Win­frey joins ‘60 Min­utes’ for 50th an­niver­sary year

Yuma Sun - - NEWS -

NEW YORK — CBS’ “60 Min­utes,” the news­magazine that can credit con­sis­tency for much of its suc­cess as it en­ters its 50th an­niver­sary year, is about to see a ma­jor change with the ad­di­tion of Oprah Win­frey.

Win­frey will de­but Sept. 24, re­port­ing on a story about Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions.

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the power of the Sun­day-night news­magazine that it seeks to ab­sorb one of tele­vi­sion’s big­gest stars into its fabric in­stead of the other way around. One of the medium’s best-known celebrity in­ter­view­ers will do some, but will largely work against type in re­port­ing sto­ries, said Jeff Fager, the show’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

“She wants to do sto­ries with im­pact,” he said. “She’s driven by that and so are we. That’s part of why this is such a good fit for her.”

Many of the names that made “60 Min­utes” great — Mike Wal­lace, Mor­ley Safer, Ed Bradley, Don He­witt — are gone now. But the stop­watch keeps tick­ing ev­ery Sun­day at 7 p.m. While ev­ery­thing in media seems to have changed around it, the show’s mix of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, news-mak­ing in­ter­views, es­o­teric and en­ter­tain­ing fea­tures timed to the length of found­ing ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer He­witt’s at­ten­tion span re­mains re­mark­ably un­changed.

“It’s a mir­a­cle,” cor­re­spon­dent Les­ley Stahl said.

When she joined in 1991, He­witt told Stahl that he wanted cor­re­spon­dents to be like ac­tors in a reper­tory troupe who could play all the roles, and that’s still the phi­los­o­phy she uses to plan sto­ries she pur­sues.

Gone, too, are the volatile days of throw­ing cof­fee cups, shout­ing matches and feuds, of Wal­lace peek­ing at col­leagues’ note­books to steal sto­ries. But it’s still keenly com­pet­i­tive. New­comer Bill Whi­taker told Fager he dreamed of screen­ing a story that his bosses found so per­fect it mer­ited no changes. Fager leaned in and told him, “that’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

There’s a dif­fer­ent pres­sure from the daily dead­lines of the evening news, Whi­taker said. At “60 Min­utes,” cor­re­spon­dents have time, tal­ented pro­duc­ers and travel bud­gets. So they’d bet­ter de­liver.

“Ev­ery­one is try­ing to find an orig­i­nal story, some­thing that breaks news or helps people to un­der­stand a big story,” Fager said. “That’s what we do. New people up here re­al­ize that’s a higher bar than is set any­where else.”

“People think it’s cut­throat,” he said. “It’s not like that, the way our im­age would sug­gest. But it’s a tough place to suc­ceed. Part of how you’re judged is how orig­i­nal your re­port­ing is, and how well you cover a big story.”

Scott Pel­ley, Stahl, Steve Kroft, Whi­taker and An­der­son Cooper make up the show’s core. Char­lie Rose, Win­frey, Sharyn Al­fonsi, Lara Lo­gan, David Martin, No­rah O’Don­nell and Jon Wertheim are among the con­trib­u­tors who also do sto­ries.

“There are a lot of people who are con­trib­u­tors who have other jobs, and that has changed the feel of the place,” Kroft said. “I don’t think the show has changed very much on the air.”

Fager, who just com­pleted a book on the show to mark the an­niver­sary, talks now about how hard it was to re­place He­witt 15 years ago. Col­leagues say his sta­tus as an in­sider at CBS News and “60 Min­utes” helped him, along with the ab­sence of an ego­driven need to make changes for change’s sake.

His big­gest push has been to make the show more on the news. In­ter­view­ing for­mer pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Steve Ban­non this past Sun­day il­lus­trates the point, and Fager pushed out ex­cerpts of the in­ter­view for a few days in ad­vance to make head­lines and at­tract at­ten­tion. Com­ments Ban­non made about the James Comey fir­ing were posted on the “60 Min­utes Over­time” web­site, which de­liv­ers out­takes from the show’s seg­ments, and be­came so news­wor­thy Mon­day that they ar­guably should have been used in the orig­i­nal piece.

The show would of­ten ig­nore big break­ing-news sto­ries in the past, fig­ur­ing they were told else­where. Fager likes to find some el­e­ment that hasn’t re­ceived much at­ten­tion but can help a viewer bet­ter un­der­stand the event, cit­ing Kroft’s re­port­ing on the fi­nan­cial cri­sis a decade ago.

“The qual­ity of the show has not dropped off,” Kroft said. “We’ve had good sea­sons and bad sea­sons all dur­ing the 30 years I’ve been here. I think the show is more timely than it used to be.”

Pro­duc­ers watch the rat­ings, but refuse to test au­di­ence pref­er­ences with polls.

“It’s re­ally risky to do what we do,” Fager said. “It goes against ev­ery­thing the pro­fes­sion­als in news or­ga­ni­za­tions be­lieve, that you have to pan­der, that you have to look for sto­ries that they’re go­ing to want, as op­posed to do­ing sto­ries that are im­por­tant and fig­ur­ing out how to do it well.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

IN THIS APRIL 18 FILE PHOTO, Oprah Win­frey at­tends the pre­miere of HBO Films’ “The Im­mor­tal Life of Hen­ri­etta Lacks” in New York. Win­frey is join­ing “60 Min­utes” for its 50th an­niver­sary year, with her first story due in a week. She will de­but Sept. 24 re­port­ing on a story about Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions.

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