjects – The Hollywood Reporter

At 98, people would probably forgive Norman Lear if he decided to take a night here and there.

But on Tuesday night, the legendary TV creator didn’t just show up to the Sentinel Awards, he activated the charm as he praised co-host Rainn Wilson for his comedic work and summed up the experience of attending as “the one of the highlights of my life. ”

The virtual gathering marked the 20th anniversary of the Sentinel Awards, an event that recognizes outstanding television storylines that inform and motivate viewers. It’s presented by Hollywood, Health & Society, a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, hence why it was asked to be there in the first place.

Speaking of questions, during a brief kickoff chat, Wilson asked Lear why he chose to tell stories on television over any other medium. His response: “Life happens sometimes.”

There was more meat to his answer, which included details of a brief detour as a publicist before landing in television creation, but this succinct version applies to why everyone world came together to honor impactful episodes. Life happens sometimes and TV storytellers are there to process and present stories to audiences, no matter how difficult the subject matter.

Norman Lear Center founding director Marty Kaplan said two panels of judges sorted 140 submissions to honor “the creme de la creme” based on accuracy and entertainment value. “Not preachy, but compelling, rich and funny material that grabs the audience’s attention,” he added. A total of 13 shows were honored and various members of each production’s creative teams offered virtual acceptance speeches including cast, writers, executive producers and show creators.

Highlights from the event are below.

Orange is the new black actress Laura Gomez introduced executive producer and screenwriter Carolina Paiz for the episode “God Bless America” ​​dealing with immigration. Paiz praised the Immigrant Defenders Law Center and Immigrant Detention Center Insiders who generously offered insight and assistance in crafting the long-running episode and storyline on the Netflix hit. . “As storytellers, we need to shine a light not only on the immigration crisis, but how we got here,” she said. “Enough with the stories about the glorified CIA and DEA cowboys.”

The good fight creators Michelle and Robert King have been connected to accept an award for “The Gang Gets a Call From HR” to fight racism. They co-starred with the episode’s writer, Davita Scarlett, who praised her bosses for their commitment to showing all of their characters in all their humanity, “which is really refreshing.” She added that in these turbulent times, a bonus of working on this show is that “all the writers selfishly use the show to process current events”.

Michaela Coel was not on hand to accept an award for her buzzing escape I can destroy you on HBO for how he tackled sexual assault. But his producer Simon Meyers was. He encouraged viewers to vote and expressed his gratitude that Cole’s vision was so warmly received by critics and audiences. The selected episodes were “Someone is Lying” and “…It Just Came Up”. Says Meyers: “We’re thrilled it resonated, particularly in America but also around the world, and the nuance and detail of his storytelling was so appreciated.”

Allison Janney, Jaime Pressly, Mimi Kennedy, Beth Hall and Kristen Johnston sat together on the set of Mom on the CBS set to thank their show for being honored for its authentic portrayals of alcoholism and recovery, especially on the episode of “Higgledy-Piggledy and a Cat Show.” Isaac Wright, Jr. – the man who inspired the ABC series For life — joined creator Hank Steinberg in accepting the award for the ABC series’ pilot episode.

All stand up won an award for how the CBS series addressed maternal health in the episode “What the Constitution Greens to Me.” Star Simone Missick agreed, saying how honored she was to take on an episode about the dangers African-American mothers face in an unjust healthcare system. “It’s a subject close to my heart and one that has given me great pride to bring to our audience.”

New Amsterdam Director Peter Horton pitched the show’s Erika Green Swafford for NBC’s “Righteous Right Hand” episode, a script Horton called fabulous and so good he selfishly chose it and wanted to direct it. . Swafford said she was humbled and honored to receive the award, especially at a time when the US healthcare system faces systemic challenges. “The culture of healthcare in the United States is abysmal and the current pandemic has shown that it should be a right and not a privilege. It was a chance to magnify the shortcomings.

Actress Kayla Cromer of Everything will be alright accepted for the Freeform team. She praised creator Josh Thomas and the team for allowing her, an actress who is on the spectrum, to play a character who is on the spectrum – a first for television. “I always planned for my first role to be a homicidal cop or a psychopath in a horror movie or a live-action princess. [My character] doesn’t have any superpowers but she does, in a way. She credited Freeform for always striving for diversity and inclusion, and for letting creator Thomas off the hook “with the weird stuff he gets away with on the show.”

lady secretary Writer and consulting producer Keith Eisner signed on for his CBS show for the episode “Killer Robots,” a show that tackled national security issues. “Technology must be at the service of humanity,” he said accepting, and not the other way around.

Sandra Bernhard, who plays Judy Kubrak on FX Pose, introduced to series co-creator Steven Canals for the episode “In My Heels” for his HIV/AIDS storylines. Canals said her intention with the arc was to show that HIV is not a death sentence but a reason to live more fully. “Pose is a love letter to our ancestors who, at the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with no resources, no government support and no access to quality medical care, still managed to make their way without issue. From their stories, we have all learned so much about love, family and resilience.

normal people Breakout Paul Mescal, who earned an Emmy nomination for his work on the Hulu hit, accepted the award for his show for “Episode 10” to tackle mental health. “We hope this can be an example for young people around the world,” he said.

Dr. Zoanne Clack, executive producer and writer on Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, accepted for the episode “Dad Don’t Preach”, which discussed home abortions. She noted how they wanted the story to be a grounded, truthful story about a home abortion gone wrong, coupled with technical expertise. They were clear they wanted the character to be someone who was already a mother to bring another layer of authenticity to the story. “We are very proud to be recognized for this award,” she said. “To do justice to such an important subject.”

It’s us Star Mandy Moore introduced Julia Brownell, Kevin Falls and Jonny Gomez for how they crafted her aging/Alzheimer’s storyline over multiple episodes in season four. “When our show decided to take Rebecca and her family on this terrifying journey, of course, we immediately called Hollywood, Health & Society and their help made all the difference in making these episodes a success,” Moore said. “Not so long ago, senility and the image of a spoiled, mentally retarded old person were played for cheap laughs in television comedies, but with its characteristic sensitivity and honesty, three episodes of It’s us — “So Long Mary Ann,” “Clouds” and “New York, New York” — took viewers through the fear, resentment, and conflict Rebecca feels as reality slowly unfolds around her.

Gomez said, “It’s such an honor to write for a show that isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves and dive into the depths of human emotion. This is Us, directed by mad genius creator Dan Fogelman, shows us that even in sadness there is light, even in tragedy there is joy. and in a world full of chaos, the love that unites the family, the love that connects us all, is the only constant.

Helen D. Jessen