LOS ANGELES, June 17 (UPI) -- Screenwriter Peter Hedges and "The Bernie Mac Show" writer Larry Wilmore had two nominations each, leading the field of nominees announced Monday for the 2003 Humanitas Prize.
The prize was established in 1974 by the late Paulist priest Ellwood "Bud" Kieser "to encourage, stimulate and sustain writers in their humanizing task and to give them the recognition they deserve." Although it doesn't get as much attention as the Oscars or the Emmys, the Humanitas Prize has become one of the most sought after honors in Hollywood for writers, producers, networks and studios.
Father Frank Desiderio, President of the Humanitas Prize, said 41 nominated writers in seven categories will compete for $105,000 in prize money, to be handed out at an awards luncheon on July 10 in Los Angeles.
The nominees in the feature film category are "About a Boy," "Antwone Fisher" and "The Pianist."
Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz were nominated for the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for "About a Boy" -- based on novelist Nick Hornby's story of a man who learns life lessons from a boy. Ronald Harwood took the adapted screenplay Oscar for "The Pianist," based on the memoir of concert pianist -- and Holocaust survivor -- Wladyslaw Szpilman. Antwone Fisher was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for his autobiographical screenplay, "Antwone Fisher."
The nominees for 90-minute TV movies are "Door to Door," "Our America" and "Path to War."
"Door to Door" -- based on the life of Bill Porter, who overcame a physical disability to become a successful salesman -- earned a Writers Guild of America nomination for William H. Macy and Steven Schachter.
"Our America" -- based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by LeAlan Jones, Lloyd Newman, David Isay -- is the story of two Chicago teenagers who get a chance to report for NPR and use the opportunity to disclose the truth about the death of a small child who was tossed out of a 14th story window. Gordon Rayfield's adaptation of "Our America" earned a WGA Award.
"Path to War" is an account of former President Lyndon Johnson's conduct of the Vietnam War.
Two new TV series -- NBC's "Boomtown" and CBS' "Without a Trace" -- were nominated in the 60-minute TV category. The other nominees are "The Practice" (ABC) and "ER" (NBC).
In the 30-minute TV category, "The Bernie Mac Show" (Fox) took two nominations, with "Frasier" (NBC) taking the third. Larry Wilmore had the story credit on both of the nominated scripts from "The Bernie Mac Show."
Desiderio said the Humanitas Prize selection committees had quite a lot to choose from in determining this year's nominees.
"There is a lot of good drama being written," he said.
So why do so many critics complain that good scripts are especially scarce in Hollywood?
"It could be that its hard to pick out because it's kind of like having a tidal wave wash over you and there are a couple of gleaming gems ... that you have to pick out," said Desiderio.
He said submissions for the Humanitas Prize tend to be self-selecting, with writers and producers turning in only those scripts they think might actually impress the judges.
"They know what they're proud of," said Desiderio.
However, he said, there is one area where this year's entries were not as strong as they have been in the past -- children's programming.
"I think a lot of is that broadcasters, in particular, have abdicated responsibility," said Desiderio. "Part of that is the Children's Television Act of 1990, which requires three hours of educational children's programs. Broadcasters are doing the minimum -- they're not doing much that is both educational and entertaining. Which isn't to say that we haven't found six good shows, it was just harder to find them."
The nominees for children's live-action are "Maniac Magee" (Nickelodeon), "A Ring of Endless Light" (Disney Channel) and "You Wish!" (Disney Channel). The nominees in children's animated shows are "Jimmy" ("Static Shock"), teleplay by Dwayne McDuffie, story by Alan Burnett, Dwayne McDuffie (WB); "Common Sense" ("Liberty's Kids"), written by Marc and Elaine Zicree (PBS); "Liberty or Death" ("Liberty's Kids"), written by Doug McIntyre (PBS)
The Sundance Feature Film Category -- which was established in 2000 -- had four nominees.
"In America" -- written by Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan -- is about an Irish immigrant who moves his wife to New York to pursue his dream of a career in the theater. Hedges' second nomination came for "Pieces of April," about a family's adventure on the way to a Thanksgiving dinner.
"Raising Victor Vargus" -- written by Peter Sollett from a story by Sollett and Eva Vives -- is about a New York City teen making the most of a challenging home life. "Whale Rider," with a screenplay by Niki Caro, is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel about a girl who tries to live up to tradition in New Zealand -- even as she bucks it.
The Humanitas Prize announced on Friday that writer/producer Fay Kanin will receive the Kieser Award, named for Kieser, who died in 2001.