Danneman Adds Sizzle to Peabody Awards

Grady alum Jody Danneman (l) goes through a run-of-show with 2012 host Sir Patrick Stewart prior to the Peabody Awards ceremony. Photo/Joe Dennis.

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.

Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb (l) and Grady alumnus Jody Danneman. Photo/Joe Dennis.

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.”

Danneman offers some last-minute instructions to an Atlanta Image Arts co-worker.

“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.

Celebrity sightings are the norm at the ceremony. Pictured (l-r) are Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler, Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, all Peabody winners. Photo/Joe Dennis.

“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.”

My 3 Sons: Parenting Restrictions

Originally published on Patch.com on March 6, 2012.

I can’t watch R-rated movies, unless I sneak one in late at night when they’re not awake. I have to eat my vegetables at dinner, even though I hate them. On the rare occasion I get to go on a date, I have to be home by 11:30 or else I am fined.

Sleeping in is a rarity, and when it happens I’m still rudely awakened several hours too early. I have to go to church — including Sunday school — every Sunday. When they’re watching, I’m not allowed to cuss. If I snack, I better make sure I have enough for everyone and it’s a designated snack time.

I’m not a teenager living under my parents’ roof. I’m a father of three young boys. And they have more control over me than my parents ever did.

I didn’t plan for this U-Turn in my life. I knew parenthood would change my life, I just didn’t think it would restrict my life so much.

Over the past month, the movies I’ve seen are Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, The Lion King, The Zookeeper and The Muppets. I did manage to sneak a peek of two grown-up movies, but I fell asleep during Bad Teacher and was too scared to finish Paranormal Activity 3. And seeing a movie at the theatre? Only if I want to see Chipwrecked in 3-D with a hundred other talkative kids, and spend $20 on popcorn and candy. No thanks.

All my saved high definition Dexter and Boardwalk Empire episodes on my DVR have been bumped by new episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Wild Kratts.

My iPod is dominated with songs from Disney soundtracks, The Chipmunks and The Wiggles. At least I have an Academy-Award winning song on there: “Man or Muppet.”

The restrictions don’t end with technology. I am lucky to be married to an awesome cook. Unfortunately, she always cooks vegetables, too. I used to politely decline, but now while we’re challenging our sons to eat their vegetables, I’ve been informed that I must eat them too. One time I tried to escape when my wife prepared my most dreaded vegetable: cooked carrots. I just didn’t put any on my plate. The kids noticed, and I ended up scarfing some down.

I also must always watch my language. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a potty mouth. But the occasional s-word will slip out after a spill, a step on an always-sharp Lego piece or a bad move on an iPhone game. The latter got me in trouble recently, when my 4-year-old heard me let an s-bomb slip. He repeated me — several times — but in a silly mood, my wife and I couldn’t stop laughing to address it appropriately. Finally, Carla built up the proper serious face to address it, and little Jackson replied, “But I always lose, too.”

Great. I’ve tarnished him at 4. And every time I let a little of my “bad habit” adulthood slip into my daily regimen in front of my kids, I fear they lose a little bit of childhood.

My 3 Sons: Getting More Relaxed with Each Child

Baby Matthew turns 1 today, but you wouldn’t know it in the Dennis household.

There’s been little preparation. As of Thursday afternoon, we have yet to purchase a gift, do not have the ingredients for his cake and haven’t even picked out his special birthday outfit.

Being the third child, Matthew has experienced much more laid back parents than his older brothers did in their first year. And that relaxed state has grown with each child.

For instance, seven years ago, the first time Jaydon took a fall and bumped his head, we rushed him to the emergency room. Three years ago after Jackson’s first fall, we called the 24-hour pediatric helpline for advice. For Matthew’s first fall, a little cuddling was the cure.

Before we gave baby Jaydon his bottle, we would make sure it was the proper temperature by using a bottle warmer. For baby Jackson, it was running it under hot water. Baby Matthew gets the bottle right of the refrigerator.

When Jaydon dropped a food item on the floor, we immediately threw it away to avoid germs. For Jackson, we followed the “15 second rule”  — if it’s been on the floor for less than 15 seconds, it somehow was not contaminated). With Matthew, that has been extended to the “15-hour rule,” or essentially, if we recognize what meal it was from and it was within the current day, it’s safe to eat.

At shopping trips, we had a cart protector for baby Jaydon. For baby Jackson, a simple Clorox wipe of the bar and seat was adequate. Now, we just plop baby Matthew in the cart.

When Jaydon fussed in his crib, we immediately came to his rescue. For Jackson, we waited a few seconds to see if he would calm himself down. If Matthew is fed and clean, it will take some sustained crying for mom or dad to visit the crib.

And for Jaydon’s first birthday, we held a birthday party with all his baby friends. Jackson’s first birthday was a more intimate affair at our home, but he was still showered with gifts. And baby Matthew, well, we’re just hoping to have a cake ready and a savings bond ordered.

We’ve thought about our seeming neglect of protecting Matthew, and at times have felt guilty. But ironically, of our three sons, Matthew has been the happiest and healthiest baby in his first year. Or maybe it just seems that way, because we’re not so obsessed about protecting him from every conceivable germ, physical bump and emotional bruise, and truly letting him be a baby.

My 3 Sons: Let it Snow

Matthew enjoys the northern snow.

Originally published on Athens Patch on Dec. 15, 2011.

For my three sons, snow on the ground is synonymous with Christmas. With both sets of grandparents and extended families in Chicago, the 800-mile trek up north has become an annual holiday tradition.

Of course, seeing family and getting gifts tops their “things I’m excited about” list, but getting a chance to play in the snow is a close third. And most of the time, Mother Nature complies with their wishes. Last year she dumped nearly two feet of snow on Christmas Eve. Armed in boots, a stocking cap, gloves and a rigid snow suit in which he can barely move his arms — resembling little Randy Parker from “The Christmas Story” — our 3-year-old Jackson rushed out into the snow and plopped on the ground.

After experimenting with making snow angels, throwing snowballs and sampling what snow tastes like, it was time to complete the family task: building a snowman. With the help of grandpa, we built a 3-foot snowman, which to no surprise the boys named Frosty. Jackson was pretty protective of Frosty. He didn’t want anyone else to touch his creation, and was especially mad when his brother started throwing snowballs at the snowman. When it was time to head in for hot cocoa, Jackson didn’t want to leave Frosty alone, perhaps waiting for him to come to life. He kept a close eye on his snowman from grandma’s patio door and living room window, taking a break from playing every few minutes to make sure Frosty was OK. He hesitated to join the family for Christmas Eve church service, worried that someone might attack his snowman in his absence.

He feared going to bed — even with the promise that Santa Claus was coming — because he was worried that Santa would kick his snowman. We assured him that Santa wouldn’t do that. Then he expressed concern that the reindeer would knock over Frosty. We assured him that Rudolph’s red nose would spot the snowman and Frosty would be safe. Indeed, Frosty would survive Christmas Eve, but Santa’s presents shifted Jackson’s attention on Christmas morning. His first memory of Christmas was much more snow-filled than Jaydon’s. Then an only-child, the promise of snow on the ground was his motivating factor taking the 15-hour drive. When we pulled into grandma and grandpa’s driveway, he was elated to see snow on the ground — albeit a little patch of snow no more than a half-inch deep. As we unbuckled him, he jumped out of his car seat not to race to the front door, but to jump on the tiny patch of snow at the edge of the driveway. Every time we went outside the house, he would race to the edge of the driveway to stand in the tiny patch, which shrunk each day during the unseasonably warm weather.

Mother Nature eventually changed the winter warm weather to sub-freezing temperatures — too cold to snow — transforming that tiny patch to ice. As we ready the family for the trip, our boys have recalled their vivid memories of last year’s snowfall. We assure them there will be snow during our visit. We’re hoping Mother Nature complies.

My 3 Sons: The Santa Question

Jaydon a year ago when he was a believer.

Originally published on athens.patch.com on 12/1/11
My 7-year-old son Jaydon inherited his mother’s inquisitiveness. So it’s only fair that I avert his life questions to Carla.

Jay: “Dad, how did God create the world?”

Me: “Your mom sings in the choir. You should ask her.”

Jay: “Dad, how do tornadoes happen?”

Me: “Your mother lived in Kansas for a few years. You should ask her.”

Jay: “Dad, what makes boys and girls different?”

Me: “Your mom has a biology degree. You should ask her.”

Last week he asked me a question — in the form of a statement — that caught me off guard.

“Dad, I just don’t believe there’s a Santa Claus,” he said.

Thankfully, his little brothers weren’t around to hear this in his more-than-certain tone. Knowing we were on our way home where he could destroy their Christmas dreams, I felt that I couldn’t wait for Carla to bail me out. My mind raced to memories of my own childhood. When did I question Santa? I never had a chance. In second grade, Sister Mary told us there was no Santa. That won’t work here. Next my mind raced to WWCD — what would Carla do? Shoot. I don’t know. I really should’ve listened more to her answers to his questions. Then my mind jumps to the multiple parenting books and articles that Carla has forwarded me over the years. I really should’ve read those more intuitively, but I think I can scrape together an answer. (Please note by no means is this an actual step-by-step solution to answering kids’ difficult questions. It’s just what my brain put together from stuff I think I read at some point.)

Step one: Ignore child’s question.

I turn up the radio. Jay isn’t satisfied.

“Dad. Dad. DAD! Please turn the music down. Please just be honest with me. Is Santa for real?”

Step two: Avert child’s question.

I ask Jay about his day at school.

“It was fine,” he said. But I don’t want to talk about that now. Please tell me if Santa is real.”

Step three: Answer child’s question with another question.

I ask, “If Santa isn’t real, then who do you think puts all those gifts under the tree?”

He answers, “I think you and mommy buy the gifts, wrap them and put them under the tree when we are asleep.”

Step four: Repeat step three, in an attempt to exhaust child.

“Well you know mom and dad don’t have a lot of money. How in the world could we afford so many gifts?”

He answers, “You just charge it.”

(Great. Looks like we’ve already instilled bad financial habits on him.)

Step five: Use threats on child.

“Well you know what happens if you don’t believe in Santa. He won’t bring you gifts.”

After a few seconds of thoughtful silence, I think I may have caught him off guard.

“Will Jackson and Matthew still get gifts?” he asks.

Perfect! I think I found my out, which leads me to step six.

Step six: Guilt the child.

“That’s right,” I said. “Don’t ruin Christmas for your little brothers.”

“OK,” he answers. “But I just have one more question.”

Excited that I may have escaped this conundrum, I confidently encourage him to ask me anything.

“I know Jackson and Matthew were in mommy’s tummy. How did …”

Before he could complete the question, I give him my answer.

“It was your mommy’s belly. You should ask her.”