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A 50th Anniversary Celebration of ‘60 Minutes’
December 3, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 3 comments

Watching the 50th anniversary celebration of 60 Minutes will not make it clear why this has been the most influential news magazine in television history.

Fifty Years of 60 Minutes, a one-hour special that airs Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on CBS, simply doesn’t have enough time to explain why, at its best, the show has been so good or built such a loyal audience.

This production, which replaces the regular broadcast for this weekend, plays more like a series of Instagram posts, quick snapshots that mostly showcase the style of the hosts.  

There’s Mike Wallace demanding an answer from some disgraced public official. There’s Ed Bradley laughing about getting good-naturedly punked by Muhammad Ali. There’s Morley Safer typing a story on the deck of a yacht cruising the Indian Ocean. There’s Mike Wallace (below right) demanding another answer.

There’s a lot of Mike Wallace here. There’s almost no Dan Rather. Let’s assume that’s not entirely coincidence. Hey, any show that runs half a century is going to develop some internal minidramas.

To its credit, the show includes a brief segment where it acknowledges that some of its reports turned out to rest on shaky ground.

On the whole, though, the tone is celebratory, and deservedly so.

It was a smart idea from the beginning when producer Don Hewitt (above center) set out to create the television version of Life magazine. He wanted the reporters to have time enough to cover their subject, but not so much time that viewers would start glancing at their watches.

When things have worked well, that’s what 60 Minutes has done – which has made for good television but doesn’t lend itself to quick capsulization.

Instead, the focus is on Lesley Stahl (right), Scott Pelley, Steve Kroft and the other reporters who have sculpted the show’s journalistic backbone.

Accordingly, we are reminded of some things that have set 60 Minutes apart, like interviews that are long enough for a back-and-forth exchange in which the reporters can sometimes challenge their subjects.

It’s a little less singular when we’re told that 60 Minutes reporters always prepare for their interviews. So does every good reporter everywhere. The more significant distinction is that 60 Minutes has the brand, the reputation, and the reach to get presidents and world leaders to answer – or evade – their questions.

Achieving that stature is a function to some extent of being on a powerful network. It’s also a function of the show’s own performance.  

And sheer longevity doesn’t hurt, because over 50 years any show will have hits, misses and the kind of random unexpected moments that collectively establish its personality.

In one vignette included here, Bradley is trying to coax a conversation out of Bob Dylan (left), who seems to be feeling particularly monosyllabic.

Bradley says he heard Dylan wrote “Blowin’ In the Wind” in 10 minutes. Dylan pauses and says, “Probably.”

In a literal sense, that’s a non-answer. In the larger sense, it captures Dylan perfectly.

Watching a quick-cut montage of five or six well-known 60 Minutes reporters saying “C’mon!” to unseen subjects has a little of the same wry charm.

Fans of 60 Minutes will find their memories jogged in a pleasant way by the 50th anniversary special. They may also have the feeling they’re being hurried through the museum.

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Joanne Murphy
It is outrageous that there was nary a mention of Dan Rather, one of the founding personae of 60 Minutes. How dare they! This is a positively Stalinist Erasure! Did they think we wouldn't notice? I am outrages and disgusted!
Jan 22, 2018   |  Reply
David-Excellent piece, and you're right, the Dylan segment was a riot. Bob, the lad can be difficult.
Dec 6, 2017   |  Reply
Paul t Reiser
The good ,the bad and the ugly ,hopefully we can open our minds and hearts to improving our way of life .As the boss said at the end it wasn't perfect but we learned and moved forward .Thank you for a great show .
Dec 5, 2017   |  Reply
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