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.
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.
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 .
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.