September 24, 1968: 60 minutes premieres on CBS TV in the US. The original program ran every other week and was based on the Canadian program W5, already two years old. Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace hosted the show. The premise of the program, created by Don Hewitt, was to be a kind of magazine, but for television. There were seven segments on the first show and much of the time was spent on the upcoming presidential elections. The first “magazine-cover” was a chroma key photo of two helmeted policemen (one segment was about police brutality). In the beginning, the backdrop behind the hosts was ecru and the familiar black, still in use today, appeared in 1969. Alpo dog food was the sole sponsor of the first show. What was not present on the first show was the stopwatch that came to be synonymous with the show’s opening.
The name of the show was the numeral 60 with minutes all in lower case and written using Helvetica type. In 1974, MINUTES was put into all uppercase and Eurostile font was used. The show is based on investigative journalism and used many techniques to create interesting segments. Re-editing interviews, hidden cameras, and “gotcha journalism” (interviews designed to entrap the interviewee – a pejorative term) were all used. There were always feature stories that were national in scope, but usually focused on individuals involved in or in conflict with the issues. Features were usually limited to 13 minutes in length.
Reasoner left CBS to co-anchor a news program on ABC and Morley Safer joined the team in 1970. The FCC was trying to give networks an opportunity to present programs locally and passed the Prime Time Access Rule in 1971. This took time away from networks but the private affiliates found it expensive to create programs. It was not until 1975 that 60 Minutes moved to its permanent spot at 7 PM EST on Sundays. It has aired at that time for the last 40 years setting records for the show. But it has caused problems. The show has been preempted and delayed because of programming issues and forced CBS to alter the way it broadcast many of its weekend sports shows.
Andy Rooney joined the show in 1978 and offered his curmudgeonly insights until 2011. He died one month later at the age of 92. The show continues to air on CBS and is based out of New York City. The executive producer now is Jeff Fager who took over in 2004. Hewitt had remained in the position until that time, but retired when he was 82. The show is hosted by Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl, and Bill Whitaker with a list of correspondents who add segments to each issue. The list of former hosts, correspondents, and commentators is long and includes many famous names from the ranks of television newsmen/newswomen. Based on ratings, 60 Minutes is the most successful program in US history.
Confrontation is not a dirty word. Sometimes it’s the best kind of journalism as long you don’t confront people just for the sake of a confrontation. – Don Hewitt
If you’re a good journalist, what you do is live a lot of things vicariously, and report them for other people who want to live vicariously. – Harry Reasoner
To go around the world, to talk to almost anybody you want to talk to, to have enough time on the air, so that you could really tell a full story. What a voyage of discovery it was. – Mike Wallace
A lot of sponsors over the years have left us. They’ve all come back. But they chose to leave us for a while because of stories we have done about them or their products or their friend’s products or whatever. – Morley Safer
All this time I’ve been paid to say what is on my mind in television. You don’t get any luckier than that. – Andy Rooney, his last broadcast
Also on this day: Powerful Serve; Best Backhand – In 1938, John Donald Budge became the first tennis player to win the Grand Slam of tennis.
Majestic 12 – In 1947, Harry S Truman did not form a secret society.
Devil’s Tower – In 1906, this landmark was declared a National Monument.
Byzantine – In 1180, Manuel I Komnenos died.
Not Rigid Airship – In 1911, a German airship blew apart.
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