“Good evening,” said host Harry Reasoner. “This is '60 Minutes.'" It's a kind of a magazine for television. Which means it has the flexibility and diversity of a magazine, adapted for broadcast journalism.” “And if this broadcast does what we hope it will do,” added co-host Mike Wallace, “It will report reality.”
The first episode of CBS News' “60 Minutes” was broadcast 55 years ago tonight.
Television News, But In A Magazine Format
CBS News producer Don Hewitt's had a concept for a new type of news program: To create a TV version of Life magazine, reaching deep to do more in-depth reporting than one might normally find in the brief segments found on the nightly network news.
The first episode of “60 Minutes,” featuring looks at the 1968 presidential campaign headquarters and an interview of Attorney General Ramsey Clark about police brutality, was broadcast on Tuesday evening, Sept. 24, 1968.
The broadcast alternated Tuesdays with other CBS News programs. The program was notable for being the first network news show to not use any theme music.
Instead, there was the sound of a ticking stopwatch that began to appear a few episodes into the show's run. The broadcast alternated Tuesdays with other CBS News programs. The program was notable for being the first network news show to not use any theme music. Instead, there was the sound of a ticking stopwatch that began to appear a few episodes into the show's run.
Hewitt brought in respected CBS journalists Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace as hosts. A year later, the humorously acerbic Andy Rooney was promoted from brief appearances to a role as full-time commentator.
When Reasoner bolted for a chance to anchor a newly rebranded ABC World News Tonight in 1970, Morley Safer was promoted from correspondent to anchor.
In 1972, CBS moved “60 Minutes” to a Sunday evening time spot where it would begin to find huge ratings.
The show would bring in lots of viewers “if we package reality as well as Hollywood packages fiction,” Hewitt told an interviewer.
“60 Minutes” would go on to interview Richard Nixon — who promised “to restore respect to the presidency” — and Bill Clinton after he had lied about his infidelity. It would investigate Watergate, the tobacco industry, doping by cyclist Lance Armstrong, torture of prisoners at Abu Gharib, incidents of friendly fire during the Gulf War, the Marines' coverup of deadly flaws in the V-22 Osprey aircraft and CIA involvement in drug smuggling.
A 1983 story by Safer on a Texas man wrongly convicted and imprisoned for armed robbery resulted in the man's exoneration.
“60 Minutes” would be TVs highest rated show for five seasons and a Top 10-ranked show for 23 consecutive seasons. It would win 138 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards.
And, of course, it would spawn a number of imitators on other networks — among them, ABC's “20/20” and “Dateline NBC.”
An Evolving Team of Journalists
When Reasoner left “60 Minutes” after two seasons his hosting duties were assumed by correspondent Morley Safer. Safer would then stay with the program for 47 years. Reasoner would return in 1978 and would stay 13 years.
In addition, CBS White House correspondent Dan Rather would join the program in 1975 and stay for six seasons, until he was named anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1981.
The first four full-time 60 Minutes journalists.
The list of those who have served as correspondents or hosts for “60 Minutes reads like a ”who's who” of notable broadcast journalists. Current full-time hosts include Lesley Stahl — who's been with the show for 32 years — Bill Whitaker and Cecilia Vega, who joined the program this year.
Anderson Cooper has been a journalist for CNN since 2001 and, since 2003, has his own nightime show, “Anderson Cooper 360°,” on that network. But he also contributes stories as a correspondent for CBS' “60 Minutes.” Others appearing across networks on “60 Minutes” over the years include CNN's Christine Amanpour and PBS' Charlie Rose.
Others currently serving as regular correspondents for “60 Minutes.” are Scott Pelley, Sharyn Alfonsi and Jon Wertheim.
This edition of Further Review was adapted for the web by Zak Curley.