• 50 Years - A Million Thanks
The Fred Friendly Seminars

About the Fred Friendly Seminars

"Our job is not to make up anyone's mind, but to open minds -- to make the agony of decision-making so intense that you can escape only by thinking."
-- Fred W. Friendly
In 1974, in order to ease a growing conflict between journalists and judges, former CBS News president Fred Friendly initiated a series of conferences on the media, the law and public policy.

"There was a terrible battle going on," says Friendly. "The judges hated the journalists, and the journalists hated the judges." Then a professor of journalism at Columbia University and advisor to The Ford Foundation, Friendly -- along with colleague Stuart F. Sucherman -- brought a group of 30 judges and journalists together in Cape Cod for an open discussion. The format was the first step in developing what is now known as the Socratic Seminar, which compels participants to make hard choices about complex and challenging situations.

A firm believer that the Constitution should be understood by the public, Friendly combined his teaching and broadcast journalism experience and brought the seminars to television. The first series of what is now known as The Fred Friendly Seminars was "The Constitution: That Delicate Balance", a 13-part series which debuted in 1984.

Said Anthony Lewis, Columbia University journalism professor and New York Times columnist, "Television is the most powerful medium for getting people to remember, and Fred has found a way to use it that nobody else has."

Until his retirement in 1993, Friendly produced more than 600 conferences worldwide -- over 70 of them broadcast on national public television. Since 1993, Mr. Sucherman and moderators Arthur Miller, Charles Nesson and Charles Ogletree have continued to produce the seminars as The Fred Friendly Seminars to honor the guiding philosophical head of the project. The most recent offerings include the special BEFORE I DIE: MEDICAL CARE AND PERSONAL CHOICES, which premiered April 22, 1997, and the four-part Seminars' series LIBERTY & LIMITS: "THE FEDERALIST" IDEA 200 YEARS LATER which made its debut on April 11, 1997. (Contact your local PBS station for rebroadcast information.) Mrs. Ruth Friendly continues to serve as editorial advisor.

Over the years, the Seminars have become a forum where former presidents, journalists, judges, lawyers, business executives and government officials can discuss important issues affecting our society. Programs have included such subjects as human rights, ethics in America, medicine and health care, religion, libel, the Bill of Rights, the military, advertising, book publishing and the First Amendment, and business and the media.

The Socratic Method

The format of the Fred Friendly Seminars was developed and refined by Friendly and Sucherman over the course of 20 years. It customarily consists of 12-18 people, seated around a U-shaped table, answering questions posed to them by a moderator about a hypothetical situation. The technique, known as the Socratic dialogue, compels participants to confront the choices they would make in complicated cases.

By identifying the perceptions and decision-making processes of the various participants, the format enables them -- and the audience -- to better understand their positions and those of the other panelists. The Seminars are not intended to change minds but to help practitioners with conflicting goals examine and rethink frozen positions, and to appreciate opposing arguments. As panelists wrestle with the problem at hand, the unfolding drama reveals all the aspects of complex issues, provides many layers of useful information, and illuminates the challenges of decision-making.

THE CONSTITUTION: THAT DELICATE BALANCE explored contemporary cases which tested constitutional issues such as school prayer, capital punishment and gun control. Notable and recent television series and specials include HEALTH CARE IN AMERICA; THE BILL OF RIGHTS; POPULAR CULTURE: RAGE, RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES; WHO SHALL BE HEALED?; and PROFITS AND PROMISES. Proposed upcoming Fred Friendly Seminars include a series on domestic terrorism.

Fred Friendly

Fred Friendly began his career in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1937, where he created a daily five-minute program, FOOTPRINTS IN THE SANDS OF TIME, for WEAN. The format of the program -- short biographies of historical figures -- was Friendly's idea. From 1937 to 1941, he built up a library of nearly a thousand biographies.

After a stint in World War II, he returned to broadcasting. In 1948, while doing a radio show for NBC ("Who Said That?"), Friendly met Edward R. Murrow. They formed a partnership that resulted in a record album, a radio program, and the groundbreaking television news program, See It Now, for CBS in 1951. Diving headlong into controversy, in 1954 Friendly and Murrow produced programs about the Communist-hunting senator, Joseph McCarthy. In the late 1950s, Friendly was executive producer of CBS Reports, presenting many acclaimed programs including the award-winning HARVEST OF SHAME.

In 1964, Friendly became president of CBS News. Two years later, when network executives canceled live broadcasts of testimony on Vietnam before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of sitcom reruns, he resigned. Friendly turned his attention to teaching as an Edward R. Murrow Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, and helped to firmly establish a public broadcasting system through his work with the Ford Foundation.

In addition to teaching at Columbia Graduate School, he took on the job in 1980 as Director of the Columbia University Seminars on Media and Society. He has also taught at Yale and Bryn Mawr, and published five books and numerous articles about the Constitution. He retired in 1993.

Home Page

PBS        THIRTEEN