"Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy didn't hesitate when given a chance to pay tribute to his American idol, legendary TV producer Norman Lear, at the 40th International Emmy Awards.
Lear's sitcom "All In the Family" — and its spinoffs "Maude" and "The Jeffersons" — mixed humor with an honest examination of the key social issues of the day — racism, sexism, even abortion, rape and homosexuality. Decades later, Murphy is following the path blazed by Lear with his shows, "Glee" and "The New Normal."
Murphy and Lear are receiving honorary awards at Monday night's International Emmy Awards Gala. A total of 40 nominees from 15 countries will be competing for awards in nine categories. British television productions received a leading seven nominations, including best actor and actress nods for Jason Isaacs, the villainous Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, in the crime mystery "Case Histories" and newcomer Joanna Vanderham in "The Runaway."
"I remember watching his shows when I was young and being moved by them," Murphy said of Lear from his production office in Los Angeles. "The way he tackled social issues so directly and opened a conversation about things no one wanted to talk about was fascinating to me.
"I try to do the same in my work, most recently with the 'Obama Mama' episode of 'The New Normal,' which was inspired by 'All in the Family.'"
In that Sept. 25 episode of his new NBC sitcom, about a gay male couple and the surrogate hired to carry their child, there's a heated discussion at a dinner party over whether to support Barack Obama or Mitt Romney reminiscent of Archie Bunker's debates with his liberal son-in-law Mike, whom he called "Meathead." Ellen Barkin's character Jane Forrest, the surrogate's ultraconservative grandmother, is prone to making racist and homophobic remarks much like the curmudgeonly working-class Bunker.
At Monday night's ceremony, hosted by Regis Philbin at the Hilton New York Hotel, Murphy will be presenting the 40th Anniversary Special Founders Award to Lear, now 90, and "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H" star Alan Alda. The organizers wanted to mark the milestone anniversary by honoring a producer and performer who had groundbreaking shows on the air in 1972 when the International Emmys were first presented.
"Each of them is an iconic person in the history of the television business ... who were part of that incredible vanguard of a new kind of socially relevant, often in-your-face, television programs that really did change the medium," said Bruce L. Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which presents the International Emmys honoring excellence in television programming produced outside the U.S.
"'M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H' very cleverly used the Korean War as a stand in for social commentary on the Vietnam War, which in 1972 was a pretty bold thing to do. 'All in the Family' — as well as everything that Norman did — was a new approach to addressing social issues on television," said Paisner. "All in the Family" was adapted from a British sitcom "Til Death Us Do Part."
To complete the circle, Jessica Lange, the star of Murphy's gothic contemporary TV series "American Horror Story," will present him with the honorary 2012 International Emmy Founders Award.
"In terms of being at the cutting edge of changes in our society, Ryan Murphy may be the most significant producer in the industry today. He is trying very hard to change the way people think in ways that get people to be more inclusive and tolerant," said Paisner.
" Every once in a while a producer comes along who managers because he's a great storyteller to change the terms of the national discussion for the better. Norman Lear was certainly one and Ryan Murphy is another one," added Paisner, noting the recent election in which voters in three states approved same-sex marriage.
With "Glee," Paisner noted, Murphy also created a novel format mixing music with drama/comedy, that has had an influence abroad. Singapore's "The Kitchen Musical," a music-dance-drama about a young girl fresh out of a Parisian culinary school who goes to work in her father's famous restaurant, received two nominations — for best drama series and best actor — Filipino Arthur Acuna for his role as the restaurant's general manager.
Britain had two nominees for best comedy: the Jennifer Saunders-Joanna Lumley sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous," which returned for three specials to mark its 20th anniversary, and "Spy," about a single father accidentally recruited as a trainee spy for MI5.
Brazil had five nominations, all for TV Globo productions, including "The Good Men" for TV movie/mini-series and "The Invisible Woman" for comedy, while Argentina's four nominations included acting nods for Dario Grandinetti and Cristina Banegas in the On TV miniseries "Television por la Inclusion."
Also competing for best drama are France's "Braquo," Hong Kong's "ICAC Investigators 2011," Australia's "The Slap" and Argentina's "The Social Leader." The other contender for comedy series is Belgium's "What If?
Paisner said the International Emmys have come a long way since 1972 when a group of U.S. television executives, primarily in distribution, created the awards to thank their customers around the world. That year, about 100 people gathered in a New York hotel for a modest ceremony that handed out two International Emmys for fiction and non-fiction programming.
Now, the academy is presenting International Emmys in 20 categories with separate ceremonies for news and current affairs, digital productions and children's television — and more than 1,000 television industry representatives from around the world are expected for Monday's gala.
"When the academy started in 1972, television around the world was very much an American medium," Paisner said. "Now almost every country — from Brazil to China to South Korea — supports a growing production operation and more and more of the top shows are locally produced."
Monday's ceremony will also honor Kim In-kyu, who rose through the ranks in a 40-year career to become president and CEO of the Korean Broadcasting System and now also heads the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, with the 2012 International Emmy Directorate Award.