The story of how CBS's 60 Minutes grew from a little network experiment into a Sunday-night-at-seven addiction for most of the country would itself make a raucous and typically compelling 60 Minutes episode. Or, maybe, an opera, complete with rival tenors, backstage intrigues, imperious divas, vulnerable ingenues, tragic deaths, a handful of big and small wars, and a brilliant if maniacal maestro running the whole production. For two years, author David Blum talked to everybody connected to 60 Minutes, and, incredibly, everybody talked to him -- about themselves, about the show, about one another. Blum's unprecedented inside access takes us into story meetings, blood-on-the-wall editing sessions, turf wars, and to the heart of the rivalries and the myths -- who got hired, who got fired, who got screwed -- going as far back as theearliest black-and-white days.
In a history that spans four decades, 60 Minutes has piled up an encyclopedic list of first-and-onlys: it has aired fourteen-hundred-plus times, hauled in a profit of two billion dollars for CBS, finished in TV's top ten for twenty-two consecutive seasons, and garnered sixty-eight Emmy Awards. In the process, producer-guru Don Hewitt's beloved "tigers" -- correspondents Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl, Steve Kroft, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Meredith Vieira, the late Harry Reasoner, and cranky essayist Andy Rooney -- have become brand names and media demigods. Hidden cameras, "gotcha" interviews, in-your-face confrontational journalism -- this is where it all began.
And thirty-six years later, Hewitt's still there, pounding his desk, swearing at his tigers (most of whom are also still there), and holding in his tightly clenched fist the patent on the mother of all magazine shows.
Or, rather, he was, until just recently, when a bunch of younger guys in suits decided it was time to take 60 Minutes away from its eighty-one-year-old boss. The changes, the innovations, the stop-the-presses big stories -- for Hewitt, and maybe a couple of the others -- are, at last, winding down. But the story of the most successful and contentious program in TV history is not over yet: the new guys are settling in and the future is up for grabs.
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David Blum has written regularly for New York Magazine, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine, and is the author of Flash in the Pan: The Life and Death of an American Restaurant. He is the television critic for the New York Sun and teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.
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