Jewish characters were scarce and stereotyped on television, Howard Bragman, a Hollywood public relations executive, decided last year.
So, Bragman used his entertainment contacts to create the first Jewish Image Awards, to be presented by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's Los Angeles Entertainment Industry Council on Sept. 12 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The luncheon ceremony will be written by Oscar and Emmy scribe Bruce Vilanch and funded by Hollywood insiders such as "Forrest Gump" producer Steve Tisch. Award categories will include best documentary and best TV characters (hint: one of which might be for the president's adviser played by Richard Schiff on NBC's "The West Wing").
Bragman is adept at addressing stereotypes. The Jewish gay 45-year-old has served on the board of AIDS Project Los Angeles and has also done publicity for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation awards, which have helped nix gay stereotypes in the media. He is hoping JIA will do the same for Jewish stereotypes.
"We don't think that every Jewish character has to be perfectly wonderful," Bragman says. "We just want more diverse and realistic portrayals of Jews and Judaism."
During his childhood in the blue-collar city of Flint, Mich., the now 45-year-old Bragman didn't see any Jewish characters on television. The town was so non-Jewish that Bragman's Conservative shul used to get mail addressed to "Miss Beth Israel."
"Because I was lonely, I retreated into the TV a lot," he told The Journal. "I loved to read the credits, because most of the writers and producers were Jewish."
By 1989, the University of Michigan grad started working behind the scenes in Hollywood. He founded his PR firm, Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, which now represents celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Cameron Diaz. He also gained repute as a PR crisis consultant (he helped prepare Monica Lewinsky for her Barbara Walters interview).
The JIA is his response to another PR crisis -- the depiction of Jews in the media. Writer Vilanc agrees: "On every other awards show, we jokingly ask ourselves, 'Is this good for the Jews? But on this show we actually mean it."
For tickets or more information about the Jewish Image Awards, call (310) 559-9334 ext. 160.