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60 Minutes

60 Minutes is the name of several television newsmagazines, the first of which has been produced by CBS News since 1968. That show, created and made successful by producer Don Hewitt, begin and end with the image and sound of a ticking stopwatch, an image that in the 1970s became symbolic of investigative journalism on U.S. television.

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 order to signify its quality. 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, after a well-known controversy regarding a report that aired September 8, 2004, the show was soon renamed 60 Minutes Wednesday to differentiate itself and to avoid tarnishing the Sunday edition, as the editions were editorially independent from one another. The show reverted back to its original title on July 8, 2005, when the show moved to a Friday night 8pm ET timeslot to finish its run. It lasted until 2005.

History

60 Minutes is noted for its unique style and ability to generate news and controversy. As of 2004, the program and its contributors have won a total of 75 Emmy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award presented in 2003 to creator Don Hewitt. It is one of the oldest surviving investigative journalism shows on television, having first aired in 1968.

The format 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 stories' 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. Historically, alleged wrongdoers are often made to look bad on television, and 60 Minutes is well-known for its potentially damning interviews of various people and organizations.

60 Minutes also interviews celebrities and well-known politicians on a frequent basis, documenting their history and philosophical viewpoints. These segments are rarely accusatory in the way that their more pointed investigations are.

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."

Other themes which have been associated with the show include its "Point-Counterpoint" debate segments, which originally featured James J. Kilpatrick on the conservative side of the debate and Nicholas von Hoffman for the liberals (Shana Alexander took over von Hoffman's chair after he departed in 1974). This format was lampooned during the early years of the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live, with Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd as the debaters (Aykroyd would begin his remarks with, "Jane, you ignorant slut"); the 1980 film Airplane had a noteworthy parody of Kilpatrick in which he had a pointed comment about the passengers of an apparently doomed aircraft. The "Point-Counterpoint" segments were recently revived for a few months featuring Bob Dole and Bill Clinton.

Since 1978, the show has usually ended with a commentary by Andy Rooney expounding on topics of wildly varying import, ranging from international politics, to economics, to the supposed inferiority of women, and to personal philosophy on every-day life. One recurring topic has been counting the amount of coffee in coffee-cans. Rooney's pieces, particularly one in which he referred to actor Mel Gibson as a "wacko," have led to complaints from viewers.

Ratings history

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 Cosby. 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 the 1979-80 season, 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.

Correspondents

Mike Wallace is perhaps the iconic representation of the style of journalism for which the show is known. He's been on the show since its inception in 1968. Other correspondents include:

The program's correspondents and commentators have included:

  • Ed Bradley .... Correspondent (1981-)
  • Steve Kroft .... Correspondent (1989-)
  • Dan Rather .... Correspondent (1975-1981)
  • Harry Reasoner ... Correspondent (1968-1970, 1978-1991)
  • Morley Safer .... Correspondent (1970-)
  • Diane Sawyer .... Correspondent (1984-1989)
  • Lesley Stahl .... Correspondent (1991-)
  • Meredith Vieira .... Correspondent (1989-1991)

Commentators

Since 1978, Andy Rooney has contributed a somewhat humorous, often annoying and sometimes cantankerous commentary at the end of each episode. Other commentators include:

  • Shana Alexander .... Liberal debater (1975-79)
  • Bill Clinton ... Liberal debater (2002-2003)
  • Stanley Crouch .... Commentator (1996)
  • Bob Dole ... Conservative commentator (2002-2003)
  • Molly Ivins .... Liberal commentator (1996)
  • James J. Kilpatrick .... Conservative debater (1971-79)
  • P. J. O'Rourke .... Conservative commentator (1996)
  • Nicholas Von Hoffman.... Liberal debater (1971-74)

Controversy

Some segments of the 60 Minutes program have drawn criticism. Conservatives question the show's journalistic integrity, particularly regarding political stories attacking conservative politicians.

One reason given by people for refusing to be interviewed by 60 Minutes is that the producers insist on reserving the right to edit the interviews.

"Unintended acceleration"

In 1986, Don Hewitt greenlit a story 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.

Brown & Williamson

In 1996, former Brown & Williamson (B&W) Vice President for Research & Development Jeffrey Wigand provided information to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman that B&W had systematically hidden the health risks of their cigarettes. Furthermore, it was alleged that B&W had introduced foreign agents (fiberglass, ammonia, etc.) with the intent of enhancing nicotine's effects. Bergman began to produce a piece based upon the information, but ran into opposition from Don Hewitt. 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 exposť 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, starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, entitled The Insider.

Customs Service

60 Minutes alleged in 1997 that agents for the U.S. Customs Service ignored drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border at San Diego.[3] 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. (The Washington Post, April 13, 1999)

Viacom cross-promotion

The show has in recent years been accused of promoting books, films, and interviews with celebrities who are published or promoted by sister businesses in the Viacom empire, without disclosing the journalistic conflict-of-interest to viewers.

 

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TV TIDBITS

Aired: 1968-

Cast: Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Leslie Stahl, Andrew Rooney

Network: CBS

Genre: News

Theme song

Image courtesy of CBS


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