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‘Speechless’ Creator Calls for Casting More Actors With Disabilities at TV Academy Honors

Variety logo Variety 6/9/2017 Daniel Grzywacz
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Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, and Minnie Driver were among the stars in attendance at the 10th annual Television Academy Honors on Thursday night in Beverly Hills. Honorees and TV Academy members gathered under the stars at the Montage Hotel to celebrate six television programs that, through their content, strived to inspire change or change lives.

Lucia Gervino, the chair of the Honors committee, stressed that this had been the most competitive year thus far when it came to the selection process. More than 300 admissions were narrowed down to the final list of “Last Week Tonight,” “This Is Us,” “Speechless,” “The Night Of,” “Before the Flood,” and “We Will Rise.” Actress Dana Delany, who hosted the event for the ninth straight year, cracked jokes about the murky political climate in between speeches given by the representatives of each of the honored programs.

John Oliver, in a recorded message, addressed the crowd of around 200, thanking them for their recognition of his socially-conscious HBO late-night show. “I am told that you are giving our show, ‘Last Week Tonight,’ an award about the power of television to advance social change right after playing a clip where I talk about penises, which feels both very wrong and entirely correct,” Oliver quipped. “I want to take a moment to say congratulations to the other winners who are making art by dealing with complex, important subjects, many of which I hope to steal for our next season.”

Ventimiglia, part of a large contingent from NBC’s “This is Us,” talked about why he believes his show resonates with so many. “I think it’s the relatability. Understanding that we all experience life, but we all experience it in different ways,” Ventimiglia said. “Hopefully, in the differences we have as human beings we can understand that we need to support one another and be kind to that human quality that’s in all of us — regardless of our race or gender or appearance or anything.”

Driver, who said she was keeping an eye on the election results coming in from her home country of the U.K., shared her admiration for the powerful message that her show, “Speechless,” has been able to bring to the TV conversation. “This show deserves to be seen and deserves tons of awards purely for the fact that it started a new conversation about disability in this country, which I think that previously, and particularly in the media, has been laughably awful,” Driver said. “I think attitudes have to change and I think the show is doing that and that’s not what half-hour comedies usually do.”

Scott Silveri, the creator of “Speechless,” may have had the most memorable speech of the evening when, while accepting the award, he made a point of showing how much further everyone in the business needed to go to achieve adequate representation. “The number of Americans with disabilities is a lot, people on TV with disabilities is not a lot, and the number of those people portrayed by actual performers with disabilities is like next to none. Sorry to beat you down with statistics, but the numbers don’t lie,” he said. “Please believe me that I’m on no high horse talking about this stuff, because before I was part of this show I didn’t care a lick about this stuff. I am very late to the party. In the 20 years I was doing this before, the number of people I cast with disabilities was a whopping zero, and I should know better. But I’m here to share from my very positive and fortunate firsthand experience that barriers to casting those with disabilities are false and imagined, and the rewards are great.”

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