Hedrick Smith Productions is an independent television production company that creates long-form documentaries and miniseries for PBS. It was founded in 1990 by Hedrick Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent, editor and Washington Bureau Chief for The New York Times. Since then, Hedrick Smith and his production teams have created more than 20 prime time PBS miniseries and broadcast specials, winning most of television’s most prestigious awards.
In 16 years, Hedrick Smith Productions has established a trademark for high quality programs that not only provide insightful analysis of current issues but solid case studies of American heroes at the grass roots solving social problems. HSP is known for television that strikes a contrast with standard news and public affairs programs, not only through penetrating investigative reporting but with a commitment to showing solutions and success stories as well as giving voice to ordinary people and engaging them in dialogues about critical issues confronting American society.
Our topics have been as varied as the Washington power game and the elegant jazz of Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. On issues vital to the daily lives of ordinary Americans, we have ranged from exploring effective educational reform, the quality of health care, preparing for retirement, juggling the competing demands of work and family, to how communities can confront teen violence and hate crime.
For PBS Frontline, Hedrick Smith Productions has gone Inside the Terror Network to tell the story of the terrorist pilots who attacked the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11; exposed the dangerous implications to innocent investors of the Enron scandal, the `Wall Street Fix’ between investment bankers and corporate tycoons, and the slow collapse of retirement protection and the weak performance of 401k plans for middle class Americans; and the taxpayer rip-off of big-time corporate tax evasion.
We have taken viewers to China, Japan, Germany, and all across America to capture the human stories of how the global economy is transforming our lives and our society. With long experience in the corridors of power, Hedrick Smith has shared an insider’s insights into the way power works in Washington – not only official power of elected officials, but the unofficial power of the media and lobbies – enriched with vivid and intimate portraits-in-action of leaders like Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and the often hidden but influential power brokers who shape our laws and our destiny.
Among the award-winning PBS documentaries and miniseries created by Hedrick Smith and his production teams are The Wall Street Fix, winner of an Emmy in 2003 for exposing the link between WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers and Citigroup; Inside Gorbachev’s USSR, 1991 winner of the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton, for its in-depth portrayal of Russian perestroika; Critical Condition with Hedrick Smith, a 2001 Emmy nominee for its examination of the quality of America’s health care; Inside The Terror Network, which shared another duPont-Columbia gold baton in 2002; Tax Me If You Can, an Emmy nominee in 2004 for exposing bogus tax shelters used by major corporations; Making Schools Work and Seeking Solutions, both winners of the national public service award from Sigma Delta Chi (1999 and 2005), Across the River, winner of the national Sidney Hillman Award in 1995; and Cine award winners, Challenge to America and Surviving the Bottom Line. Among the documentaries that have garnered top film festival awards are The People and The Power Game and Duke Ellington’s Washington.
To extend the reach of our documentary programs, HSP has created interactive web sites, symposiums for web cast, events on Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers and their staffs, and outreach materials widely used today by hundreds of American universities, colleges, high schools, businesses, civic groups and other organizations. Program after program has attracted tens of thousands of web site users.
With a staff of about 10 producers, field producers, researchers and support personnel, Hedrick Smith Productions has filmed in Germany, Holland, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico and all over the United States. Our staff represents more than 80 years of combined experience in news and public affairs journalism.
Hedrick Smith Productions has developed expertise not only in long-form documentary production but also in arranging, staging and filming town halls and community dialogues. During a production, the company hires free lance camera crews, editors and mobile film units. Hedrick Smith Productions has the technical capability of editing broadcast quality documentaries, however, we subcontract for complex graphics and post-production.
Hedrick Smith Productions – Timeline of Programs
Prior to forming his own company, Hedrick Smith was also the creator, correspondent and host for two other major PBS series, The Power Game: How Washington Works in 1989 and Inside Gorbachev’s USSR, which won both the 1991 George Polk Award for television and the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton for the most outstanding public affairs production on U.S. television in any medium. Mr. Smith, former Moscow Bureau Chief for The New York Times and author of two books about Russia, including the world-wide bestseller, The Russians, also hosted several other documentaries in 1991-92 including Soviets: Guns, Tanks And Gorbachev, Baltic Requiem and After Gorbachev’s USSR.
Hedrick Smith Production’s first major production, Challenge to America, broadcast in January 1994, was a five-part documentary and discussion series that explored the economic challenge posed to America by such countries as Germany and Japan. It examined the economic cultures of America and its two main global rivals, and showed successful strategies of U.S. businesses and high schools. After multiple broadcasts by PBS in 1994, Challenge To America is now being used by hundreds of businesses and educational institutions for education and training programs, along with Hedrick Smith Production’s related materials – View from the Top, a set of ten interviews with internationally renowned CEOs; and Pathways to Success, a special film showing successful high school programs. This series won the international RIAS television competition in Berlin.
Across the River, a two-hour program combining a documentary and a community dialogue, portrayed positive community development and educational programs in several troubled neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. The documentary, premiered by PBS in October 1995 and winner of the national Sidney Hillman Award for the most outstanding TV production of the year, exploded stereotypes about inner city neighborhoods to show concrete examples of successful efforts to combat crime, school dropouts, health problems, middle class flight and urban decay. The community dialogue brought together downtown civic and business leaders with neighborhood activists.
The People and the Power Game, broadcast by PBS in September 1996, examined the four critical power centers in American politics – the Presidency, Congress, the Media and Lobbies – after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and during Bill Clinton’s scramble to save his presidency. This series built upon Hedrick Smith’s best-selling book, The Power Game: How Washington Works (1989). As a special feature, the program drew voters into two forum discussions on how to overcome gridlock and how to respond to well-financed lobbies and tabloid-driven media.
Surviving the Bottom Line, first broadcast by PBS in January 1998 with reruns continuing through September, presented a compelling account of the forces, institutions and values driving the new American economy, their impact on people’s lives, as well as programs for preparing young people for the 21st century economy and various corporate and social strategies for easing the burdens of downsizing, part-time work and the bottom line. Already more than 2,000 sets of the video series have been obtained or purchased by leading corporations, universities, colleges and school systems for educational and training programs.
Seeking Solutions, a two-hour special broadcast by PBS in 1999, focused on successful grassroots efforts to combat teen violence and hate crime through a mix of compelling documentary segments and public dialogues. Individual PBS stations across America created their own 30-minute programs on local anti-crime efforts as companion pieces to the national broadcast of Seeking Solutions. Following in the wake of the killings at Colombine High School in Littleton, Colorado, this program won a national public service award for U.S. television from Sigma Delta Chi, the journalism honor society.
Duke Ellington’s Washington, broadcast on PBS in 2000, was Hedrick Smith Productions first historical documentary about young Duke Ellington and the remarkable African American community in Washington D.C. which nurtured the emergence of a surprising array of talented African American lawyers, doctors, businessmen and cultural figures, epitomized by Ellington. The program combines the celebrated past of Washington’s black community with its modern revival of that heritage along with another of Ellington’s legacies, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which is producing a new stream of talented D.C. musicians, actors, dancers and artists of all kinds.
In 2000, Hedrick Smith Productions produced two programs on health care. Dr. Solomon’s Dilemma was a one-hour program for Frontline on PBS in May about the problems doctors face in trying to control health costs. Critical Condition, a three-hour PBS pre-election special in October, examined the problems of fatal medical errors, care for the chronically ill and the problems of Americans who lack health insurance. Critical Condition’s probing analysis of health care in America was nominated for an Emmy.
With so many working parents, long hours, and ever-increasing demands of the 24/7 global economy blurring the line between work and home, people all over America are struggling with the conflicting demands of job and home. Juggling Work and Family, a two-hour program broadcast by PBS in the fall of 2001 and again in early 2002, explored these issues. The program shows personal stories of the growing stress between work and family and reports on progressive efforts by companies, unions and individuals to alleviate the pressure for working couples and single parents.
Rediscovering Dave Brubeck, about the legendary American jazz pianist, was a historical one-hour PBS special broadcast in 2002. For over fifty years Dave Brubeck has been a giant of American jazz, improvising in unique rhythms and time signatures and recording the first jazz album to go gold. Today, in his eighties, he is going strong – performing, traveling, drawing sell-out crowds, creating new music and reaching new heights.
In the past five years, Hedrick Smith and his production team have created and produced several programs for PBS Frontline, starting immediately after 9/11 with Inside the Terror Network, a collaboration with the BBC that aired in January 2002. That program uncovered the personal histories of Mohammed Atta and the other al Qaeda pilots from their youth, through the formation of their terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, and how they slipped past U.S. immigration, the FBI and CIA, to undertake flight training and carry out their plot. Next came Bigger Than Enron
that examined how the corporate watchdogs – the bankers, lawyers, regulators, politicians and above all, the accountants – failed to prevent Enron and other scandals from occurring.
In 2003, The Wall Street Fix investigated how Wall Street drove the telecom boom, pocketing enormous profits and then took millions of investors on a ride that eventually cost $2 trillion in losses on WorldCom and other telecom stocks. In early 2004, Tax Me If You Can investigated the rampant abuse of tax shelters since the late 1990s by some of America’s biggest blue chip banks, accounting firms, and law firms that were then aggressively marketed to big corporations and wealthy individuals. The sequel, Is Wal-Mart Good for America?, traced the rise of Wal-Mart’s power, its ability to dictate market terms to long-established American manufacturers, and its hand-in-glove partnership with the rising enterprises of south China, disrupting old patterns of trade and costing tens of thousands of American jobs. The fifth in the series of HSP-Frontline co-productions on modern American capitalism, Can You Afford to Retire? broadcast in May 2006, examined how the pillars of retirement – lifetime corporate pensions and 401(k) plans – have fallen into deep trouble and the impact of these trends for baby boomers.
One persistent theme of programs by Hedrick Smith Productions – the challenges of education in America – re-emerged in the award-winning two-hour special, Making Schools Work, broadcast nationwide by PBS in October 2005. The program highlighted four strategies for improving student performance from elementary through high school in urban and rural communities across America and three school districts that have shown striking gains in previously low performing schools. In all, two million children were reached by these reforms. This program won a national public service award for U.S. television from the journalism honor society, Sigma Delta Chi.