FOCUS | 60 MINUTES
Left: Lesley Stahl interviews Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Above: Bill Owens, Scott Pelley, and crew come under fire during the Iraq invasion in 2003.
the most No.1 ratings wins—seven—since the 1992–93 season. Segments from last season often made news: Pelley’s interviews with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky and Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen; Whitaker’s alarming report on Russia’s cyber-security threats; Alfonsi’s trip to Afghanistan to interview the Taliban minister of health; Stahl’s sit-down with embattled congresswoman Liz Cheney. Even when they weren’t garnering headlines of their own, segments engaged, illuminated, and underlined human connec- tions—the stuff expected of a legacy. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this past year vies with the 1992–93 season in ratings. That time, too, was roiling. The Persian Gulf War had ended. The AIDS pandemic had not. There was a presidential elec- tion. “There is an epic need for deeper, further insight into what’s going on,” says Owens. “I first noticed that going back to the financial crash around the housing market. Our numbers were robust then and have been through the pandemic, issues around social justice and police reform, and obviously the war in Ukraine. “Every week people are bombarded by a lot of infor- mation, a lot of daily news, which tends to cover the same thing that day,” he adds. “We’re able to take a step back and concentrate on one thing, one part of the story, and expand it.” This distillation doesn’t come easily. As a story wends its way to airing, it goes through several screenings in which the correspondents and their team meet in the screening room with Owens and his team to get at the best possible version of the story. Those screen- ings might well be the show’s very special sauce. “There is a trust factor that’s built up over 54 sea- sons,” says Owens. “There’s also an expectation. People expect that on Sunday they’re going to get something different than what they’ve been hearing all week. And if around these big stories, people come away feeling a bit more educated, I think we’ve done our jobs.”
“Every week I think, What would Morley and Mike and Ed think?
I swear to God, I do.” 60 Minutes executive producer Bill Owens is on a video call when he confesses his faith in three of the legends of what has become the longest- running, highest-rated news program in television his- tory: correspondents Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, and Ed Bradley. “It matters to us a lot that we’re carrying on where they left off—and the bar was set so high.” With the mantra and mandate “Tell me a story,” 60 Minutes creator and executive producer Don Hewitt and his crew of now iconic correspondents set the bar high indeed with the newsmagazine upstart in a news division known for exacting standards. CBS News was Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly. It was Walter Cronkite. It is 60 Minutes , which celebrates its 55th season this fall. Owens took over as executive producer in 2019, only the third person to helm the show after Hewitt and Jeff Fager. Under his leadership, correspon- dents Lesley Stahl, Scott Pelley, Bill Whitaker, Anderson Cooper, Sharyn Alfonsi, and Jon Wertheim—in addition to CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell, who is also a contributor to 60 Minutes —have repeatedly cleared that bar and then raised it. In May, Paramount front-and-centered its newsmag- azine at the crucial industry confab for advertisers, the Upfronts. For good reason: In its 54th season, 60 Min- utes finished No. 1 in primetime news programs. It had
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER • 2022
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