Individual 1998

Personal Award: Jac Venza

This year, television officially begins its second half-century. While many observers might dispute Newton Minow’s characterization of the medium as a “vast wasteland,” few would challenge Edward R. Murrow’s early observation that without leadership, television would amount to little more than a collection of glowing tubes and wires in a box. There is one giant who spans virtually all of TV’s first 50 years and represents both its greatest aspirations and its highest achievements. Jac Venza has been a major figure in the medium since 1950. He honed his craft first as a designer and subsequently as a director and producer for CBS. In 1964, Mr. Venza was one of the founding group of producers assembled to create National Educational Television (NET), the forerunner of today’s system of public television. From 1972 to today, as executive producer of cultural programs for New York’s WNET-TV, Mr. Venza has dedicated his life’s work to the presentation of superior dramatic and artistic performance on television. He is the visionary behind the on-going excellence of Great Performances, and within its framework, the concepts of Theater in America and Dance in America. Moreover, under his guidance the America Masters series, also recognized with a Peabody Award today, has been vividly realized. As Bill Baker, President of WNET-TV wrote in a letter to the Peabody Board, “In a time when the lowest common denominator often seems to be the highest aspiration for television, Jack Venza strives for more. Twenty-six years ago he set the standard for public television to make it the undisputed home for the arts. He has pursued that dream ever since, bringing extraordinary distinction to the medium.” The Peabody Board wholeheartedly agrees, and presents a personal award in recognition of the many and ongoing achievements of Jac Venza.