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Steve McCarthy and Team Win Emmy for HBO Documentary

Film on celebrated NYC columnists is a lesson for today’s journalism students

Posted in: Arts, Homepage News

Jonathan Alter, John Block and Steve McCarthy with Jimmy Breslin
Documentarians, from left, Jonathan Alter, John Block and Steve McCarthy, won an Emmy for the HBO historical documentary, "Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists." They are shown with the legendary Jimmy Breslin.

For the second year in a row, the School of Communication and Media was once again a big winner at the Emmy Awards, with the spotlight this year on News Producer Steve McCarthy who won television’s biggest award for the HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.

The film, produced and directed by McCarthy, journalist Jonathan Alter and documentarian John Block, all Montclair residents, won for Outstanding Historical Documentary, the Emmy presented during a livestreamed ceremony on September 22 by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

The documentary revisits the days when newspaper columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill “spoke for ordinary people and brought passion, wit and literary merit to their brilliant reporting about their city and nation,” McCarthy says.

It also provides a case study for today’s journalism students on ethics, writing and reporting. “We’ve shown it several times to various classes and students at Montclair State,” he says. “I believe it will be a teaching tool for many years to come. That will be its legacy.”

Among the lessons is following the columnists’ examples of getting out from behind the desk, to get to the scene and find characters, McCarthy says, “to observe and look for the small parts of the story that make it a big story.”

It’s a lesson McCarthy takes to heart. The morning after the Emmy win he was back on location, setting up an interview in Riverside Park in New York City, mindful of social distancing due to the pandemic. “It’s a bit of a challenge, but we are still going.”

McCarthy has instilled the lesson at Montclair State, where he helped develop the student weekly news program, Montclair News Lab, and has guided student journalists producing their own documentaries. Last year, a student team won a college Emmy for its coverage of the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico.

“Montclair State is a rewarding place,” he says, for both teaching and collaborating, sometimes with former students after graduation. Two alumni, Ken Spooner ’13 and Mike Mee ’13, helped film the HBO documentary. McCarthy’s children also worked on the film and joined their father at home to watch the Emmy livestream. “It was special to be with them,” McCarthy says.

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists is studded with important cultural figures (Robert De Niro, Spike Lee, Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Steinem) and major writers (Tom Wolfe, Nick Pileggi, Gail Collins, Garry Trudeau). “The film captures the charm of the old New York, while probing explosive issues of race, class and the practice of journalism that resonate powerfully in our own time,” McCarthy says. It can be seen on HBO Max.

The Emmy is McCarthy’s second Emmy win and is especially sweet as the directing and producing was shared with his collaborators and friends, all with Montclair State ties. They are currently working on a new historical documentary on journalism. “It’s such an important time right now for journalism because of all the changes that are occurring because of the political situation,” McCarthy says.

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren

Projects that McCarthy worked with students on at Montclair State include:

After the Storm: Students document stories of resilience and recovery in Puerto Rico

Looking for Home: Students travel to Greece to film the human stories of the refugee crisis