The 71st annual Peabody Awards recognized 38 programs for excellence in electronic media on Monday, May 21, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. More than 500 attendees, including Peabody award recipients Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler and Alex Trebek, joined host Sir Patrick Stewart in a production that rivals other major media awards ceremonies.
“It’s actually orchestrated a little better,” said Joe Urschel, chair of the Peabody Board. “It has to run on a very tight schedule and is plotted out very precisely.”
Grady alumnus Jody Danneman (ABJ ‘88) is the master behind the plot. Through his production company, Atlanta Image Arts, Danneman has been the executive producer of the Peabody Awards since 1999.
Danneman’s relationship with the Peabody’s began in the late 1980s with late Grady professors and Peabody directors Dr. Worth McDougald and Barry Sherman. “I had classes with them and they were mentors,” Danneman said. “As a TV geek, I was always fascinated by award shows, so I was always hanging around the Peabody’s.”
After graduating in 1988, Danneman kept in touch with Sherman throughout his professional career, and his chance to do something professionally with the Peabody Awards came in 1993 and again in 1996 when he worked as a staff producer for Atlanta Video Production Center. After launching Atlanta Image Arts in 1997, Danneman took over as executive producer of the Peabody Awards in 1999, and has been producing the ceremony ever since.
“This is a tent-pole project (for Atlanta Image Arts),” Danneman said. “It is the most prestigious, the most recognized and is the production that we have the most passion about.”
Although the actual ceremony takes just two hours, Danneman’s crew works on the Peabody’s for much of the year. The crew arrives in New York City on Thursday and works 14-hour days leading up to the Ceremony, but the work begins much earlier in Atlanta. “This is in production for us 10 months out of the year,” Danneman said. “And it’s ‘all hands on deck.’ Everyone in the company is involved.”
His company begins consultation with Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb in September for conceptual design and creative direction, and wraps up with editing the actual Peabody Awards production in June.
“From my point of view, Jody brings peace of mind,” Newcomb said. “I rely on Jody and his staff to make sure the day goes exactly the way it’s supposed to.”
“Our goal is to have an event that leaders in the industry will see that we do the same level of work that they do,” he said. “And we pull it off, and it’s largely because of Jody and his company.”
Danneman likes to staff his company with fellow Grady alumni, including associate producer Shannon Sullivan ‘10, who began working with Danneman as an intern.
“Jody is an excellent mentor,” Sullivan said. “He takes a lot of people under his wing and has definitely given me the tools I need to get to where I want to be.”
Danneman said he likes to hire Grady alums because he knows the quality of the education they received, and because he feels a duty to help those who are following in his footsteps.
“When I was looking for an internship, a Grady alum helped me out. I was very fortunate,” he said. “So I try to do the same thing.”
Danneman’s involvement with his alma mater goes far beyond the Peabody Awards and Atlanta Image Arts. Danneman also produces the College’s annual fellowship gala, serves as the chair of the Alumni Board and mentors current students. For his efforts, in 2009 Danneman was recognized with the Dean’s Medal for service to the Grady College.
“Jody is our artistic impresario,” Dean Cully Clark said. “He makes the Peabody’s sizzle and pop, and his commitment to the College is invaluable. He is the best.”