60 Minutes

Not to be confused with the BBC news magazine program Sixty Minutes (TV series).

60 Minutes is an investigative television newsmagazine on United States television, which has run on CBS News since 1968. The program was created by long time producer Don Hewitt who set it apart by using a unique style of reporter-centered investigation. It has been among the top-rated TV programs for much of its life, and has garnered numerous awards over the years. It is considered by many to be the preeminent investigative television program in the United States. The fall of 2008 will see the program's 40th anniversary, and it currently holds the record for the longest continuously running program of any genre scheduled during American network prime time; the longer-running Meet the Press has also aired in prime time. So have have the Disney anthology television series (which premiered in 1954), and the Hallmark Hall of Fame (since 1951), but none of them have aired in prime time continually, as 60 Minutes has done.


The inspiration of the show came from the controversial Canadian news program This Hour Has Seven Days, which ran from 1964 to 1966.

Initially, 60 Minutes aired as a bi-weekly show hosted by Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace, debuting on September 24, 1968 and alternating weeks with other CBS News productions on Tuesday evenings. Don Hewitt, who had been a producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, sought out Wallace as a stylistic contrast to Reasoner (Madsen, 14). According to one historian of the show, the idea of the format was to make the hosts the reporters, to always feature stories that were of national importance but focused upon individuals involved with, or in conflict with, those issues, and to limit the reports' airtime to around thirteen minutes . However, the initial season was troubled by lack of network confidence.

When Reasoner left CBS to co-anchor ABC's evening newscast (he would return to CBS and the show in 1978), Morley Safer joined the team in 1970, and he took over Reasoner's duties of reporting less aggressive stories. However, when Richard Nixon began targeting press access and reporting, even Safer began to do "hard" investigative reports, and that year alone 60 Minutes reported on cluster bombs, the South Vietnamese Army, Canada's amnesty for American draft dodgers, Nigeria, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland . In 1983, Safer's report, "Lenell Geter's in Jail," single-handedly freed from prison the Texan who was wrongly convicted of armed robbery, and is, to this day, one of the program's crowning achievements.

In 1971, the "Point/Counterpoint" segment was introduced, featuring James J. Kilpatrick and Nicholas von Hoffman (later Shana Alexander), a three-minute debate between spokespeople for the political right and left, respectively. This segment pioneered a format that would later be adapted by CNN for its Crossfire show. This ran until 1979, when Andy Rooney, whose commentaries were already alternating with the debate segment since the fall of 1978, replaced it; Rooney remains with the program today.

By 1971, the FCC introduced the Prime Time Access Rule, which freed local network affiliates in the top 50 markets (in practice, the entire network) to take a half hour of prime time from the networks on Mondays through Saturdays and one full hour on Sundays. Because nearly all affiliates found production costs for the FCC's intended goal of increased public affairs programming very high and the ratings (thus advertising revenues) low, making it mostly unprofitable, the FCC created an exception for network-authored news and public affairs. After a six-month hiatus in late 1971, CBS thus found a prime place for 60 Minutes in a portion of that displaced time, 6-7 p.m. (Eastern time) on Sundays, in January 1972 .

This proved somewhat less than satisfactory, however, as, especially during the fall when CBS broadcast late National Football League games, 60 Minutes got preempted fairly frequently; football telecasts were protected contractually from interruptions in the wake of the infamous "Heidi Game" incident on NBC in November 1968. Other sporting events such as golf tournaments occasionally caused this problem also. Nonetheless, the program's hard-hitting reports attracted a steadily growing audience, particularly during the waning days of the Vietnam War and the gripping events of the Watergate scandal; at that time, few if any other major-network news shows did in-depth investigative reporting to the degree carried out by 60 Minutes. Eventually, during the summers of 1973 through 1975, CBS did allow the show back onto the prime time schedule proper, on Fridays in 1973 and Sundays the two years thereafter.

It was only when the FCC returned an hour to the networks on Sundays (for children's/family or news programming), taken away from them four years earlier, in a 1975 amendment to the Access Rule that CBS finally found a viable permanent timeslot for 60 Minutes. When a family-oriented drama, Three for the Road, ended after a 13-week run in the fall, the newsmagazine took its place at 7/6 p.m. in December. It has aired at that time since, for over 32 years, making 60 Minutes not only the longest-running prime time program currently in production, but also the television program (excluding daily programs such as evening newscasts or breakfast shows) broadcasting for the longest length of time at a single time period each week in U.S. television history.

This move, and the addition of then-White House correspondent Dan Rather to the reporting team, made the program into a strong ratings hit and, eventually, a general cultural phenomenon. Within the first season, 60 Minutes became the top-rated show on Sunday nights in the U.S. By 1979, it had achieved the number-one Nielsen rating for all television programs. This success translated into great profits for CBS; advertising rates went from $17,000 per thirty seconds in 1975 to $175,000 in 1982 .

The program has rarely been pre-empted since about 1978. Two notable pre-emptions occurred in 1976 and 1977, to make room for the annual telecast of The Wizard of Oz, which had recently returned to CBS after being shown on NBC for eight years. However, CBS would, in the future, schedule the film so that it would no longer pre-empt 60 Minutes.

In 1979, Channel 9 in Australia licensed a spin-off of 60 Minutes, complete with ticking clock and format, and, later, New Zealand followed suit with its own 60 Minutes.

At 90 years old, Mike Wallace is not only the oldest television personality today (being four months older than Helen Wagner), but one who has lasted the longest with one news show continuously, having been a part of 60 Minutes since its inception in 1968. On March 14, 2006, Wallace announced his retirement from 60 Minutes after 37 years with the program. He continues to work for CBS News as a "Correspondent Emeritus".

As of 2008, 60 Minutes is the only regularly scheduled television program in American television history not to have used any type of theme music. The only theme sound is from the signature Aristo stopwatch in the opening title credits, before each commercial break, and at the tail-end of the closing credits.

60 Minutes is also aired via CBS Radio on several of their radio stations at the same time as the television broadcast, such as WCBS-AM, KNX, WBBM-AM, WWJ, and several other stations across the country owned by CBS. An audio version of the full show is also distributed via podcast and the iTunes Store, beginning with the September 23, 2007 progam .


The format of 60 Minutes consists of three long-form news stories, without superimposed graphics. The stories are introduced from a set which has a backdrop resembling a magazine story on the same topic. The show undertakes its own investigations and follows up on investigations instigated by national newspapers and other sources.

Many topics center on allegations of wrongdoing and corruption on the part of corporations, politicians, and other public officials. Said figures are commonly either subjected to an interview, or evade contact with the 60 Minutes crew altogether, either by written notice or by simply fleeing from the approaching journalist and his camera crew. Instead of summarizing an interview or providing direct commentary on an issue, 60 Minutes prefers to air the interview itself. When the subject is hiding a secret, the viewers witness the evasion directly.

The show also features profiles. The profiles are occasionally of celebrities and offer up a biography of the figure, focusing upon the celebrity's early life story, obstacles, and choices, rather than offering a simple publicity platform. Non-celebrity profiles usually feature a person who has accomplished an heroic action or striven to improve the world.

Occasionally, however, if a celebrity has written a book or has a current film in release, the segment featuring them will also promote the book or film. However, the celebrity in question will always be profiled in detail, and never appears on the show simply to promote their product.

In tone, 60 Minutes blends the probing journalism of the seminal 1950s CBS series See It Now with Edward R. Murrow (a show for which Hewitt was the director its first few years) and the personality profiles of another Murrow program, Person to Person. In Hewitt's own words, 60 Minutes blends "higher Murrow" and "lower Murrow."

For most of the 1970s, the program included the Point/Counterpoint segment in which a liberal and a conservative commentator would debate a particular issue. This originally featured James J. Kilpatrick representing the conservative side and Nicholas von Hoffman for the liberal, with Shana Alexander taking over for von Hoffman after he departed in 1974. Although discontinued in 1979, when Andy Rooney, who had previously left the show with Harry Reasoner, returned to offer commentary, the segment was an innovation that caught the public imagination as a live version of competing editorials. Point/Counterpoint was also lampooned by the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live, which featured Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd as debaters, with Aykroyd typically beginning his remarks with, "Jane, you ignorant slut", and in the motion picture Airplane!, in which the faux Kilpatrick argues in favor of the plane crashing.

A similar concept was revived briefly in March 2003, this time featuring Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, former opponents in the 1996 presidential election. The pair agreed to do ten segments, which were called "Clinton/Dole" and "Dole/Clinton" in alternating weeks, but did not continue into the fall television season. Reports indicated that the segments were considered too gentlemanly, in the style of the earlier Point/Counterpoint, and lacked the feistiness of Crossfire.

Since 1979, the show has usually ended with a (usually light-hearted or humorous) commentary by Andy Rooney expounding on topics of wildly varying import, ranging from international politics, to economics, and to personal philosophy on every-day life. One recurring topic has been measuring the amount of coffee in coffee cans. Rooney's pieces, particularly one in which he referred to actor Mel Gibson as a "wacko," have on occasion led to complaints from viewers.

On Sunday, October 29, 2006, the opening sequence changed from a black background to white. The black background had been used for over a decade. Also, the gray background for the Aristo stopwatch in the "cover" changed to red.

Correspondents & hosts

Mike Wallace is perhaps the iconic representation of the style of journalism for which the show is known and has been on the show since its inception in 1968. Wallace retired in 2006, but remains as Correspondent Emeritus and retains an office at CBS News Headquarters.

The program's correspondents and commentators have included:


Past correspondents & hosts


Since 1978, Andy Rooney has contributed a commentary at the end of episodes. Other commentators include:

Ratings and recognition

Based on ratings, 60 Minutes is the most successful broadcast in U.S. television history. For five of its seasons it has been that year's top program, a feat only matched by the sitcoms All in the Family and The Cosby Show. It was a top ten show for 23 seasons in a row (1977-2000), an unsurpassed record.

60 Minutes first broke into the Ratings Top 20 during the 1976-77 season. The following season it was the fourth-most-watched show, and by 1979-80, it was the number one show. During the 21st century it remains among the top 20 programs in the Nielsen Ratings, and the highest-rated news magazine.

CBS has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Peabody Awards for the segments "All in the Family", an investigation into abuses by government and military contractors; "The CIA's Cocaine", which uncovered CIA involvement in drug smuggling; "Friendly Fire", a report on incidents of friendly fire in the Gulf War; and "Duke Rape Suspects Speak Out", the first interviews with the suspects in the 2006 Duke University lacrosse team scandal. They received an Investigative Reporter and Editor medal for their segment "The Osprey", documenting a Marine coverup of deadly flaws in the V-22 Osprey aircraft. In 2007, 60 Minutes received twelve Emmy Awards nominations.


The show has been praised for landmark journalism and received many awards. However, it has also become embroiled in some controversy, including:

William Westmoreland

In the 1982 "The Uncounted Enemy, a Vietnam Deception," which Mike Wallace narrated for CBS Reports, the news division's documentary program, it was reported that William Westmoreland, former commander of American military operations in the Vietnam War, withheld information from decision-makers in Washington for political reasons. Westmoreland held a press conference a few days later, calling it a 'preposterous hoax,' and eventually sued for libel. TV Guide issued a report called 'Anatomy of a Smear,' detailing problems with the report, including the ignoring of contrary evidence, and video editing to change the questions Westmoreland is asked. Westmoreland withdrew the suit a few days before the protracted case was given to the jury. He and CBS News issued a joint statement in which CBS said it "does not believe that General Westmoreland was unpatriotic or disloyal in performing his duties as he saw them." Westmoreland claimed a victory; CBS, in a separate statement, said nothing in the trial changed its stance that the report was "fair and accurate."

Unintended acceleration

On November 23, 1986, 60 Minutes aired a segment greenlit by Don Hewitt, concerning the Audi 5000 automobile, a popular German luxury car. The story concerned a number of incidents where the car purportedly accelerated without warning while parked, injuring or killing people. 60 Minutes was unable to duplicate this behavior, and so hired an outside consultant to modify the transmission to behave in this manner, and aired a story about it.

The incident devastated Audi sales in the United States, which did not reach the same level for another fifteen years. The initial incidents which prompted the report were found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Canada to have been attributable to operator error, where car owners had depressed the accelerator pedal instead of the brake pedal. CBS issued a partial retraction, without acknowledging the test results of involved government agencies.

A rival to 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, would be found guilty of similar tactics years later regarding fuel tank integrity on General Motors pickup trucks.


In February 1989, 60 Minutes aired a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council claiming health problems with Alar, a chemical sprayed on apples. Apple sales dropped and CBS was sued by apple growers.

Werner Erhard

A 60 Minutes broadcast of March 3, 1991 dealt with controversies involving Werner Erhard's personal and business life. One year after the 60 Minutes piece aired, Erhard filed a lawsuit against CBS and a variety of other defendants, claiming that the broadcast contained several "false, misleading and defamatory" statements about Erhard. Erhard dropped the lawsuit a few months before any court decision had been reached on its claims. The 60 Minutes segment was made unavailable with the disclaimer: "This segment has been deleted at the request of CBS News for legal or copyright reasons.

Brown and Williamson

In 1995, former Brown and Williamson (B&W) Vice President for Research and Development Jeffrey Wigand provided information to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman that B&W had systematically hidden the health risks of their cigarettes. (See transcription) Furthermore, it was alleged that B&W had introduced foreign agents (fiberglass, ammonia, etc.) with the intent of enhancing the effect of nicotine. Bergman began to produce a piece based upon the information, but ran into opposition from Don Hewitt who, along with CBS lawyers, feared a billion dollar lawsuit from Brown and Williamson. Interestingly, a number of people in CBS would benefit from a sale of CBS to Westinghouse Electric Corporation, including the head of CBS lawyers and CBS News. Also, because of the interview, the son of the President of CBS Laurence Tisch, was among the people from the big tobacco companies in the risk of being caught having committed perjury.

Because of the hesitation from Hewitt, The Wall Street Journal instead broke Wigand's story. The 60 Minutes piece was eventually aired with substantially altered content, and was missing some of the most damning evidence against B&W. The exposé of the incident was published in an article in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner, entitled The Man Who Knew Too Much. The New York Times wrote that 60 Minutes and CBS had "betrayed the legacy of Edward R. Murrow." The incident was turned into a seven-times Oscar-nominated feature film entitled The Insider, directed by Michael Mann and starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

U.S. Customs Service

60 Minutes alleged in 1997 that agents of the U.S. Customs Service ignored drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border at San Diego. The only evidence was a memorandum apparently written by Rudy Camacho, who was the head of the San Diego branch office. Based on this memo, CBS alleged that Camacho had allowed trucks belonging to a particular firm to cross the border unimpeded. Mike Horner, a former Customs Service employee, had passed the memos on to 60 Minutes, and even provided a copy with an official stamp. Camacho was not consulted about the article, and his career was devastated in the immediate term as his own department placed suspicion on him. In the end, it turned out that Horner had forged the documents as an act of revenge for his treatment within the Customs Service. Camacho successfully sued CBS for an unknown settlement, and Don Hewitt was forced to issue an on-air retraction.

Kennewick man

A legal battle between archaeologists and the Umatilla tribe over the remains of a skeleton, nicknamed Kennewick man, was reported on by 60 Minutes (October 25, 1998), to which the Umatilla tribe reacted very negatively. The tribe considered the segment heavily biased in favor of the scientists, cutting out important arguments, such as explanations of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The report focused heavily on the racial politics of the controversy and also added inflammatory arguments, such as questioning the legitimacy of Native American sovereignty -- much of the racial focus of the segment was later reported to be unfounded or misinterpreted.

Viacom/CBS cross-promotion

In recent years the show has been accused of promoting books, films, and interviews with celebrities who are published or promoted by sister businesses in the Viacom media conglomerate (2000-2005), without disclosing the journalistic conflict-of-interest to viewers. However, due to media consolidation, this has become standard practice on many television news broadcasts.

60 Minutes II

In 1999, a second edition of 60 Minutes was started in the U.S., called 60 Minutes II. This edition was later renamed 60 Minutes by CBS for the fall of 2004 in an effort to sell it as a high-quality program, since some had sarcastically referred to it as 60 Minutes, Jr. CBS News president Andrew Heyward said, "The Roman numeral II created some confusion on the part of the viewers and suggested a watered-down version". However, a widely-known controversy which came to be known as "Rathergate," regarding a report that aired September 8, 2004, caused another name change. The show was renamed 60 Minutes Wednesday both to differentiate itself and to avoid tarnishing the Sunday edition, as the editions were editorially independent from one another. The show reverted to its original title with Roman numerals on July 8, 2005, when the show moved to a Friday night 8pm ET timeslot to finish its run. Its last broadcast was on September 2, 2005.

International versions


The Australian 60 Minutes premiered on 11 February 1979. It airs Sunday nights on the Nine Network.

Reporter Richard Carleton suffered a heart attack on 7 May 2006. He asked a question at a news conference for the Beaconsfield mine collapse, then walked out and suffered cardiac arrest. Paramedics tried to revive him for 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Although they have the rights to the format, as of 2007 they do not have rights to the US stories. Nevertheless, they often air them by subleasing them from Network Ten. In 1980 60 Minutes won a Logie Award for their investigation of lethal abuses at Chelmsford psychiatric hospital in Sydney. On 16 September 2007, the Australian 60 Minutes did a segment on French sport Parkour, which showcased famous traceurs Rhys James and Shaun Woods.


The French version of 60 Minutes is titled 66 Minutes and airs on M6.


In the mid-1980s, an edited version (approx. 30 minutes in length) of the U.S. broadcast edition of 60 Minutes was shown for a time on West German television. This version retained the English-language soundtrack of the original, but also featured German subtitles. This version may have been known as 30 Minuten.

New Zealand

The New Zealand version of 60 Minutes has aired on national television since 1989, when it was shown on TV3. In 1992 the rights were acquired by TVNZ, who began broadcasting it in 1993. The network aired the program for nine years before dropping it in 2002 for its own program, entitled Sunday. Sunday is currently the highest rating current affairs show broadcast on New Zealand television, followed by 20/20. 60 Minutes is now broadcast by rival network TV3.


The Portuguese version of 60 Minutes airs on SIC Notícias and is hosted by Mário Crespo.

Other versions

  • A briefly-lived Mexican version appeared in the late 1970s.
  • A Peruvian version aired in the early 1980s, called 60 Minutos. However, in the late 1980s also existed a similarly named series, but unrelated to the series produced by CBS News.
  • In 2004, Brazil's Rede Bandeirantes planned a licensed localized version, but the plan was canceled.
  • CBS Paramount Television is rumoured to be planning licensed localized versions for several Latin American countries.

See also

  • This Hour Has Seven Days, which pre-dates 60 Minutes by a couple of years, was similar in journalistic style and format


Book references

  • Who's Who in America 1998, "Hewitt, Don S." Marquis Who's Who: New Providence, NJ, 1998. p. 1925.
  • Who's Who in America 1998, "Wallace, Mike." Marquis Who's Who: New Providence, NJ, 1998. p. 4493.
  • Madsen, Axel. 60 Minutes: The Power and the Politics of America's Most Popular TV News Show. Dodd, Mead and Company: New York City, 1984.

External links

U.S. version

Australian version

New Zealand version

France version

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