2023 Sentinel Awards

Norman Lear, the legendary Emmy Award-winning television producer whose regular attendance at the Sentinel Awards had been an inspiring presence at the annual red-carpet event, took center stage in spirit this year during a celebrity-filled show hosted by comedian and writer Larry Wilmore at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

Lear, who died a day earlier at the age of 101 surrounded by his wife, Lyn, and family at their Los Angeles home, was memorialized during the celebratory event on Dec. 6, which was presented by Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, to honor TV shows whose outstanding storytelling makes an impact.

From left to right: Marty Kaplan, Director of the Norman Lear Center; Larry Wilmore, comedian, writer, producer, and actor who hosted the 2023 Sentinel Awards; Kate Folb, Director of Hollywood, Health & Society
Marty Kaplan, director of The Norman Lear Center; Larry Wilmore, comedian, writer, producer and host of the 2023 Sentinel Awards; and Kate Folb, director of Hollywood, Health & Society. Photo by Michael Jones

A visibly moved Marty Kaplan, the founding director of the Lear Center and a dear friend of his for 40 years, told the audience at the beginning of the show: “I’m glad you’re here. I’m gonna need you tonight.”

“Norman’s shows moved our hearts and minds to embrace our common humanity and live up to what’s best in us,” Kaplan said. “Doing that is why these winning writers are being honored,” he said.

In her introductory remarks, HH&S program Director Kate Folb talked about growing up in Indiana as a “latch-key” kid watching Lear’s shows for their comfort and company. “They say never to meet your heroes because you might be disappointed,” she said. “Not so when I met Norman. He was everything I imagined and so much more. I feel so blessed to have been a very small part of his massive universe.”

More photos | Watch the full event

Norman Lear Changed the Face of TV

At the outset, Kaplan read a statement from Lyn Lear that said: “I would have been there tonight if not for the passing of our beloved Norman. He was so proud of the work of The Lear Center and Hollywood Health and Society. And he would not have wanted all of us to mourn. He would want us to celebrate the important shows you are honoring tonight, and most of all… he would want us to laugh.”

With the Emmy-winning Wilmore as host, there was indeed plenty of laughter.

“Well you got to say this about Norman—the man knew how to make an exit,” said Wilmore, who called Lear “a giant.”

“This evening meant a lot to Norman, because he believed television can reflect our best,” Wilmore said. “That’s why the Sentinel Awards were created—to honor television’s best and brightest writing.”

Depicting topics that included racism, abortion, climate crisis, breast cancer and others, the 11 shows honored were: The Diplomat (Netflix); Station 19 (ABC); Extrapolations (Apple TV+); Tiny Beautiful Things (Hulu); Best Foot Forward (Apple TV+); Superman & Lois (The CW); Grey’s Anatomy (ABC); This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+); Mrs. Davis (Peacock); This Fool (Hulu); and Fleishman Is In Trouble (FX on Hulu).

Accepting awards for their shows included showrunners Damon Lindelof, Liz Tigelaar, author Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Scott Z. Burns, and comedians Chris Estrada and Frankie Quinones.

The stellar lineup of awards presenters included:

The evening’s remarks included a tribute to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions and their members who had recently returned to work with new contracts following months-long strikes, and a soulful solo performance by three-time Grammy Award-winning musician Ben Harper.

But with Lear’s passing, the occasion offered writers, producers and performers the chance to remember his influential life and lasting legacy, with ground-breaking shows that included All in the Family, Maude, One Day at a Time, Good Times and The Jeffersons.

Allen of Grey’s Anatomy recalled that her first network television job was on Lear’s ‘70s hit Good Times. “I call him King Lear because he really changed the landscape of television and the industry,” she said.

“TV grew up in the ‘70s,” McKean said during an interview on the red carpet. “That was the real golden age [of TV] and Norman was one of the great miners of that age.”

Here is the complete list of the 11 winning shows, writers and topics:

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