The list of winners includes Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") and best-selling author Patricia Cornwell. AWRT is also honoring a number of journalists -- including Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn of CNN, Cynthia McFadden of ABC, Ann Curry of NBC, Court TV's Catherine Cryer and Nickelodeon's Linda Ellerbee.
The Gracie Allen Awards, also known as Gracies, were established in 1975 to recognize "exemplary programming created for women, by women and about women in all facets of electronic media including broadcasting, cable and new media." The award is named for the late actress who teamed with George Burns to become one of the most enduring comedy acts in Hollywood in the 20th century.
The Gracie Awards might be the most high-profile activity that AWRT conducts, but Executive Director Maria Brennan told United Press International the organization wages a year-round effort to promote women's issued in other forums.
"The Gracies is certainly the opportunity to show off what AWRT is and has been and looks forward to being but it's not simply what we're all about," said Brennan. "We do so much work in terms of our advocacy. We have several public service campaigns. We work closely with the FCC on issues that affect our members."
AWRT also holds an annual "leadership summit" in Washington, D.C., intended to train what Brennan called "the next generation of female leaders" in the media.
"We get some of the most incredible, accomplished women to come and speak," she said. "We also take advantage of the location to invite policymakers from (Capitol Hill) to speak to our group and to hear from them on issues that matter most to them, face to face."
Brennan said women have made gains in broadcasting "year after year," but she said there is still a good deal of room for more women to occupy places of responsibility in radio and TV.
"There are some times when you see the number of women in front of the camera and behind the camera increases," she said. "Still, in terms of the statistics, we have a long way to go. It's not good enough to see the numbers increase marginally. We want to see them increase consistently."
Thursday night's awards ceremony will also honor NBC News President Neal Shapiro, Oxygen Media's Geraldine Laybourne, National Public Radio, the HBO comedy "Sex and the City" and the Lifetime TV drama "Strong Medicine."
Singer Roseanne Cash will perform, along with Frank Gorshin -- who played George Burns in the Tony-nominated one-man show "Say Goodnight Gracie."
Brennan said the Gracie Awards will also serve as the kickoff of AWRT's second annual "Empowering America" program -- a radio PSA campaign that honors outstanding women in American history. The spots highlight the accomplishments of such women as Maya Angelou, Audrey Hepburn, Sandra Day O'Connor, Sally Ride and Eleanor Roosevelt.
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