For over 25 years, televised Fred Friendly Seminars have added a unique dimension to public affairs programming on PBS. Exploring urgent social and public policy issues as wide-ranging as affirmative action, end-of-life care, national energy policy, and bioterrorism, the Seminars invite PBS viewers to struggle with gripping dilemmas drawn from real scenarios facing Americans and determine what their own choices would be if faced with these challenges.
The Seminars always begin with a little story and a problem that could confront almost anyone. The implications of this problem, whatever it may be, then ripple out to encompass larger and larger issues and trigger ethical, emotional, legal, and public policy questions that are always overlapping and sometimes in conflict. Each Seminar program brings together a carefully chosen panel that contributes professional expertise as well as personal experience to the discussion. As the panelists wrestle with the issues presented in the hypothetical story, they are encouraged not just to say what they think about an issue, but to say what they would do in difficult decision-making situations if they were personally involved. The viewers are along for the ride, emotionally and intellectually, as the story creates a link for citizens between their lives and issues in the headlines that so often seem remote, abstract and unconnected to their day to day concerns.
The legacy of the Fred Friendly Seminars is rich, with over one hundred PBS programs broadcast through the years. Landmark series such as THE CONSTITUTION: That Delicate Balance engaged America in a riveting examination of contemporary issues against the backdrop of the founding principles of our democracy. Prescient Seminars like BEFORE I DIE: Medical Care and Personal Choices and DISCONNECTED: Politics, the Press and the Public put critical issues on the public agenda just as they were coming into focus. Forward-looking programs like NANOTECHNOLOGY: The Power of Small encouraged the nation to consider the implications of scientific advances emerging from the laboratory.
In addition to these PBS broadcasts, the Fred Friendly Seminars have produced hundreds of Seminar events for educational institutions, trade associations, international organizations, government agencies, and corporations in a wide range of industries. Created as the centerpiece of a conference, for professional training, or for other purposes, these events use the distinctive format of a Fred Friendly Seminars program to open minds, spark discussion and move towards solutions.
Today, the Fred Friendly Seminars are creating a multimedia platform to carry the legacy of this distinguished television format into the digital future. The production team is building on the audience reach that public television provides to establish a new and direct connection with the American public. Interactive multimedia projects like MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness, are using social media, user-generated content, and web-only content extensions, to amplify the extraordinary power of a Fred Friendly Seminar as a catalyst for critical thinking. We plan to continue to innovate as technology offers new ways to deepen understanding and promote conversation.