The Influence Of


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The Influence Of ‘60 Minutes’ Essay, Research Paper

Since 1968 America has been better enlightened than previously

concerning current events and happenings around the world. A

considerable factor for this occurrence is the television program 60

Minutes which debuted on the air in September of 1968. Many other

television newsmagazines have been produced since its creation,

however none have possessed the longevity nor the influence of 60

Minutes. In fact, 60 Minutes, which is owned by CBS News, was the

first regular network news program to cover actual stories as opposed

to topics. Today, similar newsmagazines can be seen every night of the

week on various stations, all of which were sparked by the inception

of 60 Minutes. All of the tabloid television programs being shown

today are also a result of 60 Minutes and its bold, gutsy, “gotcha”

style of television journalism. 60 Minutes changed the way that the

American public receives its television news, stemming forth a whole

new format of television broadcast journalism.

60 Minutes has a vast history of stories covered, yet the format

has remained unchanged. Don Hewett, creator and producer of 60

Minutes, has been the subject of much criticism for his stubbornness.

Since its origin, 60 Minutes has continued to adhere to the same

formula that made it such a success. The hidden-camera interviews, the

surprising of unsuspecting alleged crooks with a bombardment of

questions, the longevity of the featured reporters, all of these are

what made 60 Minutes a success–finishing in the top 10 Nielson

ratings for 17 consecutive seasons and counting. Other than the fact

that it changed from black- and-white to color with the new

technology, the appearance of 60 Minutes has remained consistent.

There is no reason to change a thing about such a prosperous show

according to Hewitt. Not only has the format remained constant but the

reporters have as well. Mike Wallace, and Harry Reasoner both appeared

on the first episode of 60 Minutes. Reasoner, who passed away in 1991,

left CBS in 1970 to pursue a news anchoring position at ABC but later

returned to 60 Minutes, in 1978, until his death. Wallace and Morley

Safer, who started in 1970, are still featured reporters as well as Ed

Bradley (who joined the team in 1981) and newcomers Lesley Stahl and

Steve Kroft. 60 Minutes would not be the same without the weekly

commentary of Andy Rooney. Rooney started making a regular appearance

in 1978 offering humorous, sometimes controversial annotations about

everyday life. A well known prime time TV news anchor who did much of

his best work at 60 Minutes is Dan Rather. When Rather joined the

other prestigious journalists he had a reputation as a tough,

aggressive reporter; in other words, he fit in perfectly. Rather left

in 1981 to takeover The CBS Evening News, leaving with him a

hard-nosed investigator who would do whatever it took to capture the

whole story. All of these factors combined to form a one-of-a-kind TV

newsmagazine with solid ratings; clones were destined to

follow.

Following in the wake of success, many spin-offs were created in

an attempt to grab a piece of the action. There were many reasons for

following the suite of 60 Minutes and not many reasons not to. The

biggest incentive (in the eyes of the other network executives) for

striving to reproduce 60 Minutes was the substantial amount of revenue

created by this program. 60 Minutes requires a remarkably less amount

of money to produce than a situation comedy. And because the CBS

network owns the show, these were earnings that went straight to the

corporation. 60 Minutes has turned out to be quite a goldmine for CBS

because the program has not only brought in the highest profit of any

other show in history, but most of all their other shows combined. It

comes as no surprise that other networks dived into the newsmagazine

business. Some of the more notable programs to cash in on the new

format for broadcasting news include Prime Time Live, 20/20, and

Entertainment Tonight. Entertainment Tonight branched off into a less

newsworthy, more Hollywood scene which later set the pace for PM

Magazine, and most recently A Current Affair and Hard Copy. None of

the listed newsmagazines would exist had it not been for the creation

of 60 Minutes.

The new style of journalism that 60 Minutes incorporated went on

to set a new standard for reporters everywhere. High ratings are the

key to success in the television news business and 60 Minutes gave the

viewing public what it craved–shocking interviews and investigations

which led to the uncovering of crooks, terrorists, and swindlers.

Witnessing doors being slammed in a reporter’s face became customary

to the show. Before 1968 the nightly news would simply broadcast

headlines; comparable to reading a newspaper. But 60 Minutes became a

television newsmagazine offering the reader revealing, on camera

stories about happenings around the world. Viewers of the show became

better informed as to actual business, political, and science

practices. Howard Stringer, president of CBS Broadcast Group, says

that “60 Minutes invented a new genre of television programming-the

newsmagazine-and in the process had a dramatic impact on the

television industry and the viewing habits of the American people.”

Stringer’s comment is very true because if one were to scan through a

TV index today, they would see that nearly all channels are infested

with talk shows, tabloid programs, interview shows of famous

personalities, and other “caught on tape” types of programs, all of

which derived elements from 60 Minutes. Given that 60 Minutes set a

new standard for presenting the public with ground-breaking stories,

creator and producer of the show, Don Hewitt, says “It’s what you hear

more often than what you see that holds your interest. The words you

hear and not the pictures you see are essentially what 60 Minutes is

all about.” The shows that were influenced by 60 Minutes, such as the

many tabloid programs being shown today, built off the 60 Minutes

principle and created gossip, and shocking video segments. Still other

shows, including the interview programs, borrowed from 60 Minutes’

method of grilling the interviewee. Dan Rather once (in an interview

with President Nixon during his downfall) riled up Nixon enough to

prompt the question “Are you running for something?” And Rather shot

back, “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?”

Tough reporting, taped evidence of scams, and in-depth stories of

current events are essentially what brought 60 Minutes much success.

The use of hidden-camera reporting, catching wrong-doers on tape, was,

and still is common practice. Today, we turn on the television and are

flooded with shows featuring the same reporting techniques as 60

Minutes. 60 Minutes keeps its viewers up to date on current events

with the same tough reporting methods. Most recently 60 Minutes

covered the tragic Oklahoma City bombing and featured an interview

with President Clinton. Following the bombing report a story about the

Michigan Militia (who are believed to have played a part in this

terrorist act) was aired. Coverage of these right-wing extremists

brought much insight into who these militia groups are and what they

are all about. 60 Minutes is a valuable resource for understanding

what is happening in the United States and globally. Other networks

caught on quick that shocking news stories are what the people want,

and while 60 Minutes offers revealing stories, they avoid the tabloid

reports. The tabloid television newsmagazines were created using the

same techniques that made 60 Minutes so unique, however, they go for

the Hollywood scene reporting on the latest gossip, and O.J. Simpson

trial updates. Every aspect of Simpson dominates the current tabloid

programs essentially proving that the American public wants actual

stories instead of fiction.

A few programs have successfully incorporated the 60 Minutes

brand of reporting. The ABC television program 20/20 first aired in

1978, and still today it is regarded as a quality news source.

Frontline is a top-notch PBS regular documentary that has been around

since 1983. Entertainment Tonight has found much success with its

brand of news as well. Several new newsmagazines are coming out of the

woodwork such as Dateline NBC, Day One, and Eye to Eye with Connie

Chung, but time is the true test for an accomplished television

program. By setting new journalistic standards, 60 Minutes was

able to influence all other news programs to follow. Many

newsmagazines have come and gone through the years proceeding 60

Minutes’ inception, all of which borrowed something along the way.

Today more than ever it is easy to see that people want real world

stories, and the television newsmagazine provides this for the viewer

complete with unbelievable video footage and ground-breaking stories.

60 Minutes invented this form of service for the public and they have

received proper recognition for this. The crew of correspondents,

producers, directors, and technical staff have been honored with

virtually every major award in broadcasting, including: 42 Emmy

Awards, 6 George Foster Peabody Awards, 2 George Polk Memorial Awards,

10 Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Awards, and 1 Christopher

Award. Some say for the better, others say for the worse, but

nevertheless it is undisputed that 60 Minutes introduced a new form of

television broadcasting news which affected that entire industry and

even today is looked at as a benchmark for quality news coverage.

340

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