How FaceTime Calls With Mom Became a TV Hit


At 87, Pat Seftel has a thought to share about almost everything.

On Tinder: “If you want to meet somebody for a real relationship, that’s not the way to do it.”

On artificial intelligence: “It could get out of control.”

On climate change: “This is destroying our planet.”

For more than 10 years, Ms. Seftel has shared those opinions, and others, on “CBS Sunday Morning,” appearing in semiregular segments that have become popular with viewers, who look forward to her life advice and seasoned perspective on the modern world.

In the segments, Ms. Seftel usually appears from her home in Sarasota, Fla., in conversation via FaceTime with her son, Josh Seftel, a documentary film director who lives in Brooklyn. The two catch up briefly, and then he poses a question, such as how she felt about quarantine, which he asked during the height of the pandemic.

“After I talk to my family, I hang up, and I’m all alone,” she said in the segment from May 31, 2020. “It’s very hard.”

The prompts, Mr. Seftel said in a recent interview, are usually about current events or their own lives, but he never tells his mother what he will ask ahead of time.

“I can’t prepare,” she said in an interview over FaceTime. “Before, I was pretty nervous.”

The CBS segments originated with FaceTime conversations that the two started having shortly after Ms. Seftel’s husband of 50 years, Dr. Lee Seftel, an OB-GYN, died in 2009. Mr. Seftel and his two sisters decided to buy their mother an iPad in order to stay better connected with her.

“I was enjoying the conversations,” Mr. Seftel said. “I think she was, too. Then one day, I was just experimenting, and I recorded it and edited something together.”

Rand Morrison, the executive producer of “CBS Sunday Morning,” said in an interview that the Seftels’ segments have been an audience favorite over the past few years.

“Josh and his mom have become something of a franchise for the show,” he said. “It’s very satisfying putting these on television.”

These days, Ms. Seftel, a former nurse who became a social worker before retiring, said she has been experiencing an unlikely version of fame because of the videos. She is often recognized around town, in grocery stores and parking lots, she said, and some viewers have sent letters and gifts to her home.

“It kind of makes my day when somebody recognizes me,” she said. ”I’m just a regular person. I’m not a movie star.”

Viewers may be drawn to Ms. Seftel’s videos for any of a number of reasons: her candor, her calm demeanor or her sage advice. For Jane Pauley, the host of “CBS Sunday Morning,” it’s Ms. Seftel’s awareness and perspective that is “unique and fresh.”

“There’s no stridency,” Ms. Pauley said in an interview. “She has a gentle take on her opinions without holding back.”

For others, it could be a connection to Ms. Seftel as a motherly figure. A viewer named Connie was likely speaking for many when she sent Ms. Seftel a letter that said, “I think you are ‘The Mom’ for many people in the world.”

Viewers may also be moved by her unwavering positivity even amid life’s challenges. After quadruple bypass surgery in 2022, Ms. Seftel detailed her recovery in a video and shared her gratitude that she was able to do everyday things, such as walking again, putting on makeup for the first time since the operation, and using motorized carts at grocery stores.

The experience, Ms. Seftel said, taught her to “appreciate everything.”

“Stop taking everything for granted,” she said. “Think positive in whatever it is that you’re going through.”

Ms. Seftel said she thinks she learned to be positive in the face of hardship at a young age, after her father died when she was 11.

“We were pretty strapped financially for many years,” she said, adding that those years taught her to help others later in life. “I know what it’s like not to have things.”

Mr. Seftel said that when he was growing up, he and his sisters were used to having people around the house whom their mother had taken in, including an alcoholic priest and a babysitter without a place to stay.

“We always had people living with us in our house, sort of strangers, or people who were a little bit like lost souls,” he said. “People have always been drawn to her, to her strength, to her wisdom, even when she was much younger, and that’s just been a part of our lives.”

Ms. Seftel said that at the time, she just saw people in trouble, people she could help.

“Maybe it’s because that’s how I am,” she said.

By now, Mr. Seftel and his mother have amassed more than enough footage from several years of their conversations to fill a feature-length documentary. But for the moment, Mr. Seftel and his mother have no plans to stop talking or change their routine. And Ms. Seftel doesn’t intend to stop sharing her opinions anytime soon.

“I learned a long time ago that people really don’t always want your opinion,” she said. “But somehow or another, I end up giving it.”

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