Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Don Hewitt and CBS television brought an innovative format, the television newsmagazine, to broadcast journalism, and the resulting program called 60 Minutes set the standard for years to come. The news show has broadcast longer than any other program on prime-time television.

Summary of Event

The Columbia Broadcasting System Columbia Broadcasting System;news programming (CBS) was at the pinnacle of its newscasting authority in the fall of 1968. Starting first with radio news and shifting into television journalism, the work of correspondents Edward R. Murrow Murrow, Edward R. , Eric Sevareid, Bill Shirer, Douglas Edwards, and Walter Cronkite had defined broadcast journalism. The news divisions of the two competing networks, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), were perennial also-rans. Television “news,” though, had a certain look to it—and that look was anything but entertaining. The program 60 Minutes was about to change that perception, in the minds of both network executives and network viewers. 60 Minutes (television program)[Sixty Minutes] Television;news programs Newsmagazines, televised [kw]60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine (Sept. 24, 1968)[Sixty Minutes] [kw]First Televised Newsmagazine, 60 Minutes Becomes the (Sept. 24, 1968) [kw]Televised Newsmagazine, 60 Minutes Becomes the First (Sept. 24, 1968) [kw]Newsmagazine, 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised (Sept. 24, 1968) 60 Minutes (television program)[Sixty Minutes] Television;news programs Newsmagazines, televised [g]North America;Sept. 24, 1968: 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine[09930] [g]United States;Sept. 24, 1968: 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine[09930] [c]Radio and television;Sept. 24, 1968: 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine[09930] [c]Publishing and journalism;Sept. 24, 1968: 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine[09930] [c]Communications and media;Sept. 24, 1968: 60 Minutes Becomes the First Televised Newsmagazine[09930] Hewitt, Don Wallace, Mike Reasoner, Harry

Don Hewitt had begun working for CBS in 1947 as a television news assistant. His tenure bridged CBS’s illustrious radio past and the formative years of television. He knew Murrow, directed the network’s first nightly news show, made a name for himself directing the first John F. Kennedy-Richard M. Nixon debate in 1960, and produced several years’ worth of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Hewitt’s enthusiasm for his work and his animated behavior in a television control room became another CBS legend. Still, he was taken off the CBS Evening News in 1965 when the corporation wanted its flagship newscast to have a more serious look—a look executives felt Hewitt could not provide.

Hewitt was reassigned the executive producer chores for the long-running CBS Reports. He worked in Murrow’s shadow, producing several one-hour “documents for television,” and it was during this time that Hewitt came up with the idea for 60 Minutes. Recalling the inspiration for the program, Hewitt remarked, “No one likes to read documents, so why would they want to watch something called a documentary?” He proposed a new kind of program—a television newsmagazine.

The new show was to be a regularly scheduled series focusing on topics with broad appeal: politics, government, business, personalities, and features. Like Murrow, Hewitt believed that the best stories were those told through simple arguments and led naturally to a confrontation between people. The new program’s stories would have to tell the audience something new, have a national dimension, run their course in thirteen minutes or less, and have an up-front punch to garner an emotional response from the audience. It was this format that Hewitt pitched to the network as 60 Minutes.

The network brass watched the pilot episode Hewitt put together with CBS stock footage and narration by Harry Reasoner. They suggested a second correspondent be teamed with Reasoner, someone with an opposing demeanor. Hewitt picked the one person at CBS whose on-air personality was the antithesis of the easygoing Reasoner—hard-hitting Mike Wallace. The network then agreed to try out 60 Minutes on every other Tuesday night (it alternated with CBS Reports) at 10 p.m., where it could do little ratings damage; it was matched against ABC’s top-rated Marcus Welby, M.D.

“This is 60 Minutes,” Reasoner began on September 24, 1968. “It’s a kind of a magazine for television, which means it has the flexibility and diversity of a magazine adapted to broadcast journalism.” Less than one in five viewers watched it that night. With the exception of Hewitt, no one around CBS headquarters gave 60 Minutes much of a chance—not even its hosts, Wallace and Reasoner.

After this dismal outing, Hewitt persuaded the news department executives to reassign several of CBS’s top writer-producers to his show. Veterans of See It Now, Joe Wershba Wershba, Joe and Palmer Williams Williams, Palmer , developed stories for 60 Minutes. Wallace, known for the 1950’s talk show Nightbeat, was allowed to do what he did best—ask tough questions. His aggressive, almost inquisitional style brought a unique tone to the program’s investigative pieces—and it brought ratings. Wallace and Reasoner played well off each other, with Reasoner’s homey style lending itself to features and personality interviews. Just when 60 Minutes was finding a small but steady audience, Reasoner left the program to anchor ABC’s evening news in 1970. Hewitt replaced him with Morley Safer Safer, Morley , CBS’s London bureau chief, but in 1971 the entertainment executives finally got their way, and 60 Minutes was pulled from the lineup in favor of a detective series.

For the next few years, 60 Minutes bounced around the CBS schedule. In December, 1975, it was moved to Sunday evenings, where it finished fifty-second in the ratings that year. The move came because the Federal Communications Commission was pressuring networks to program a “family hour” each night. The time shift also coincided loosely with the nation’s heightened awareness of journalistic endeavors in the wake of the Watergate scandal and with the addition of future CBS anchorman Dan Rather Rather, Dan to the program’s lineup. Ratings began to climb; 60 Minutes went into the top ten in 1977 and hit number one in the A. C. Nielsen ratings for the first time in November, 1979, the night after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was taken over by Iranian militants. The program soon had a lock on Sunday night ratings and became one of the longest-running and highest-rated series in television history.

In addition to Wallace and Safer, other CBS correspondents have passed through Hewitt’s fold over the years. Dan Rather lent his investigative talents to 60 Minutes from 1974 to 1980. The program’s first black journalist, Ed Bradley, came aboard in 1981, and its first female journalist, Diane Sawyer, served from 1984 to 1988. In the late 1980’s several younger correspondents were brought in to help lay the groundwork for a second successful generation of 60 Minutes.

Significance

Don Hewitt’s newsmagazine format had never before been tried on television, but its immense success assured decades of emulation. ABC’s 20/20 and Prime Time Live, CBS’s Street Stories, and the show-business oriented Entertainment Tonight all took their cue from 60 Minutes. Geraldo Rivera and other investigative reporters have passed through doors 60 Minutes opened. Network programmers once thought that news in prime time represented financial suicide, but 60 Minutes changed that view. Unlike drama or comedy series, the newsmagazines are solely owned by the network that airs them, meaning that all the money they make stays with the network.

Over the years, 60 Minutes has produced many memorable stories. Topics covered in the early telecasts included interviews with Eldridge Cleaver, the head of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and Army captain Ernest Medina, who was court-martialed for his part in the My Lai Massacre. Also included were stories about ecology and minority issues. Several stories unleashed such public outrage that the parties involved mended their ways. There have been segments devoted to Middle East politics, the Vietnam War, and the plight of Jordanian Jews. Between 1974 and 1976, several stories and interviews were done about the Watergate scandal and the collapse of the Nixon White House. A 1976 story about brain damage suffered by workers at a chemical plant resulted in the filing of criminal charges against the company that owned the plant.

The program has also pioneered techniques necessary to produce a newsmagazine. As former NBC News president Reuven Frank once noted, the program has always been “star journalism, the reporter as hero.” Hewitt’s unique management style is the key to 60 Minutes’ success.

So much emphasis is placed on good film editing at 60 Minutes that the editors’ names, rather than the writers’, appear on the credits. Editing is important because it expresses ideas, improves understanding, and shapes a story’s progression. Hewitt shares Murrow’s belief that a story is best told by letting those people involved tell the story. Yet editing is the most controversial aspect of 60 Minutes. The fact that interviews and “reverse shots” (film of the show’s correspondents asking questions) are put together at different times is disconcerting to news purists—and to those people who run afoul of a 60 Minutes investigation. The success of 60 Minutes, however, has made this type of content selectivity standard practice for all television newsmagazines. 60 Minutes (television program)[Sixty Minutes] Television;news programs Newsmagazines, televised

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barkin, Steve M. American Television News: The Media Marketplace and the Public Interest. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2003. Chapters look at 60 Minutes and the development of the television newsmagazine, broadcasting and news culture, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blum, David. Tick—Tick—Tick—: The Long Life and Turbulent Times of “60 Minutes.” New York: HarperCollins, 2004. A history of the popular news program that includes insights into the work and lives of its correspondents, analyzes Hewitt’s leadership, and examines the show’s most recent production staff.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gitlin, Todd. Inside Prime Time. 1983. New ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Solid explanation of the programming decisions made by network executives in their search for a hit show. Includes interviews with producers, writers, agents, and executives. Footnotes, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hewitt, Don. Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and Sixty Minutes in Television. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. An autobiography by the developer and producer of 60 Minutes. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lesher, Stephan. Media Unbound: The Impact of Television Journalism on the Public. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. Looks at television news in general and 60 Minutes in particular. Focuses on shortcomings of both and on the impact television news has on American culture. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madsen, Axel.“60 Minutes”: The Power and the Politics. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984. Unsanctioned history of the program that includes detailed information about the program’s decision-making process, story content, and evolution. Indexed; includes interviews with staff and contributors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Metz, Robert. CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1975. Dated history of CBS. Chronicles the network from Paley’s acquisition through the growth of radio and television. Includes information on CBS’s other businesses. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rather, Dan, with Mickey Herskowitz. The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist. New York: William Morrow, 1977. Autobiography that discusses Rather’s coverage of 1960’s civil unrest and his tenure as CBS White House correspondent.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reasoner, Harry. Before the Colors Fade. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981. Autobiography of Reasoner that covers his experiences with network news, the space program, the Civil Rights movement, 60 Minutes, and journalism in general.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rooney, Andy. Years of Minutes. New York: Public Affairs, 2003. A collection of essays adapted from Rooney’s on-air commentaries from 60 Minutes. Includes illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Mike, and Gary Paul Gates. Close Encounters. New York: William Morrow, 1984. Autobiography in which Wallace writes about his early years in television (talk and game shows), his move into news, his experience on 60 Minutes, and his views of news reporting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Mike, with Gary Paul Gates. Between You and Me: A Memoir. New York: Hyperion, 2005. Another autobiography by Wallace, which includes a DVD recording with further highlights of his career with 60 Minutes.

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