2016 Sentinel Awards

Madam Secretary, East Los High, black-ish and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver were among the winners at the 17th annual Sentinel Awards ceremony, a glittering evening that celebrated exemplary TV storylines about health and climate change topics and featured a special appearance by legendary TV producer Norman Lear. 

“This evening acknowledges the fact that entertainment matters,” said Marty Kaplan, the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and founding director of The Norman Lear Center. “And it matters especially in the arena of public health.”

Lear, wearing his trademark white hat, received a standing ovation as he came on stage to present awards in the Comedy category. “Five, six years ago, at 88, 89, I didn’t get that kind of applause,” Lear told the audience. “But now I can get a standing ovation walking across a room—and that’s in my own home.”

The ABC hit series black-ish won for an episode titled “Dr. Hell No,” in which the character Pops, played by Laurence Fishburne, undergoes a balloon angioplasty procedure to clear a clogged artery in his heart. The comedy series Getting On (HBO) and Jane the Virgin (The CW) placed second and third, respectively.

Watch video | To Norman, With LoveMore photos

Madam Secretary (CBS) was the winner in the Drama category for the episode “Invasive Species,” which dealt with depression, suicide and a family’s grief—a departure from the show’s mix of Washington politics and international intrigue. Code Black, the CBS series that takes place in the nation’s busiest emergency room at the fictitious Angels Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, was second in the category for a storyline about end-of-life care.

Actress Kate Burton, a Tony winner and Emmy nominee who had a pivotal role in the Madam Secretary storyline, presented the first-place Sentinel Award to the show’s co-executive producer Moira Kirland, who also wrote the episode. 

“It’s such a joy to be here tonight and to honor all the writers,” Burton said. “This is my favorite awards show.”

“We did our best to handle the subject of death by suicide both realistically and with sensitivity,” Kirland said. “It was so important to all of us that we get it right [and] this award means a lot to us.”

The HBO talk show series hosted by John Oliver won for a segment about mental health.

The hugely popular Disney Junior animated show Doc McStuffins once again won for Children’s Program for the episode “Selfless Snowman,” about a stuffed toy named Chilly who overcomes the fear of donating his rare cottonball white fluff to help his ailing friend, Pickles. In accepting the award, creator and executive producer Chris Nee spoke about the personal experience of her wife being diagnosed a year ago with aplastic anemia, a rare condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells.

“For several months she was transfusion-dependent,” said Nee, who added that she remembered frequent days at the hospital when she silently thanked people for donating their blood and platelets, which are disk-shaped cell fragments that help the body form clots to stop bleeding. “I was able to take what was in my life and turn it into an episode that hopefully encourages blood donations.”

“Hollywood, Health & Society has been a partner with us from the very beginning,” Nee said. “If you look at the storylines that we were doing in season one and us doing a storyline like [blood transfusions], it’s because we earned the trust of people in the medical community by getting the right kind of information through Hollywood, Health & Society.”

Kate Burton presents first-place drama award to Madam Secretary.

In the Serial Drama category, East Los High, the five-time Emmy nominated Hulu original series, took first place for a storyline about sexual abuse. The actresses Alexandra Rodriguez and Vannessa Vasquez, who play sisters Gina and Camila Barrios, presented the award to executive producer Carlos Portugal, producer Kathy Le Backes and writer-producer Nancy De Los Santos.

In her remarks, Vasquez—whose East Los High character was sexually abused by her father when she was a little girl—read a poignant comment from a fan on Instagram who said that she found the courage to talk of her own abuse after watching the episode.

Also on hand and serving as presenters in the Reality category were Elena Ashmore, Sean McElwee, Rachel Osterbach, Cristina Sanz and John Tucker, who comprise most of the cast of the first-place A&E series Born This Way, which looks at the lives of young adults with Down syndrome and their families. Executive producer Jonathan Murray joined them on stage for the award. 

“For too long people with disabilities, including Down syndrome, have been placed on the sidelines of life and on the margins of prime-time television,” Murray said. “With Born This Way airing on A&E, that is no longer the case.”

The cast of Born This Way celebrate with executive producer Jonathan Murray.

The 14 winners and finalists were chosen from almost 80 entries, and were recognized in the following categories: Drama, Comedy, Serial Drama, TV Movie, Climate Change, Reality, Talk Show, Documentary, Children’s Programming and Spanish-language.

This was the fourth year that the Sentinel Awards ceremony was held at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood.

Since 1999, the Sentinel Awards have honored TV shows and movies that educate and motivate viewers to make choices for healthier and safer lives. Entries from broadcast, cable and streaming network shows showcase a diverse range of topics that include substance abuse, mental health, reproductive health, climate change and many more.

The awards are sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and presented by HH&S, a program of the Lear Center and a one-stop shop for writers and producers in search of accurate information on public health and climate change topics. 

Funded by the CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The California Endowment, The Aileen Getty Foundation and The SCAN Foundation—and with past support from ClimateWorks, the Grantham Foundation and the Barr Foundation, among others—HH&S is a free resource that provides consultations and briefings with experts for entertainment industry professionals on public health and climate change topics. For more information, visit www.usc.edu/hhs.

This article was updated 11/5/16.

Getting On executive producer Will Scheffer with Norman Lear.

The 2016 Sentinel Awards winners and finalists: 

Madam SecretaryInvasive Species (CBS)
First place
Topic: Suicide, grief and mental health

Code BlackThe Son Rises (CBS)
Second place
Topic: End of life care

Black-ishDr. Hell No (ABC)
First place
Topic: Angioplasty

Getting OnNo, I Don’t Want a F**king Smiley Face (HBO)
Second place
Topic: Healthcare

Jane the VirginChapter Twenty-Eight (The CW)
Third place 
Topic: Parenting and plagiocephaly

Body Team 12 (HBO)
First place
Topic: Ebola

ViceRight to Die (HBO)
Second place
Topic: End of life policy

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
First place 
Topic: Mental health

Doc McStuffinsSelfless Snowman (Disney Junior)
First place
Topic: Blood transfusion

Born This WayUp Syndrome (A&E)
First place
Topic: Down Syndrome

East Los HighEnd of an Era (Hulu)
First place
Topic: Sexual abuse

Explorer: Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown (National Geographic Channel)
First place
Topic: Climate change

Vive la Salud con la Dra. Azaret (CNN en Español)
First place
Topic: Cardiology

How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (HBO)
First place
Topic: Climate change