"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 to receive honorary awards at Monday night's International Emmy Awards Gala. A total of 38 nominees from 15 countries will compete 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 "MASH" 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.
"'MASH' very cleverly used the Korean War as a stand in for social commentary on the Vietnam War. ... 'All in the Family' — as well as everything that Norman did — was a new approach to addressing social issues on television," said Paisner.
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 manages 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, which 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.
Brazil had five nominations, all for TV Globo productions, while Argentina's four nominations included acting nods for Dario Grandinetti and Cristina Banegas in the miniseries "Television por la Inclusion."
Paisner said the International Emmys have come a long way since 1972 when 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 presents International Emmys in 20 categories with separate ceremonies for news and current affairs, digital productions and children's television. More than 1,000 television industry representatives from around the world are expected for Monday's gala.
Monday's ceremony will also honor Kim In-kyu, president and CEO of the Korean Broadcasting System, with the honorary 2012 International Emmy Directorate Award.
International Emmys: http://www.iemmys.tv