On This Day

60 Minutes, mike wallace, andy rooney, morley safer, don hewitt
Mark Lennihan/AP
The “60 Minutes” team at 25th anniversary party, Nov. 10, 1993. From left: Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt, Lesley Stahl, and Ed Bradley.

On This Day: “60 Minutes” Debuts

September 24, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Sept. 24, 1968, television newsmagazine “60 Minutes” debuted on CBS, beginning a decades-long run as one of television’s most iconic and beloved programs.

“A Magazine for Television”

“60 Minutes” was created by CBS producer Don Hewitt, who wanted a show for “addressing issues given insufficient time for analysis in two minutes of the Evening News but not deemed significant enough to justify an hour-long documentary,” according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

The show would feature a collection of short documentary pieces on current events, breaking news, interviews, commentaries, and other pieces.

The first show, broadcast Sept. 24, 1968, was hosted by Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace. In his introduction of the show, Reasoner described it as “a kind of a magazine for television, which means it has the flexibility and diversity of a magazine, adapted to broadcast journalism.”

The first show was highlighted by a piece about police brutality and coverage of the presidential election, which featured exclusive footage of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey sitting in their hotel rooms as they received the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively.

“60 Minutes” Through the Years

The show went on to become a ratings phenomenon; for 23 consecutive seasons it was in the Nielsen's top 10, according to CBS. It has been the highest-rated program a record five times, and has won more Emmys than any other primetime show.

In 1991, Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker wrote that the show’s 23 seasons at that point were divided into three eras. “In its first era, from the show’s debut in 1968 through the ’70s, 60 Minutes made its reputation as a muckraking bulldog of a show, offering exposés of companies that exploited their employees and scoops like Dan Rather’s 1980 report on the Afghan warriors fighting Soviet occupation,” Tucker wrote, adding that in the 1980s, the show “seemed to grow complacent, even soft.” But by 1991, the show had returned to hard-hitting news, Tucker said.

CBS, in the 1980s, battled Gen. William Westmoreland over a program called “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception” that involved “60 Minutes” reporters Dan Rather and Mike Wallace. The program accused Westmoreland of misleading President Johnson during the Vietnam War to give the impression that the U.S. was winning. Westmoreland sued CBS, and the two parties eventually settled.

Later, “60 Minutes” was criticized for killing an interview by tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand after the network had grown concerned about potential litigation. The show later aired the interview, after The Wall Street Journal printed testimony Wigand had given in a court case, reported PBS’ “Frontline.”

CBS has a timeline of some of the show’s highlights, including Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1992 post-Super Bowl, pre-election interview with Steve Kroft on their marriage. Another clip is from Ed Bradley’s 2000 interview with Timothy McVeigh, who was later executed for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Reference: “60 Minutes” Online

Watch “60 Minutes” online, including clips that were cut from the television broadcast, at the official CBS site.

Before “60 Minutes,” iconic correspondent Mike Wallace hosted “The Mike Wallace Interview,” which is available online at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center.

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