When Don Hewitt first thought of producing a news magazine program for CBS in the 1960’s, a one-hour program, which would blend celebrity profiles with serious cutting-edge news, much like the appeal of Life Magazine, Fred Friendly thought it was a dreadful idea.
Refusing to be discouraged, Hewitt persisted in developing the idea, refining the concept, and smoothing out the rough edges. Before long, CBS News President Richard Salant was sold on the idea, if for no other reason, legend has it, but that he liked doing the exact opposite of his predecessor, Mr. Friendly.
So now that we know how ``60 Minutes’’ came about, who coined the title?
According to 60 Minutes spokesperson Kevin Tedesco, when Hewitt was pitching the one-hour news magazine to CBS executives and trying to settle on a name, Bill Leonard, CBS News Vice President said: ``why don’t you just call it 60 Minutes.’’
And so on Tuesday, September 24, 1968 at 10 p.m (ET) with Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner as anchors, and Alpo, the all-meat dog food as its sole sponsor, ``60 Minutes’’, then a bi-weekly program, was born, when an estimated 13 million viewers tuned in,
More than 40 years later, the CBS news magazine is still a household name; and starting in September it will begin its 42nd season, having broadcast 1,929 shows, (as of August 16th) and nearly 4,000 individual segments.
To say ``60 Minutes’’ has been a smashing success is to state the obvious. The television newsmagazine program, after all, has finished on the Nielsen Top 10 highest-rated programs list for 23 consecutive seasons (1977 to 2000.) What’s more, it has won an Emmy 78 times over 37 years, an accomplishment unmatched by any other primetime program; while finishing the season as the most watched program five times, a remarkable achievement it shares with CBS’s “All in the Family” and NBC’s “The Cosby Show
Success is difficult to define; and even harder to match. There have been a number of news magazine programs that have come and gone over the last 40 years, while ``60 Minutes’’ still manages to keep on ticking.
So what’s the secret to its success, inquiring minds would like to know?
According to Tedesco, ``60 Minutes’’ success can be attributed to three primary reasons: 1). the show’s move to Sunday night, which began in 1972; 2.) Watergate; 3.) and the oil crisis of the mid-1970’s.
Mike Wallace, in particular, seemed at his best when grilling key players of the Watergate caper, including H. R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon; and G. Gordon Liddy, the mastermind behind the first break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building in 1972. Both ``60 Minute’’ interviews took place in 1975.
And during the gas shortage, Tedesco explains, families were less inclined to travel the highways for family vacations; or make long excursions to visit family and friends on the weekend, opting instead to stay home where they became accustomed to flipping on ``60 Minutes’’ after their Sunday dinner.
This Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT, ``60 Minutes’’ will devote the full hour to the show’s producer, Don Hewitt, who died Wednesday at age 86 from pancreatic cancer. In the special broadcast,``60 Minute’’ correspondents are expected to discuss the evolution of the news program, emphasizing how the ``father of modern television’’, as he became to be known, shaped the show, making it relevant with major news developments like the Vietnam War and Watergate, rolling out hard hitting investigate reporting, while at the same time, keeping it entertaining by profiling celebrities like Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason, and Lena Horne ``without’’, as Mr. Hewitt once told The New York Times, ``sacrificing its credibility’’
In anticipation of Sunday’s broadcast, then, what follows are a few fast facts about Mr. Hewitt and 60 Minutes.
• At age 19, Hewitt dropped out of New York University to work at what he thought would be his dream job: night copyboy at the New York Herald Tribune
• In 1943, Hewitt enrolled in the Marine Merchant Academy in Kings Point N.Y., where he worked in the public relations department with Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite at Stars & Stripes in London
• Hewitt was hired by CBS in 1948 at age 25 as producer-director of "Douglas Edwards with the News’’; by 1951, he became producer of ``See it Now’’ a television newsmagazine and documentary that was created by Edward R. Murrow and Mr. Friendly
• Hewitt directed and produced the first of two debates between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960
• `` 60 Minutes’’ debuts on September 24, 1968
• On January 21, 1969, in its ninth show, Reasoner and Wallace illustrated the raging battle between Israel and Lebanon by presenting both points of view.
• During its second season, ``60 Minutes’’ ranked 83 out of 103 prime time shows
• ``A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" first began on July 4, 1978.
NOTE: Mr. Rooney never actually said ``Do you ever wonder why..? as is widely believed. Comedian Joe Piscopo, in fact, parodied Rooney on NBC’s ``Saturday Night Live’’, using that very line; and it took off ever since.
• Ed Bradley replaced Dan Rather as a ``60 Minutes correspondent beginning in 1980, when Mr. Rather replaced Walter Cronkite as anchor on the CBS Evening News.
• ``60 Minutes’’ didn’t turn into a ratings bonanza until 1975, when it was moved from 6 p.m to 7 p.m on Sunday nights, at the suggestion of Oscar Katz, vice president in the entertainment division at CBS. In 1976, ``60 Minutes’’ leaped to the Top 10 for the first time, a position it would stay for the next 13 consecutive seasons.
• Correspondents on ``60 Minutes’’ dating back to 1968, have included: Harry Reasoner. Mike Wallace. Morley Safer. Dan Rather. Ed Bradley. Diane Sawyer. Steve Kroft. Meredith Viera, Lesley Stahl. Bob Simon. Christiane Smanpour. Anderson Cooper. Katie Couric. Lara Logan and Bryon Pitts s
• In 1990, Hewitt was elected to the Television Academy Hall of Fame
• Don Hewitt’s last broadcast as executive producer of 60 Minutes was on May 30, 2004
• On April 3, 2008, Hewitt was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcast Journalism by Washington State University.
• As of August 16th, ``60 Minutes’’ has broadcast 1,929 shows and nearly 4,000 individual segments.