Home / Entertainment / “The Future of the Country’s No. 1 News Program Is at Stake”: The Clock Is Ticking on 60 Minutes’ High-Stakes Bake-Off

“The Future of the Country’s No. 1 News Program Is at Stake”: The Clock Is Ticking on 60 Minutes’ High-Stakes Bake-Off

On Tuesday, November 13, 60 Minutes had somewhat of just right information to tout. The earlier Sunday’s episode had landed at No. five on Nielsen’s height 10 for prime-time broadcast tv, a bragging-rights rating for the night’s most-watched displays. Some 12.7 million other folks had tuned in for Steve Kroft’s document on a brand new problem to Big Tech knowledge assortment, Bill Whitaker’s tale on one of the international’s private gold mines, and a Sharyn Alfonsi section a few pair of equivalent twins in the N.F.L. The display’s P.R. division dutifully despatched out a press liberate noting that the episode marked 60 Minutes’ 2nd consecutive week in the height 10, and the 5th time in seven weeks it had made the rating.

That 60 Minutes cracked the height 10 isn’t a lot of a wonder—the greater than 50-year-old newsmagazine has most often been a fixture there. (Its season-to-date scores are in truth down moderately 12 months over 12 months.) What’s notable is that its present successful streak is going down underneath new control—the first season since the stunning September 12 ouster of longtime government manufacturer Jeff Fager, inheritor to 60 Minutes writer Don Hewitt. Put differently, that is the first time in 5 many years that both Hewitt or Fager hasn’t been in fee.

Beneath the business-as-usual scores is substantial turmoil and institutional agita, brought about by means of two intertwined dramas, themselves aftershocks of the #MeToo Earthquake. One is the variety of Fager’s successor, which is observed as a bake-off between Fager’s erstwhile deputy, Bill Owens, who’s working 60 Minutes for the time being, and Susan Zirinsky, the longtime senior government manufacturer of 48 Hours and the go-to manufacturer for CBS’s breaking-news prime-time specials. The different is an investigation that’s been underway for a number of months by means of a couple of white-shoe legislation companies, that are probing the whole lot from sexual misconduct allegations towards disgraced former CBS C.E.O. Les Moonves to the place of job tradition of 60 Minutes. Fager’s go out, in any case, was once section of a broader cultural reckoning and inside shake-up that resulted from Moonves’s #MeToo downfall. (Moonves has denied any wrongdoing.)

In the TV-news international, the appointment of a brand new government manufacturer for 60 Minutes can be a large deal underneath any cases. The display, which reportedly pulls in additional than $100 million in promoting earnings once a year, is a crown jewel in the Sunday-night lineup of CBS, this means that it’s important to CBS Corporation as an entire. But there are more than a few elements that make the newest succession all the extra notable and sophisticated. The handoff from Hewitt to Fager was once a predictable and moderately orchestrated switch of energy to anyone who have been groomed for the activity. “This is different,” anyone who is aware of the fine details of the display instructed me. “It was triggered by unforeseeable events, and there’s a power dynamic at play that was not the case the last time.” A an expert CBS supply in a similar fashion put it: “The long run of the nation’s no. 1 information program is at stake, and who desires to fuck that up?”

For the first time, anyone outdoor of 60 Minutes may probably take fee of 60 Minutes—no small factor for a display this is necessarily its personal media group inside CBS News, with a big and tight-knit workforce that treasures the autonomy and status it has traditionally loved. Additionally, 60 Minutes is adapting to a brand new management hierarchy. Fager had reported without delay to Moonves, which intended that 60 Minutes was once outdoor the purview of CBS News President David Rhodes. Now, the new government manufacturer will document as much as Rhodes, whose dating with 60 Minutes has been far-off, if no longer quite fraught. It was once Rhodes who canned Fager, after it got here to gentle that Fager had despatched a threatening textual content message to a feminine CBS reporter. She was once masking allegations, from Ronan Farrow’s fresh New Yorker exposés, that Fager have been complicit in place of job harassment, and that he’d been touchy-feely at libatious corporate events. (While Fager has vigorously denied those allegations, there may be considerable settlement within 60 Minutes and CBS News that he shot himself in the foot by means of sending that textual content.)

Rhodes already has so much on his plate, together with the scores demanding situations of CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News. Choosing a brand new chief for 60 Minutes will likely be amongst the greatest strikes he’s made since changing into president of CBS News in 2011(his present contract is claimed to be up for renewal inside the following couple of months), proper up there with the elimination of 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley as Evening News anchor, and Pelley’s substitute by means of Jeff Glor; the addition of John Dickerson to CBS This Morning after Charlie Rose was once fired following a sexual misconduct investigation by means of The Washington Post; and the introduction of the streaming community CBSN.

Given the extent to which 60 Minutes has been entangled in the top-line company chaos at CBS, the executive-producer appointment is observed as one thing that may invite shut scrutiny at the absolute best ranges of the corporate, together with from appearing C.E.O. Joe Ianniello, vice chair Shari Redstone, and a fresh-faced board of administrators whose first order of enterprise has been to wash up the Moonves mess. Perhaps that’s why many inside CBS presume the determination is already a foregone conclusion. “Everyone feels like it’s gonna be Zirinsky,” one supply instructed me. The pondering is that Zirinsky is a time-tested chief, and putting in her would ship a sign that CBS is eager about converting the established order. Several other folks within 60 Minutes instructed me Zirinsky has a powerful contingent of give a boost to there. But others imagine the odds are nonetheless 50-50, for the reason that Owens already has deep revel in with the program and has been working it easily in the period in-between. (During a up to date chat amongst some board contributors, in keeping with anyone accustomed to the dialog, the period in-between transition was once it appears described as “seamless.”)

Owens, who has been with 60 Minutes since 2003 and with CBS since 1988, represents continuity. 60 Minutes, which operates one by one from the information department and is housed in its personal headquarters throughout the boulevard from the CBS Broadcast Center, is a fiercely impartial and idiosyncratic operation. Owens, of path, has his personal set of supporters. Sources instructed me that Pelley’s remarks about Owens throughout an acceptance speech closing month at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, the place 60 Minutes was once up for 24 nominations, was once observed as a ringing endorsement on behalf of the Owens camp. “All of the tales that 60 Minutes is nominated for this night had been shepherded onto the air by means of our government editor Bill Owens,” Pelley mentioned. “Last night was the beginning of our 51st season, and if I may say so, it was a hell of a premiere. And Bill Owens produced that as well.” Additionally, after the New York Post reported on October 19 that Zirinsky had emerged as the front-runner, the tabloid revealed a 2nd tale days later, during which resources dished that “top correspondents,” unnamed, had known as contributors of the CBS board pressuring them to select Owens. The glaring caveat? Owens getting the activity might be seen as dangerous optics on the section of control. In different phrases, would raising Fager’s No. 2, regardless of his , be the message that they wish to ship? Is it time for an actual alternate?

Zirinsky, on the different hand, can be a brand new set of eyes—an intruder who may nevertheless convey to the activity greater than 4 many years of revel in in the trenches of CBS News. Zirinsky is known and cherished inside the community, having jump-started her profession in its Watergate-era Washington bureau. Before transferring to the crime-focused 48 Hours in 1996, she spent years masking the White House, political campaigns, and global conflicts like the first Persian Gulf War and Tiananmen Square. Zirinsky has relationships inside 60 Minutes—she and Lesley Stahl are shut, as an example, and she or he is pleasant with Owens himself. Some newshounds at 60 Minutes, in spite of Zirinsky’s spectacular résumé, can’t get previous the proven fact that 48 Hours is this kind of other animal. There’s additionally an consciousness that Zirinsky is understood to be an excessively hands-on supervisor, while newshounds and manufacturers at 60 Minutes are aware of having their tales authorized after which executing them with substantial independence, in keeping with resources at the display. “There’s a continuity that people are afraid of losing,” mentioned one 60 Minutes staffer. Someone who works with Zirinsky instructed me that simply because she runs 48 Hours a specific manner doesn’t imply that’s how she would run 60 Minutes: “She’s been right here since ‘72. She is aware of and understands and respects the historical past of 60 Minutes—and the reverence for that program.”

Another query weighing on the minds of staff is whether or not Rhodes will search to make any adjustments now that he has possession of the display. People concern about such things as budgets and staffing selections. There’s additionally been some chatter about whether or not Rhodes would search to get rid of the July sabbatical that 60 Minutes staffers have lengthy maintained. The display is structured like a scripted prime-time drama or comedy, with new episodes 8 months out of the 12 months and basically repeats throughout the summer time. July has historically been reserved as the one month the place everybody may reliably take their break day to steer clear of scheduling conflicts. To outsiders, that can look like a frivolous worry, however at 60 Minutes, it’s necessary.

As with the relaxation of CBS, 60 Minutes staff are eagerly waiting for the effects of the #MeToo probe. In Farrow’s reporting for The New Yorker, 60 Minutes was once portrayed as a antagonistic paintings atmosphere dominated by means of robust males with iron fists. That’s of path no longer the revel in of everybody who works there, or who has labored there, however it’s a thread that the legislation companies carrying out the probe are for sure pursuing. People accustomed to the investigation instructed me that many 60 Minutes staffers, together with correspondents, have been interviewed by means of the lawyers, who’ve spoken to greater than 350 other folks total at this level. The legal professionals had been combing thru e-mails and making an attempt to corroborate anecdotes reported by means of Farrow—reminiscent of the one the place a male senior manufacturer “threatened to throw furniture at” a feminine senior manufacturer, “and twisted her arm behind her back.” (Some feminine staffers have driven again on the boys’ membership belief by means of emphasizing the display’s women-heavy senior manufacturing ranks.) The popular expectation is that the corporate gained’t announce a brand new government manufacturer till the investigation is whole.

Will any further allegations come to gentle? Will any sides of the probe replicate poorly on Owens? How for much longer will the complete factor take? These are all pertinent questions, and at 60 Minutes, the want for solutions is robust. “We just want it to be over with, so we know what the fuck’s going on,” one of the a couple of staffers I spoke with instructed me. “I do suppose no matter is made up our minds is gonna have an enormous have an effect on on 60 Minutes.

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Correspondents Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Wallace with 60 Minutes writer Don Hewitt in Hewitt’s CBS place of business, New York City, 1986.

Photo: Photograph by means of Brownie Harris.

Mike Wallace, photographed for Vanity Fair by Harry Benson, 1991.

Wallace, photographed for V.F. by means of Harry Benson, 1991.

Photo: Photograph by means of Harry Benson.

Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

Reasoner and Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

Photo: From the CBS Photo Archive.

Bradley and Don Hewitt edit copy, 1985.

Bradley and Hewitt edit reproduction, 1985.

Photo: From the CBS Photo Archive.

Safer with an upstart producer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Safer with an upstart manufacturer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Photo: Photograph from 60 Minutes.

Safer reporting the war in South Vietnam, 1965.

Safer reporting the struggle in South Vietnam, 1965.

Photo: By Alex Brauer/CBS News.

The 60 Minutes team, in 1975.

The 60 Minutes workforce, in 1975.

Photo: From The CBS Archive.

Correspondents Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, and Mike Wallace with 60 Minutes writer Don Hewitt in Hewitt’s CBS place of business, New York City, 1986.

Photograph by means of Brownie Harris.

Wallace, photographed for V.F. by means of Harry Benson, 1991.

Photograph by means of Harry Benson.

Reasoner and Wallace co-host the first broadcast, 1968.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

Bradley and Hewitt edit reproduction, 1985.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

Steve Kroft grills the Clintons about their marriage, Boston, 1992.

From the CBS Photo Archive.

Safer with an upstart manufacturer, Jeff Fager, circa 1990.

Photograph from 60 Minutes.

Safer reporting the struggle in South Vietnam, 1965.

By Alex Brauer/CBS News.

The 60 Minutes workforce, in 1975.

From The CBS Archive.

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