Insider accounts of 60 Minutes, published in conjunction with the program’s 50th anniversary (and counting), a milestone that makes it the longest airing show in the history of TV.
A mixture of professional and personal gossip, as well as accounts of controversial episodes aired during the hour each Sunday evening (as well as other time slots during the early years), the book is mostly chronological, with one major exception. 60 Minutes executive producer and former CBS news chairman Fager begins with the third decade (1988-1998) because he believes that demonstrating the saga of the program after it reached maturity is the most effective way to help readers understand both the internal dynamics and the external impacts. Following the first section, the author travels back to the first decade and then settles into chronology with decades two, four, and five. Always at the center of the saga is founder Don Hewitt (1922-2009), portrayed as a benevolent newsroom dictator who mercilessly drove the show’s producers and on-air correspondents. Almost every correspondent receives attention from Fager, who tells of journalistic and personal blemishes as well as successes. Mike Wallace is clearly the most dominant of the talent portrayed here, followed by Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl, Steve Kroft, and Scott Pelley. To his credit, the author also offers detailed insights into many of the program’s producers, who are rarely seen by viewers but generate most of the story ideas and conduct most of the reporting. Fager provides an up-to-date account, noting the rise of Donald Trump and the eight pre-presidential Trump episodes on 60 Minutes, including one about how he drove up rents to perhaps illegally evict tenants in his residential buildings. The author covers so many stories—about domestic politics, corporate wrongdoing, global wars, celebrity high jinks, adoring profiles, among dozens of others—that the book is best consumed a few pages per sitting.
An illuminating TV show biography that will appeal most to fans, but no need to read it all at once.