In its 30 years on the air, CBS' 60 Minutes has remained the gold standard of television newsmagazines. If CBS Television president and CEO Leslie Moonves has his way, the network will spread those riches to a second night next season.
But that's a big if. Don Hewitt, creator and executive producer, has not been shy about stating his opposition to the idea. "If it happens, it will happen over our dead bodies," he said. "It's such a unique broadcast, it doesn't lend itself to cloning."
The battle provides an early reading on how Moonves is handling his elevated executive role, which has CBS News reporting into him. When the longtime entertainment executive was named to the new position earlier this month, Moonves made a point of expressing his enthusiasm and admiration for the news division. A professed news junkie, he attended the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington on Saturday.
But the 60 Minutes initiative is an indication that he is ready to take on some of the old lions at CBS News who are known to be resistant to change. The second 60 Minutes idea has been kicked around for years at CBS, but it has never gotten as close to making the schedule as it has now.
Like ABC, CBS has never been able to successfully launch a third primetime newsmagazine. NBC couldn't even get a second one going, so it started creating additional editions of Dateline NBC in 1994, with tremendous success. ABC has since started a second 20/20 and may end up with three or four on its schedule next season.
With the challenge of launching a new program more difficult than ever, CBS is tempted to capitalize on the 60 Minutes name, even if what viewers see is substantially different than what appears Sunday at 7 p.m.
Bryant Gumbel, whose newsmagazine Public Eye has struggled in the ratings, would play a prominent role. (It would not have A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney.) But if the 60 Minutes name and format alone are enough to improve significantly on the viewership of Public Eye, some inside CBS believe the move is worth it.
Hewitt, who has overseen the program during its 30-year run, is not so sure the 60 Minutes name will have that effect. He believes part of the 60 Minutes viewing habit is driven by its Sunday 7 p.m. time period, where it has been for two decades with little competition. The 60 Minutes brand name would only be diminished if a second edition scored an audience share (the percentage of viewers tuned to a show) in the mid-teens, the measure of success these days for most newsmagazines. Season-to-date, 60 Minutes is averaging a 24 share, up 5 percent from last year.
"If I got a 14 share, I'd quit and open a delicatessen," Hewitt said.
If CBS is so sure an established name draws viewers, "why didn't they name Ann-Margret's show I Love Lucy?" he added, referring to recent failed drama series Four Corners.