A legendary executive looks back on a tuned-in life.
Andy Friendly and the CBS News program See It Now were born the same week in 1951. Coincidence?
The award-winning series — featuring the legendary Edward R. Murrow and produced by Andy’s equally legendary dad, Fred — went on to broadcast many important documentaries, most famously exposing the dangers posed by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.
Andy also went on to an important career: he produced the first late, late program on network TV, Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, as well as early episodes of Entertainment Tonight. He helped create what is now called CNBC Prime, and as president of programming and production at King World, he shepherded many shows, including Inside Edition and Hollywood Squares.
Even his most vivid childhood memories are TV-related. “I was kind of a studio rat,” he says. “If I wasn’t in school, I was hanging around the studio at CBS. I met people like the great Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and I was also hanging around with the editors and cameramen. I had fun, but they also taught me so much.”
He retells many TV anecdotes in his new memoir, Willing to Be Lucky: Adventures in Life and Television. The adventure officially began in 1973, when his dad arranged an interview for a temporary researcher opening in WNBC’s local news operation. “He set up the interview and told me, ‘This is the only time I’m going to help you, and it’s going to be the last time I do it.’”
That lineage “was a mixed blessing, but mostly positive,” he says. “There is a downside to being the son of a powerful producer and executive: everyone assumes that the only reason you’re there making a living is because of your dad. I had to work harder than anyone else to overcome that presumption. It was a motivator.”
That motivation drove many successes.
For example, when Friendly came to CNBC, it was doing well in daytime, but ratings would plummet after the markets closed. Friendly suggested talk shows as a cure. At that time, Larry King on CNN was the only primetime talk host. Friendly brought in Tim Russert, Phil Donahue, Tom Snyder, Geraldo Rivera and others. It was his idea for Geraldo to concentrate on O.J. Simpson.
“The Geraldo show was struggling to find its way,” Friendly recalls. “The night of the slow-speed chase, I called him at home. Knowing he was a lawyer, I told him, ‘You can explain this to the country. This could be our Iran hostage story, which put Nightline on the map.’ They did it every night, which we did, too.”
Geraldo’s ratings jumped from 0.2 to 1.2 — and Friendly says the subsequent addition of Snyder “lifted all boats.”
Friendly’s latest project, in conjunction with the Shoah Foundation, is a documentary he hopes will become a miniseries. It focuses on the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps.
It is in part a tribute to his dad, who, as a reporter, accompanied the 11th Armored Division as it freed the camp at Mauthausen. He wrote a letter home about the experience, and to this day, the Friendly family reads that letter when celebrating the Jewish holidays.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2018