27 Influential Years of 60 Minutes

From Higher Intellect Documents

Since 1968 America has been better enlightened than previously concerning current events and happenings around the world. A considerable factor for this occurrence is the television program 60 Minutes which debuted on the air in September of 1968. Many other television newsmagazines have been produced since its creation, however none have possessed the longevity nor the influence of 60 Minutes. In fact, 60 Minutes, which is owned by CBS News, was the first regular network news program to cover actual stories as opposed to topics. Today, similar newsmagazines can be seen every night of the week on various stations, all of which were sparked by the inception of 60 Minutes. All of the tabloid television programs being shown today are also a result of 60 Minutes and its bold, gutsy, "gotcha" style of television journalism. 60 Minutes changed the way that the American public receives its television news, stemming forth a whole new format of television broadcast journalism. 60 Minutes has a vast history of stories covered, yet the format has remained unchanged. Don Hewett, creator and producer of 60 Minutes, has been the subject of much criticism for his stubbornness. Since its origin, 60 Minutes has continued to adhere to the same formula that made it such a success. The hidden-camera interviews, the surprising of unsuspecting alleged crooks with a bombardment of questions, the longevity of the featured reporters, all of these are what made 60 Minutes a success--finishing in the top 10 Nielson ratings for 17 consecutive seasons and counting. Other than the fact that it changed from black- and-white to color with the new technology, the appearance of 60 Minutes has remained consistent. There is no reason to change a thing about such a prosperous show according to Hewitt. Not only has the format remained constant but the reporters have as well. Mike Wallace, and Harry Reasoner both appeared on the first episode of 60 Minutes. Reasoner, who passed away in 1991, left CBS in 1970 to pursue a news anchoring position at ABC but later returned to 60 Minutes, in 1978, until his death. Wallace and Morley Safer, who started in 1970, are still featured reporters as well as Ed Bradley (who joined the team in 1981) and newcomers Lesley Stahl and Steve Kroft. 60 Minutes would not be the same without the weekly commentary of Andy Rooney. Rooney started making a regular appearance in 1978 offering humorous, sometimes controversial annotations about everyday life. A well known prime time TV news anchor who did much of his best work at 60 Minutes is Dan Rather. When Rather joined the other prestigious journalists he had a reputation as a tough, aggressive reporter; in other words, he fit in perfectly. Rather left in 1981 to takeover The CBS Evening News, leaving with him a hard-nosed investigator who would do whatever it took to capture the whole story. All of these factors combined to form a one-of-a-kind TV newsmagazine with solid ratings; clones were destined to follow.

Following in the wake of success, many spin-offs were created in an attempt to grab a piece of the action. There were many reasons for following the suite of 60 Minutes and not many reasons not to. The biggest incentive (in the eyes of the other network executives) for striving to reproduce 60 Minutes was the substantial amount of revenue created by this program. 60 Minutes requires a remarkably less amount of money to produce than a situation comedy. And because the CBS network owns the show, these were earnings that went straight to the corporation. 60 Minutes has turned out to be quite a goldmine for CBS because the program has not only brought in the highest profit of any other show in history, but most of all their other shows combined. It comes as no surprise that other networks dived into the newsmagazine business. Some of the more notable programs to cash in on the new format for broadcasting news include Prime Time Live, 20/20, and Entertainment Tonight. Entertainment Tonight branched off into a less newsworthy, more Hollywood scene which later set the pace for PM Magazine, and most recently A Current Affair and Hard Copy. None of the listed newsmagazines would exist had it not been for the creation of 60 Minutes.

The new style of journalism that 60 Minutes incorporated went on to set a new standard for reporters everywhere. High ratings are the key to success in the television news business and 60 Minutes gave the viewing public what it craved--shocking interviews and investigations which led to the uncovering of crooks, terrorists, and swindlers. Witnessing doors being slammed in a reporter's face became customary to the show. Before 1968 the nightly news would simply broadcast headlines; comparable to reading a newspaper. But 60 Minutes became a television newsmagazine offering the reader revealing, on camera stories about happenings around the world. Viewers of the show became better informed as to actual business, political, and science practices. Howard Stringer, president of CBS Broadcast Group, says that "60 Minutes invented a new genre of television programming-the newsmagazine-and in the process had a dramatic impact on the television industry and the viewing habits of the American people." Stringer's comment is very true because if one were to scan through a TV index today, they would see that nearly all channels are infested with talk shows, tabloid programs, interview shows of famous personalities, and other "caught on tape" types of programs, all of which derived elements from 60 Minutes. Given that 60 Minutes set a new standard for presenting the public with ground-breaking stories, creator and producer of the show, Don Hewitt, says "It's what you hear more often than what you see that holds your interest. The words you hear and not the pictures you see are essentially what 60 Minutes is all about." The shows that were influenced by 60 Minutes, such as the many tabloid programs being shown today, built off the 60 Minutes principle and created gossip, and shocking video segments. Still other shows, including the interview programs, borrowed from 60 Minutes' method of grilling the interviewee. Dan Rather once (in an interview with President Nixon during his downfall) riled up Nixon enough to prompt the question "Are you running for something?" And Rather shot back, "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?" Tough reporting, taped evidence of scams, and in-depth stories of current events are essentially what brought 60 Minutes much success. The use of hidden-camera reporting, catching wrong-doers on tape, was, and still is common practice. Today, we turn on the television and are flooded with shows featuring the same reporting techniques as 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes keeps its viewers up to date on current events with the same tough reporting methods. Most recently 60 Minutes covered the tragic Oklahoma City bombing and featured an interview with President Clinton. Following the bombing report a story about the Michigan Militia (who are believed to have played a part in this terrorist act) was aired. Coverage of these right-wing extremists brought much insight into who these militia groups are and what they are all about. 60 Minutes is a valuable resource for understanding what is happening in the United States and globally. Other networks caught on quick that shocking news stories are what the people want, and while 60 Minutes offers revealing stories, they avoid the tabloid reports. The tabloid television newsmagazines were created using the same techniques that made 60 Minutes so unique, however, they go for the Hollywood scene reporting on the latest gossip, and O.J. Simpson trial updates. Every aspect of Simpson dominates the current tabloid programs essentially proving that the American public wants actual stories instead of fiction.

A few programs have successfully incorporated the 60 Minutes brand of reporting. The ABC television program 20/20 first aired in 1978, and still today it is regarded as a quality news source. Frontline is a top-notch PBS regular documentary that has been around since 1983. Entertainment Tonight has found much success with its brand of news as well. Several new newsmagazines are coming out of the woodwork such as Dateline NBC, Day One, and Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, but time is the true test for an accomplished television program.

By setting new journalistic standards, 60 Minutes was able to influence all other news programs to follow. Many newsmagazines have come and gone through the years proceeding 60 Minutes' inception, all of which borrowed something along the way. Today more than ever it is easy to see that people want real world stories, and the television newsmagazine provides this for the viewer complete with unbelievable video footage and ground-breaking stories. 60 Minutes invented this form of service for the public and they have received proper recognition for this. The crew of correspondents, producers, directors, and technical staff have been honored with virtually every major award in broadcasting, including: 42 Emmy Awards, 6 George Foster Peabody Awards, 2 George Polk Memorial Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Awards, and 1 Christopher Award. Some say for the better, others say for the worse, but nevertheless it is undisputed that 60 Minutes introduced a new form of television broadcasting news which affected that entire industry and even today is looked at as a benchmark for quality news coverage.