Behind the Scenes at Minds on the Edge

Many of you are already aware and have seen MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness, an hour long program broadcast on your local PBS television channel. It was released in October and the National Alliance on Mental Illness is pushing each of its chapters to show the film at various times this year.  I want to give you some background about how this show came together.
Not long after CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, was published, I  got a telephone call from Arthur Singer who said that he wanted me to be his guest at a lunch in Manhattan. He had read my book and was concerned about how jails and prisons had become our new mental asylums.  While I appreciated his interest, I couldn’t afford to fly to New York just to have lunch with him, I said. But he was persistent — and he also told me that he would arrange for my flight.
When the taxi dropped me off at one of New York’s most exclusive private clubs, I began to wonder who this guy was.

It turned out that Arthur Singer was well connected with the Alfred P.  Sloan Charitable Foundation. There were about a half dozen other people at the lunch, which began with Arthur talking about how he wanted to raise public awareness of issues documented in CRAZY.

At one point, I found myself arguing with a refined looking gentleman about whether a psychopath in prison was born with a brain defect that made him incapable of recognizing evil or whether he chose to be that way and was responsible for his actions. When our debate got a bit heated, the fellow sitting next to me leaned over and whispered: “Do you know who you are arguing with?”
When I said that I didn’t, he replied, “That’s Eric Kandel, one of the country’s most prominent psychiatrists and neuroscientists. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2000.”

Of course, I felt pretty silly — trying to lecture Dr. Kandel on the workings of the brain.

After that lunch, Arthur Singer got the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to put some seed money into developing a documentary and a top flight producer/director was hired. But the program never got off the ground. Singer, however, is not a fellow who gives up. He was determined to do something and he did. I’m not sure how he and Richard Kilberg, the executive producer and president of the Fred Friendly Seminars got together, but I am thrilled that they did.

I first heard about it when Richard called me and said the Fred Friendly Seminars wanted to do an hour long program about mental illness. I already was familiar with the shows because I had watched earlier ones on PBS. I knew the seminars featured a panel of national experts discussing a hypothetical case, rather than just having a bunch of talking heads delivering speeches. The idea of being a participant on a group discussing mental illness excited me.

What I didn’t know was how good the end product would be or the caliber of panelists that Richard and Barbara Margolis, his associate at Fred Friendly, would recruit. On the day of the filming, I found myself sitting across from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and other dynamic leaders in the mental health movement, such Sam Tsemberis, whose a driving force behind Housing First, and my good friend, Miami Judge Stephen Leifman, who got me into the jail in Miami to write my book and has become a national spokesman for stopping the use of jails and prisons as mental facilities. NAMI notable Frederick Frese and ethicist Arthur Caplan, as well as Elyn Saks, author and winner of a “genius award” were there too.  The list went on-and- on.

I was especially honored to be included on the panel because as a young journalist I had greatly admired Fred Friendly, the famed CBS newsman and president of CBS news, when news at that network was still being run by genuine reporters. I’d happened to meet Mr. Friendly at an airport in, of all places, Rapid City, South Dakota. If you don’t recognize the name, you can read about him at:
When we filmed Minds on the Edge, I got to meet his widow, Ruth Friendly, who is carrying on her husband’s dedication to producing thought-provoking television programs.

If you have not watched Minds on the Edge, you can view the entire program by clicking on:
Or you can visit the Minds on the Edge webpage and read about the show by going to:

In addition to NAMI, some colleges are using it as a teaching tool by showing fifteen minutes of the program, stopping it to discuss what they have heard and then resuming the show. Please spread the word.

Occasionally, during the broadcast, the camera pans the crowd and there, sitting quietly in a front seat is Art Singer, content to be in the shadows.
There would have been no show without him and his financial string pulling. I am grateful that he invited me to lunch in New York and that I accepted.
Oh, something else.  Dr. Kandel also is a panelist on the show — only this time, I was smart enough not to argue with him!
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Charlie Singer

    I attended as an observer the first luncheon that Mr. Earley references above and the taping of Fred Friendly Seminar. A few comments. 1) Regards to the “heated” exchange with Dr. Kandel at the luncheon, I don’t remember the details of the argument, but I do remember the incident, and clearly remember that i was in complete agreement with Mr. Earley against the Nobelist. It was a very strange moment indeed! 2) Mr. Earley’s performance at the Minds On The Edge seminar was one of the most dynamic at an event of dynamic performances. I am sure I am preaching to the converted here, but he is one of the finest communicators regarding a very complex issue – one to whom we should all be listening. (Thanks for the kind comments about my father – i swear they have no influence on my admiration and respect for your work, Pete! Your work has earned that on its own.)

  • Charlie Singer

    I attended as an observer the first luncheon that Mr. Earley references above and the taping of Fred Friendly Seminar. A few comments. 1) Regards to the “heated” exchange with Dr. Kandel at the luncheon, I don’t remember the details of the argument, but I do remember the incident, and clearly remember that i was in complete agreement with Mr. Earley against the Nobelist. It was a very strange moment indeed! 2) Mr. Earley’s performance at the Minds On The Edge seminar was one of the most dynamic at an event of dynamic performances. I am sure I am preaching to the converted here, but he is one of the finest communicators regarding a very complex issue – one to whom we should all be listening. (Thanks for the kind comments about my father – i swear they have no influence on my admiration and respect for your work, Pete! Your work has earned that on its own.)

  • B. Jones

    Minds on the Edge is a great program, although it really didn’t give a fair explanation of AOT. It left the impression that people get put in jail under AOT if they stop taking medication. That’s not true.

  • B. Jones

    Minds on the Edge is a great program, although it really didn’t give a fair explanation of AOT. It left the impression that people get put in jail under AOT if they stop taking medication. That’s not true.

  • Though I am related to the Minds on the Edge” Fred Friendly production I still feel I can speak objecrtively about it. It has a terrific panel struggling with the issues, and Pete Earley has that capacity to bring the hypothetical [though real] scenarios to life. His ability to communicate — and his intensity jump right out of the TV screen. As my late husband Fred Friendly used to say “The job of the journalist is to explain complicated issues. But he/she can’t explain them if they don’t understnad them” Pete Earley understnads the issues here and he is a superb communicator. If you haven’t seen “minds on the Edge” take a look.

  • Though I am related to the Minds on the Edge” Fred Friendly production I still feel I can speak objecrtively about it. It has a terrific panel struggling with the issues, and Pete Earley has that capacity to bring the hypothetical [though real] scenarios to life. His ability to communicate — and his intensity jump right out of the TV screen. As my late husband Fred Friendly used to say “The job of the journalist is to explain complicated issues. But he/she can't explain them if they don't understnad them” Pete Earley understnads the issues here and he is a superb communicator. If you haven't seen “minds on the Edge” take a look.

  • JUDY

    Hi Pete,
      I decided to write on your blog regarding the description on how jails have become our new asylums or mental institutions.  I also have yet to read your book “Crazy”, but have been reading some of the material and summaries that you have written in your blogs.  I just wanted to discuss the idea about your meeting with Dr Kandel, and how that must have been a very wonderful experience to have that opportunity to be with a nobel prize winner in Physiology, and to be with Arthur Singer.  I havent seen the movie “Mind on Edge”, Facing Mental Illness, but I would like to see it.  I hope it will be placed again on PBS.  As a person myself who has been exposed to the sciences since I was a child, when I first stepped grounds at Stanford Medical Center, and worked there for a time, before moving here, I can tell you of the fascination of working in an atmosphere of DNA, and biochemestry, as well as being an artist in that arena of work, has brought me.  At the age of 12, I started reading psychology books and took many courses in college towards what could have been a degree in it, but my fascination out filled my desire for a degree.  Back to the sciences, as my mother married a man of distinction, like Dr. Kandel, and had many books illustrated and published by the doctor who received a nobel prize in the sciences.  I can tell you that 20 years living in that lifestyle can be fascinating as well as challenging, as far as what my own mother went through.  For me it has been a time in my life that is unforgetable.  A time very memorable.  My advice learn what you can from this man, as time gives you every opportunity to become wiser.    Sincerely written,  Ms. Judy Wong