September 10, 2008

"60 Minutes" legends discuss their 30th anniversary at the Newseum. (Newseum collection)

40 Years Ago In News History: The Birth of "60 Minutes"

Forty years ago this month, "60 Minutes," television’s longest running "newsmagazine," premiered on CBS. The first stories were about the ’68 presidential campaigns from the European perspective; "police and the people," with former attorney general Ramsey Clark; and an animated documentary by Saul Bass called "Why Man Creates" that is currently previewed on YouTube.

The script from the first broadcast is on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

The program’s original correspondents were Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner. Neither Wallace nor Reasoner thought the show would fly.

"I thought [executive producer Don] Hewitt was crazy," Wallace told People magazine in 2006.

Reasoner left after two years for ABC News. Wallace continues as a part-time contributor.

With its long-form news segments, hard-hitting investigative exposés, tight camera shots and Sunday evening time slot, "60 Minutes" has since become a journalistic success, spawning numerous imitators.

Hewitt, executive producer for 36 years, attributed the show’s success to its correspondents.

"I am … keenly aware that "60 Minutes" works because fate bestowed on me the most talented men and women in the broadcast news business," he wrote in his 2001 autobiography.

Coors Brewing Company once touted Wallace’s investigative clout in an ad claiming: "The four most dreaded words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace is here.’"

The program’s current and former correspondents and contributors include Morley Safer, Dan Rather, the late Ed Bradley, Andy Rooney, Meredith Vieira, Steve Kroft, Lesley Stahl, Bob Simon, Scott Pelley, Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric, Lara Logan, Charlie Rose and Anderson Cooper.

Since 1977, "60 Minutes" has consistently remained in the top 20 of Nielsen-rated programs. It has won more Emmy awards than any other news program.

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