60 Minutes has been one of the most highly-praised news series of all time, and several of its valuable correspondents have gone to work for networks such as CNN, HBO, and ABC. Even after nearly 50 years on the air, the show still manages to bring stories that folks need to hear instead of stories that are already plastered all over the airwaves. We take a look at some facts about the long-running series, including some details on its very first episode, its various spin-offs over the years, and the iconic Aristo stopwatch we all know and love.
Influenced a Massive Box Office Movie
In 1995, Jeffrey Wigand, who was the former vice president for Research and Development at tobacco company Brown & Williamson, spilled the beans that the company hid how hazardous their products were to the public. While 60 Minutes reporter Lowell Bergman was set to release the story to the public, the higher ups kept him silent for fear of a lawsuit.
That didn’t keep The Wall Street Journal from breaking the story first. The whole incident between 60 Minutes and Jeffrey Wigand was exposed in a Vanity Fair article titled “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which was adapted for the big screen in the 1999 drama The Insider. The film gained seven Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nomination for Russell Crowe.
Due to its popularity, numerous 60 Minutes spin-offs were made, but most of them fell short. In 1978, they tried to go after a younger audience with 30 Minutes, but the series ended in 1972 after poor ratings. From 1996 to 1997, 60 Minutes More expanded on old stories with updates.
60 Minutes II got its start in 1999, and it was a small success, but the show ran into some trouble with Rathergate in 2004, which led to its removal from air the following year. 60 Minutes on CNBC and 60 Minute Sports are the only current successful spinoffs.
Two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, Dan Rather revealed documents on George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard from 1972 to 1973 on an episode of 60 Minutes II. Unfortunately, CBS never authenticated these documents before airing the segment, which led to every major news publication attacking them for delivering false news.
The network was forced to apologize to viewers, and various executives and Rather resigned from their positions. Producer Mary Mapes, who obtained the false documents from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, was fired. The incident was the subject of the 2015 drama Truth. Unlike The Insider, the film received poor reviews from critics and was considered a box office bomb.
Life magazine, which debuted on November 23, 1936, is one of the most iconic magazines of all time, and it helped boost the careers of folks such as New York Magazine founder Clay Felker, filmmaker and former co-editor of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video Wheeler Winston Dixon, and photographer John G. Zimmerman, who is best known for his work with Sports Illustrated.
60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt was a big fan of the weekly publication, and when he was trying to come up with a concept for the program, he wanted it to be a televised version of the magazine.
In the ’70s, one of the most noticeable segments on the program was “Point/Counterpoint,” which featured a weekly debate between a liberal and a conservative. When it started, conservative James J. Kilpatrick took on liberal Nicholas von Hoffman, but Hoffman was fired from the show in 1974 after his disparaging comments about Richard Nixon.
When Shana Alexander took his place, the segment became must-see TV. The folks behind Saturday Night Live parodied the segment with comedians Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd, and it was also parodied in the hit 1980 film Airplane! In March 2003, “Point/Counterpoint” made a comeback with former presidential election opponents Bob Dole and Bill Clinton.
Many television shows have changed time slots over the years, and some have managed to change slots numerous times in one season. Salvaging ratings or making room for new programming are a couple reasons for some of these changes.
Since 1975, 60 Minutes has been lucky enough to stay on the same time slot of 7 p.m. on Sunday nights, after six years of jumping around on various slots on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Even with some delays from various football games on CBS in the fall, the show has become the longest-running television program of all time.
Aside from content, the one thing that makes a show memorable is its theme music. Many people can hum along to the themes for NBC Nightly News and Meet The Press, which were both created by Oscar and Grammy-winning composer John Williams.
Since the first episode on September 24, 1968, 60 Minutes became the first and only television show to not have any theme music. Instead, they use an Aristo stopwatch during the opening sequence and commercial breaks. It might be a difficult task to hum along to a stopwatch in public, but some people have succeeded in this mission.
The stopwatch has become one of the most iconic images in television. It wasn’t a fixture on the show until two episodes into its first season. The first stopwatch used for the show was a Minerva, which was replaced by a Heuer stopwatch a few shows later.
In the ’70s, they decided to use the Aristo stopwatch, which has been a staple of the show for decades. In 1998, the stopwatch was placed in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. In 2006, the stopwatch was placed in an upright position on the show, which ended a 31-year stint of being in a diagonal position.
Hiatus During NFL
The Heidi Bowl, which took place on November 17, 1968, became one of the most infamous events on TV. During the last minute of an intense battle between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, NBC decided to cut away from the game to air the film Heidi.
This move aggravated football fans, especially Raider fans, who didn’t get to see their team score two touchdowns to win the game. Due to the obvious backlash from people, networks were contractually obligated to air football games in full. From 1972 to 1975, 60 Minutes was put on hiatus during the fall, and they were thrown back in hiatus in the summer of 1972.
The Title of Most Featured Goes To…
60 Minutes has featured a plethora of correspondents over the decades, including Christiane Amanpour, Meredith Vieira, and Connie Chung. The correspondent that has been featured the most on the show was Andy Rooney, who made 1,500 appearances on the show.
Aside from his on-screen work, the Albany, New York native wrote 1,097 original pieces for 60 Minutes. One month before his death on November 4, 2011, he made his final appearance on the program. His segment “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney,” which was an original replacement for “Point/Counterpoint,” became one of the most popular segments on the show.
While most people know 60 Minutes as an engaging television series, its radio broadcast has been a great alternative for those unfortunate show delays. Airing on various CBS radio stations across the country, the radio broadcast airs simultaneously with the TV broadcast.
Because of said delays, many people can listen to an episode minutes before it airs on TV. In order to keep up with modern times, a free podcast version of the show without commercials is available to download over on the iTunes store. Fans can also stream 60 Minutes hours after it airs over on CBS’ website and CNET.
No Shared Time Together
One thing that fans of the show have noticed over the years is that its correspondents don’t really share time together on screen. This was done in order to show a form of intimacy towards the reporter and the viewer. There have been very few moments when a handful of reporters will be on screen together at the same time.
On April 23, 1995, 60 Minutes correspondents Steve Kroft, Ed Bradley, Mike Wallace, and Lesley Stahl had a conversation with Bill Clinton about the Bosnian War, which took the lives of nearly 329,000 people in the span of three years.
60 Minutes has won numerous awards in its long run, including 20 Peabody Awards, but its 138 Emmy wins earned the iconic CBS show the distinction of being the most decorated primetime program of all time. Some of the segments that have earned awards over the years include “Joy in the Congo,” “Fidel Castro’s Health Plan,” and “How He Won the War.”
Show creator Don Hewitt earned 17 Emmys before his death in 2009, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. Executive producer Jeff Fager, who was the former chairman of CBS News, earned 57 Emmys since taking over in 2004.
Ratings Disaster at First
Much like many shows on television, the first season of 60 Minutes didn’t do so well. At that point, news programs weren’t seen as big ratings grabbers like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dean Martin Show, so CBS were pretty hesitant on pulling the plug so soon.
Things began to heat up in 1976 when they officially moved the show to its 7 p.m. slot on Sundays and added reporter Dan Rather to the show. 60 Minutes finished the 1976–1977 season as the 18th most watched show in the country. With 21.9 million viewers, it was tied with Hawaii Five-O.
Finishing Number One in Different Decades
For nearly 50 years, 60 Minutes has been one of the most-watched programs on TV. The show has finished five seasons (1979-1980, 1982-1983, 1991-1992, 1992-1993, and 1993-1994) at number one. The only shows to reach that record are All in the Family and The Cosby Show.
While is record is grand, the show also holds the record for having the number one program on three separate decades. There’s a good chance of it never extending the record, though; the last time it was in the top 10 most watched programs was in the 1999–2000 season, which found the show at number eight.
Longest Nielsen Streak
Aside from being the number one show on five seasons, 60 Minutes also has the record for the longest time in the top 10. From 1978 to 2000, the show has been one of the top 10 most watched shows in the country for 23 consecutive years.
This beat the record set by The Lucy Show back in 1972 with 10 consecutive years. The closest that the show has been to reclaiming its spot in the top 10 was the number 12 slot during the 2010–11 season, which found it being tied with fellow CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Before setting his sights on 60 Minutes, show creator Don Hewitt was involved in some television history. After working for CBS for 12 years, he received one of his most proud accomplishments as the director of the 1960 presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, which was the first debate being aired on television.
Since its inception, 60 Minutes has had some memorable interviews with presidents such as George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton. Hewitt left as the executive producer of 60 Minutes at the age of 81 in 2004, but he signed a 10-year contract to be an executive producer for CBS News.
Highest Rated Episodes
Recently, 60 Minutes have aired a handful of episodes that have attracted some major attention from across the country. On November 16, 2008, they did an interview with a newly-elected President Barack Obama, which gave them around 25.1 million viewers.
On September 27, 2015, their interview with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin drew around 15 million viewers. On January 17, 2016, their interview with actor Sean Penn about his meeting with drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman gave the show 20.27 million viewers. Over the last decade, the show has averaged around eight million viewers per week, so special shows like these are still important to their overall agenda.
The First Episode
The very first episode of 60 Minutes aired on September 24, 1968 with three-time Emmy Award winning journalist Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace, who left the show in 2008 with 21 Emmys under his belt.
It delivered some interesting stories, including a trio of European writers discussing America’s electoral system and a shortened version of the Oscar-winning short film Why Man Creates. The final segment of the show involved Reasoner and Wallace having a discussion about the difference between perception and reality. The show originally aired on a bi-weekly basis on Tuesday nights until its move to Sundays in 1971.
Other Versions Around the World
As expected, the success of 60 Minutes has led other countries to create their own versions. In 1979, Australia premiered their version of the show, which is still on the air today. In 1989, New Zealand aired their version, which switched between TVNZ and TV3 before landing on the Prime Channel.
Mexico had its own version with host Juan Ruiz Healy in the late ’70s. Brazilian television station Rede Bandeirantes were set to join in on the fun back in 2004, but their plans were canceled. The American version of the show got the rerun treatment in Germany in the ’80s, and they still get aired in Portugal.