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Television Academy Honors to hail 8 TV programs 'with a conscience'

March 7, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Oprah Men

On May 5, the fourth annual Television Academy Honors will salute eight programs that have demonstrated the ability of TV to significantly improve people's lives and attitudes. The star-studded event will be hosted by Dana Delany ("Body of Proof") at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The eight programs exemplifying "TV with a conscience" were aired by ABC, DirecTV, ESPN, HBO, NBC and Showtime and in syndication and deal with such important issues as sexual abuse and assault, racism, mental health and trauma, teen pregnancy, autism, living with a life-threatening disease and good nutrition in the fight against childhood obesity. Below are descriptions of the eight TV programs from the news release issued by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences:

"The 16th Man" – The documentary tells the emotional story of the end of apartheid in South Africa, the start of Nelson Mandela's new government with its goal of racial unity, and what the South African rugby team's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup meant to the country's healing process. With narration by Morgan Freeman, the program educates viewers on how Mandela used the sport of rugby to make a deeply divided, distressed nation whole again when traditional politics failed, and how the 1995 Rugby World Cup win became the turning point in South Africa's history.

"The Big C: Taking the Plunge" – In the Season 1 finale of "The Big C," Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) finally informs her family of the life-threatening cancer diagnosis she had kept secret, and after wavering on treatments, opts for a risky procedure. In this compelling episode, Cathy examines the taboo nature of her own mortality while bravely transcending denial to acceptance of living with her disease. "The Big C" explores the critical need for all, whether facing a medical diagnosis or merely getting older, to live life every day as though one is dying the next.

"Friday Night Lights: I Can't"– One of America's most acclaimed family drama series tackles a difficult situation that teens and adults face every day: unwanted pregnancy. As Becky (Madison Burge) faces a heartbreaking decision and seeks support, information and advice from friends and total strangers, the episode delves into the human emotion surrounding abortion with honesty and grace, never succumbing to the politically charged emotion that usually overwhelms the dialogue around this controversial issue.

"Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" – Hosted by celebrity chef, bestselling author and food activist Jamie Oliver, the Emmy Award-winning docu-reality series proves a television show can create a movement.  The series is set in Huntington, W.V., named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the most nutritionally unhealthy areas in America.  Oliver works to help people switch from fast and processed food to fresh foods, both in the schools and at home.  With the success of Huntington behind him, Oliver's ready for a bigger challenge -- help the kids and families of the country's second largest city – Los Angeles.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward" – Shattering the stigma of male sexual abuse, 200 men speak out – some for the first time – about the trauma of their own childhood experiences in this special two-part episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It is estimated that one in every six men has been molested as a child, but this special marks the first time a national television conversation has been held in such depth about male childhood sexual abuse. Fathers, husbands, sons and brothers stand alongside Winfrey and Tyler Perry, and open up like never before about how the abuse continues to affect them, in the hope of offsetting the stigma of male sexual abuse and open a "door to freedom" for help and healing for themselves and others.

"'Parenthood ' Pilot'"– In the series premiere of "Parenthood," Kristina and Adam Braverman (Monica Potter, Peter Krause) discover their young son Max (Max Burkholder) has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. More than 1.5 million Americans have some form of the autism spectrum disorders, but this statistic ignores the millions of parents, siblings, friends, teachers and therapists whose lives are affected by autism every day.  In its pilot episode, "Parenthood" introduces the colorful, intergenerational Braverman family; with raw emotion it demonstrates the impact of Asperger's on all members of Max's family and the need for them to find the means to support each other.

"Private Practice: Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?"– In this powerful episode, "Private Practice" masters the gut-wrenching crime of sexual assault, as well as a poignant depiction of its aftermath and the long-term mental health effects that follow.  When Pete (Tim Daly) discovers Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) in the halls of the hospital bloodied and bruised, he and his fellow doctors come to her aid. However, only Addison (Kate Walsh) learns the truth from Charlotte – that she wasn't just beaten and robbed, but was raped. This marks the second Television Academy Honor for "Private Practice."  The series was also honored in 2010 for the episode '"Nothing to Fear,'" a thought-provoking account of physician-assisted suicide.

"Wartorn 1861-2010"– With suicide rates among active military servicemen and veterans currently on the rise, "Wartorn 1861-2010" brings urgent attention to the invisible wounds of war.  Drawing on personal stories of American soldiers whose lives and psyches were torn asunder by the horrors of battle and post-traumatic stress disorder, the documentary, executive produced by James Gandolfini, chronicles the lingering effects of combat and post-traumatic stress on military personnel and their families throughout American history, from the Civil War through today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: On "The Oprah Winfrey Show" TV special, men hold up photos of themselves as young people when they were sexually molested. (Harpo Productions)