Boston-based ‘Frontline’ names new executive producer

From Boston.com — 5/13/2015 

Frontline founder David Fanning has stepped down after three decades as the executive producer of the landmark public television series. He will be replaced by Raney Aronson, the show’s deputy executive producer.

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This is the first time the top leadership position at the Boston-based investigative documentary series has changed hands.

In its 33 seasons, Frontline has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including 69 Emmys, 31 duPont-Columbia University Awards, 17 Peabody Awards and eight Television Critics Awards. Fanning received his own Lifetime achievement Emmy in 2013.

Fanning will stay with Frontline and, beginning June 1, will develop new projects as executive editor at large, according to a statement released by WGBH, which produces the show.

Aronson has been with the series since 2001.

‘Frontline’ Getting a Change in Leadership

From the New York Times — 5/13/2015

“Frontline,” the PBS documentary series, is getting a leadership change for the first time in its 32-year history. The founding executive producer, David Fanning, is stepping down at the end of the month, and Raney Aronson, the colleague he has been grooming for several years, will take over.

Mr. Fanning, 68, said that he wanted to start making documentary films again, and that he needed to step aside for the show to continue to thrive.

“This is a generational shift,” he said. “There’s no question about it. That’s a discussion that Raney and I have had for some years now, about bringing some younger producers in, identifying them, looking for the next generation. We want ‘Frontline’ to survive.”

Mr. Fanning’s new title will be executive producer at large. He said he would also have an opportunity to “beat the bushes for major funders and donors and new sources of revenue for the series,” he said.

Mr. Fanning began preparing Ms. Aronson for the job years ago, and in 2012 all but named her his heir apparent when he gave her the title of deputy executive producer. He said her leadership would be critical for keeping the show relevant at a tricky time in the media business. He also said bringing in “new blood” was important to keeping the long-form documentary series alive.

“If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done,” he said. “There aren’t many places left in the world, in television certainly, that does this. You can’t expect the independent film community to operate under the banner of journalism because it’s often not what they do. This kind of journalism matters and these hourlong films, 90-minute, two-hour films, the big multipart series, we do become real works of record. We need them in the culture.”

“Frontline,” which had its debut in 1983, is produced by WGBH in Boston. Over the years it has won 69 Emmys, 31 duPont Columbia University Awards and 17 Peabody awards. “Frontline” recently won awards for a documentary on ISIS and the National Football League’s concussion crisis.

Ms. Aronson, 44, joined the show in 2001. In the last few years, she has made it her priority to work on joint-journalism projects with organizations like ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting and ESPN (the latter pulled out of the concussion documentary “League of Denial,” before it aired, to great controversy). She is also working on partnerships with digital outlets like YouTube and Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism in order to find new ways to broadcast their work.

She said she had been “given the gift of time” over the last three years to work on these types of partnerships before stepping into the big job.

“In a lot of ways, we’ve been working on the ideas that I care about, like working aggressively to find new audiences,” she said.

But with every prospective deal with a player in new media, she said, her job remained fundamentally in line with what Mr. Fanning created decades ago.

“When I look to the future, my biggest gaze is on making sure we always protect the big important work we should be doing,” she said. “That is what I care about most: protecting the big important journalism.”

5 thoughts on “Boston-based ‘Frontline’ names new executive producer

  1. Congrats to David on so many levels – AND be sure that before David disappears into a legendary state he tells the story of Death of A Princess for this website – It is an important story of how the truth was told in spite of ennormous pressures and it shines a light on the strength of WGBH, its leadership, and its convictions.

  2. For the past 45 years I have been a documentary cinematographer, lensing 183 different documentaries for the BBC, working with Bill Moyers on the series “World of Ideas” and Specials, and the DP on the Emmy Award documentary “Vermeer: Master of Light.”

    However, I pride myself on having shot a number of FRONTLINE films, including the very second telecast, “88 Seconds in Greensboro,” which aired on January 23, 1983…when David Fanning realized his dream of presenting documentaries on PBS…many “hard hitting,” which the networks would never consider airing.

    I salute you David for helming, these past 33 years, the most eminent long running continuous documentary series in television history, “FRONTLINE.”

  3. Fanning is the poster boy for what a real producer is; smart, thorough, honest, selfless. He was inspiration to us all. He will be missed. Take a bow.

  4. David, congratulations and thanks for your many years of service to WGBH and to public broadcasting. Best wishes for the next part of your amazing journey.

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