Some Suggestions for the Kennedy Center
In Britain, for more than a century, those who work in the film industry or the stage, either in front of or behind the camera, have been given the ultimate honor of nobility. Given the trends of the world, I have no doubt one day we will hear of Sir Kenneth Brannagh, Dame Kate Winslet and Sir Jude Law.
Of course, in America, despite our supposedly treating our celebrities like royalty, we stop short of giving them actual titles. The closest we ever really come to recognizing our creative forces in the performing arts are the Kennedy Center Honors, when they are commemorated by their peers and politicians in private and televised ceremonies. This is a tradition that has been carried for more than forty years under both Democratic and Republican President, so there seems little chance that it will end. This year, among the honorees were Al Pacion and The Eagles. Viewers will be able to see it December 30.
Now while I am a little disappointed that the nation’s highest artistic honors are limited to a single broadcast generally aired during a period that has the lowest audience viewers, I also realize that it probably means the world to the men and women who are recognized. But I have noticed a trend — — generally the actors/directors who are recognized work in the fields of film and theater. There have been, as of yet, no recognition for artists (including writers and musicians) who have worked almost entirely in the field of television.
This strikes me as particularly curious, considering that particularly in the last ten years, TV has reached a level of creative excellence that all but the films hardly reach anymore. Furthermore, there has been next to no recognition for some of the legends who created some of the best television in the last couple of decades, and while it’s stronger recently, there have been some great showrunners who have gone unrecognized. (The exception is the Mark Twain Prize, which has commemorating many performers who’ve worked mainly in TV). Now I have little doubt that British actors and writers on the other side of the pond will get recognized soon enough (I await with particular anticipation the knighthoods of Benedict Cumberbatch and Dominic West), but unless the Kennedy Center starts soon, some of them may not be around long enough to take their bows.
So, bearing this IN mind, I have some helpful suggestions for the Kennedy Center to take into account for, say the next fifteen years. Since the tradition of the awards is to recognize no more than two performers and one creative force, I’ll keep the list of honorees to three. I’ll even offer a brief suggestion as to how to commemorate them, though I know you’ve got better writers than me on hand for that.
(Note: I will not include performers who are likely to be recognized for their work in film and the stage as well as TV. This includes such gifted talents as Glenn Close, Sally Field, Kevin Spacey, and Woody Harrelson.)
2016: Steven Bochco, “for his groundbreaking portrayals of the complicated men and women who work in such series as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue.
Jimmy Smits, for demonstrating that the heroics and evils of man can often exist within the same character in series such as L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Dexter and Sons of Anarchy.”
Betty White, for redefining what a comedy legend can be even after nearly six decades in the profession.
2017: David E. Kelley for creating some of the most memorable legal professionals dealing with some of the most newsworthy cases of the day in series such as LA Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal.
Sela Ward, for creating some of the most original and complicated female characters who redefined what a woman could be in the last century.
David Duchovny, for creating some of the most mesmerizing and eclectic characters in such series as Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Californication. (I’m pushing it a little on the last one, but he’s one of my favorites.
2018: Dick Wolf, for reinventing the police procedural and the legal procedural in the same series and keeping that franchise alive longer than any other series in history.
Chris Noth, for demonstrating leading man qualities and dark peerless depths in the Law and Order franchise, for being the obscure object of desire on Sex and the City, and for melding the ethics of both on The Good Wife.
Candice Bergen, for creating two of the most memorable and groundbreaking female characters, Murphy Brown and Shirley Schmidt, and for never accepting that the glass ceiling existed in any profession.
2019: Tom Fontana, for fearlessly purveying the dark corners of the bleakest parts of our society, whether it be a run-down hospital on St. Elsewhere, the Baltimore police on Homicide: Life on The Street or the walls of prison in Oz.
Andre Braugher, for his measured portrayal of African-American police figures in series as diverse as Homicide and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and demonstrating what it’s like to age gracefully in Men of A Certain Age.
Gillian Anderson, for successfully reinvented what a professional woman could due in the 21st century, in such series as The X-Files, Hannibal, and The Fall.
2020: Aaron Sorkin, for reinventing the workplace drama, creating the walk-and-talk series in Sports Night, and proving that an entertaining shows in the world of politics could be possible in The West Wing.
Ted Danson, for creating one of the most indelible comic creations in television history on Cheers, and demonstrating his edging and more dramatic side on series as diverse as Damages and CSI.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for becoming the twentieth-first century’s equivalent of Lucille Ball and creating some of the most indelible and memorable female comic creations in Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and Veep.