Frontline (U.S. TV series)

Frontline (U.S. TV series)
Frontline logo.png
Format Documentary television series
Created by David Fanning
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes >520 (List of episodes)
Running time 50 minutes
Original channel PBS
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
720p, 1080i (HDTV)
Original run January 17, 1983 (1983-01-17) – present

FRONTLINE is a public affairs television program that produces and broadcasts in-depth documentaries about various subjects. Produced at WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts and distributed through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States, the program has been critically acclaimed and received numerous awards. Some programs are made by independent filmmakers and broadcast as part of the Frontline series. Since the series debut, there have been more than 500 films broadcast. Although primarily seen through television, the program shows a large portion of their shows in interactive webcasts on their main website.



The program debuted in 1983, with former NBC anchorwoman Jessica Savitch as its host, but Savitch died later in the first season. Judy Woodruff took over as anchor in 1984, and hosted the program for five years. In 1990, the show did away with the anchor position, and left the narrator to introduce each report.

Every four years since 1988, FRONTLINE runs a special profiling the nominees for President of the United States entitled "The Choice [Insert Year]" . The most recent of these aired on October 14, 2008 and featured a dual biography tracing the lives and careers of John McCain and Barack Obama. It was produced by Michael Kirk. The program generated favorable reviews from The New York Times, which stated that the program helped viewers "gain perspective" about the "idea-oriented campaign",[1] and The Los Angeles Times, which labeled it "refreshingly clear" and "informative".[2]

Most Frontline reports are an hour in length, but some are extended to 90 minutes or beyond. Frontline also does occasional specials like "From Jesus to Christ", "The Farmer's Wife", and "Country Boys".[3]

Since 1995, Frontline has been producing deep-content, companion web sites for all of its documentaries. The series publishes extended interview transcripts, in-depth chronologies, original essays, sidebar stories, related links and readings, and source documents including photographs and background research. Frontline has made many of its documentaries available via streaming Internet video, from their website.

Will Lyman is the distinctive voice who has narrated most of the series since its inception in 1983.[4] However, certain reports have been narrated by David Ogden Stiers and Peter Berkrot.

The show is produced by the Documentary Consortium, comprising WGBH, WNET in New York City, WTVS in Detroit, KCTS in Seattle, and WPBT in Miami.


Frontline/World is a spin-off series that first aired on May 23, 2002 and airs 4–5 times a year on Frontline. It focuses on issues from around the globe, and uses a "magazine" format, where each hour-long episode typically has three stories that run about 15 to 20 minutes in length. Its tagline is: Stories from a small planet. Frontline/World also streams stories on its website, which won two Webby awards in 2008 for its original series of online videos called "Rough Cuts". In 2005, the Overseas Press Club of America gave the series its Edward R. Murrow award for the best TV coverage of international events. The series broke new ground in 2007 by winning two Emmys—one for a broadcast story, "Saddam's Road to Hell" and another for an online video, "Libya: Out of the Shadow."

Awards and results

Other Frontline reports focus on political, social, and criminal justice issues. Ofra Bikel, who has been a producer for Frontline since the first season, has produced a significant number of films on the criminal justice system in the United States. The films have focused on issues ranging from post-conviction DNA testing, the use of drug snitches and mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the plea system, and the use of eye-witness testimony. As a result of the films, 13 people have been released from prison.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the White House requested a copy of "Hunting Bin Laden". In 1999, Frontline had produced this in-depth report about Osama bin Laden and the terrorist network that would come to be known as Al-Qaeda in the wake of the 1998 United States embassy bombings. Following the September 11 attacks, Frontline produced a series of films about Al-Qaeda and the War on Terrorism. In 2002, the series was awarded the DuPont-Columbia gold baton for the seven films.

In 2003, Frontline and The New York Times joined forces on "A Dangerous Business", an investigation into the cast iron pipe making industry and worker safety. OSHA officials credit the documentary and newspaper report with stimulating federal policy change on workplace safety. In 2004, the joint investigation was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Producer Michael Kirk's Frontline documentaries have won multiple awards. These films include Cheney's Law (Peabody Award, 2007), The Lost Year in Iraq (Emmy Award, 2006), The Torture Question (Emmy Award, 2005), The Kevorkian File (Emmy Award), and Waco the Inside Story (Peabody Award).[5]

Director Martin Smith has produced dozens of films for Frontline, and won both Emmy and Writers Guild of America Awards. His 2000 film Drug Wars was the winner of the Outstanding Background/Analysis of a Single Current Story Emmy and The George Foster Peabody Award.[6]

Accusations of bias

David Boaz, head of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, raised questions with Frontline's choice of subjects in a prepared statement, "Ending Taxpayer Funding for Public Broadcasting",[7] before the United States Senate, arguing,

But there has never been a Frontline documentary on the burden of taxes, or the number of people who have died because federal regulations keep drugs off the market, or the way that state governments have abused the law in their pursuit of tobacco companies, or the number of people who use guns to prevent crime. Those "hard questions" just don't occur to liberal journalists.[8]

This argument was mentioned by Corporation for Public Broadcasting Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Charles H. Revson Foundation conservative ombudsman William Schulz.[9][10]

Frontline has also come under fire for their pro-nuclear power documentary Nuclear Reaction. According to Scott Denman, director of Safe Energy Communication Council, Frontline refused to interview any scientists who held views contrary to the pro-nuclear position taken by the documentary.[11] Jon Palfreman, producer of the show, posted a rebuttal to these and other accusations of bias on Frontline's website, including multiple instances where items cited as evidence of bias were not actually present in the program.[12]

A New York Times review of the Frontline program 'Ten Trillion and Counting' commented:

The makers... want to make really, really, really sure that you know that George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, put the country in the economic mess it’s in now. More than half the program is devoted to cataloging the Bush administration’s economic policies, which, as portrayed here, come across as appallingly reckless, a burden that will grind us down... it’s an emphasis that is unfortunate... it could cause anyone who still has any regard for Mr. Bush to tune out the program as just another exercise in Bush-bashing.[13]

Frontline reports

See also


External links

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