Commercializing Sixty Minutes

At the end of Sixty Minutes tonight, right after Andy Rooney, Steve Kroft came on with a little follow-up to two recent deaths in New York City: Brooke Astor and Leona Helmsley. Both, he said, had been profiled on Sixty Minutes by Mike Wallace. He then proceeded to show a few snippets from the original interviews.

When the clips finished, Kroft offered up they were on DVD and for sale on the CBS website.

Maybe I’m too pure and idealistic, but it seemed like that content was included primarily because it was on sale. I could be wrong. It’s the impression I got.

If my suspicions are right, I am very disappointed. There was once a “Chinese Wall” separating news content and network commerce. That line has been, obviously, blurred.

Letterman’s Impressionists

My DVR was set to record David Letterman tonight. It’s been a long time since I did that. His show is must see TV for me this week, because it’s “Impressionist Week.”

I love impressionists. I remember watching them perform on Ed Sullivan when I was a kid. They did voices that made my parents laugh, based on references I didn’t get at the time. My dad’s laugh of approval was good enough for me.

I knew Rich Little would have to be part of the Letterman line-up at some point, but I didn’t expect him to be the first up.

Thirty years ago… can that be right… Thirty years ago, Rich Little was as hot as a comedian gets. The intervening years hadn’t been kind. I saw him a while ago and he was lackluster – like a guy just going through the motions.

I forget what show he was on, but it demanded more than just an impressionist. As a person, he seemed drab and cold.

Obviously, my hopes were not high as he walked out. The first thing I noticed was his hair. I’m 56 and people complain, thinking mine’s colored (it’s not). Little has twelve years on me and has bright brown hair.

Maybe I’m wrong about his hair as people are about mine. I doubt it, but maybe.

He started his act doing Dr. Phil – and he killed. I am thrilled to say, Rich Little was as good tonight as I’ve ever seen him. I was happy for him – happy for me.

He then proceeded to run through some ‘names.’ He was Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Andy Rooney.

He finished with his signature, Johnny Carson. As fresh as Johnny is in my mind, that show hasn’t been on since 1992! And, I’ve seen Rich Little do Carson a zillion times.

This time, he began with a new set-up (at least for me), explaining how his inspiration for the Carson impression came after seeing an ostrich at the zoo. Without saying a word, he began posturing, shifting his body and moving his head.

He was Johnny Carson before he spoke a word! He killed some more. And then he did a silly, slightly off color Carnac joke. Letterman’s audience ate it up.

Is it possible for a performer to ever get too used to… to be blas

Andy Rooney’s Eyebrows

I was just watching what I’d missed from this week’s 60 Minutes. Andy Rooney had a sort of pointless essay about shoes. While he spoke I looked.

Rooney’s left eyebrow is so voluminous and bushy, it seemed like he’d have the same impediments to eyesight as a sheep dog.

That’s it.

A Career Well Spent

I have just sat, spellbound, watching the 60 Minutes tribute to Mike Wallace. I am beaming from ear-to-ear, and I hope Mike Wallace is too. He has been involved in some incredible stuff.

Yes, it’s true, I miss the ‘low hanging fruit’ portion of his career, when he went in, cameras rolling, to confront some two bit crook, never Mike’s intellectual equal.

It was classic TV – though easy for Mike. He doesn’t do that anymore.

Let me back up. 60 Minutes is a show I’ve been watching forever. I remember when the stopwatch still had its manufacturer’s name on the face (it was a Tag Heuer), when the show aired on Thursday’s, and then when it was done live on Sunday evenings (and began with news headlines).

I used to love the letters segment at the end of the show, but never (quite) understood… their interesting use (of) punctuation when they edited.

I remember Shana and Jack and Nicholas and all the other Point-Counterpoint commentators. Andy Rooney hasn’t been there forever. It just seems he has.

So, yes, I saw Mike Wallace interviewing Horowitz and Streisand and busting the gas station guys who preyed on people in RVs – all first run.

Mike Wallace could have easily been a hack. He could have stuck with the one-no-one, single point lighting, interview shows he did in the 50s. He didn’t. Hell, he could have left 60 Minutes decades ago. It is difficult to think he might need the money.

Instead, he stayed and worked hard and always did work that he could be proud of. I know he is difficult to work with. I suspect he enjoys that reputation. It is the passion that comes with pride.

As Mike Wallace was finishing his career at 60 Minutes, I was celebrating my 22nd anniversary at the TV station. My career hasn’t been as Earth shattering.

There have been many times when I’ve thought how ill equipped I’d be to do a job like Wallace’s. I think I could confront the evil, but not the weak or those who’ve already suffered greatly. That’s part of what he does.

This is not to say my 22 years have been without merit. There are lots of things I’ve done which have had a positive impact – storms where people were protected or causes which were advanced through my efforts. I’m just no Mike Wallace.

Who is?

On Being Katie Couric

Is it the same in your world as mine? I read a lot of ‘trade’ reports, so the Katie Couric story has been front and center for a while.

There was lots of speculation – much of it I thought was posturing. I was wrong.

So, it’s $15,000,000.00 per year. Wow! That’s a lot of money.

Is she worth it? As strange as it might seem, it’s possible she is. And, obviously, for me – or anyone else on TV, that’s a good thing.

Television networks and stations all make money the same way – by selling commercials. The larger the audience, the more they can charge. And, if that audience if coveted by advertisers, they can charge even more.

In the world of TV, my daughter (age 18) is often more valuable than me (age 55). That, in spite of the fact that I make and spend significantly more than my college student child. But, for the same reason, Regis Philbin or John Madden, neither kids, are more valuable than an equally talented neophyte.

By the way, that’s especially true of John Madden.

If you’re on-air ‘talent,’ your value is being able to bring viewers to your station. And, though bosses don’t like to admit this when it’s contract time, people are often drawn to television programs by people they are comfortable with.

As a weatherman, you might think I’m minimizing the impact of my forecasting accumen and accuracy. No – because someone who lets the viewers down time-after-time will be unwelcome, no matter how well known or previously liked he was.

This draw is often synergistic, so the same person in a different setting might not be as effective. Is Katie as good without Matt and Al?

If I could put myself in Les Moonves seat for a second, I’d be thinking anyone can match the technology CBS buys, but there’s only one Katie Couric. If she can increase the audience a few percent just by being there, the $15,000,000.00 is a good investment.

Of course if this goes bust, Moonves looks like a fool and only Katie gets to laugh all the way to the bank.

There’s a second reason I like this move. It would be so easy to say Katie Couric is a morning show host and shouldn’t be considered for a hard news show. To a large extent, we’re all typecast. If Katie is successful in this switch, that will open the door for others.

Andy Rooney said, “I’m not enthusiastic about it. I think everybody likes Katie Couric, I mean how can you not like Katie Couric. But, I don’t know anybody at CBS News who is pleased that she’s coming here.”

How can he not say that? The reason Katie’s being hired flies in the face of everything in journalism he holds dear.

All this being said, I don’t think it’s going to work. I hope it does, but I just can’t picture the personality I know as Katie Couric being the right personality for this show.

Katie – please prove me wrong, because in this case, a rising tide will lift all boats.

Mike Wallace Retires

I’m going to hit the pause button on vacation entries for a sec to chime in on Mike Wallace’s retirement. This is a story that floated through the ‘blogosphere’ (gotta add that word to the spell checker) before it was officially confirmed.

I’m a big 60 Minutes fan. I watched the show when it was on Thursday nights. I watched when the Sunday show used to be produced live. Back then, Wallace would begin the show with stories that needed updating since the Sunday papers went to bed.

Life was so very simple before 24 hour cable news.

Mike Wallace was a broadcaster more than a newsman – at least by training and resume. He hosted a talk show, PM East (where I believe Barbra Streisand got her TV start) and a game show. He delivered live commercials as cigarette smoke snaked skyward.

I think the role of journalistic training (i.e. a journalism degree) is overrated. A well read and bright person is really what’s needed.

His strength on 60 Minutes, where his reputation was made, was the confrontation interview. He was the guy who walked in with the videotape, showing the evil doer being evil.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to do that sort of thing. I’ve seen people thrashed on camera (Andy Houlding on Channel 8, as an example). The camera records, it does not protect.

With Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace gone, it will probably be a new 60 Minutes. Maybe that’s good. I don’t know what they have planned. Much of what magazine TV has become hasn’t been all that sparkling, so I’m a little scared.

60 Minutes is an anachronism in broadcasting and has stayed successful in spite of that!

They were among the last to go from film to tape. They continue to produce long stories… very long stories, often about obscure people or people out of the mainstream. They have old folks on the air, with little sex appeal… except Lara Logan… definitely except Lara Logan.

There will still be Morley Safer, though his role has already been diminished. Ed Bradley and Steve Kroft remain&#185. I like Andy Rooney, but he’s certainly not the first of the ‘back of the book’ commentators, and doesn’t represent the show’s early days (except he did write for Harry Reasoner, a 60 Minutes original).

I wish they still read viewer mail.

There are other correspondents, but they were the early signs of the diminution of the show.

How long a run can a show or its staff have? Must the shift to younger, fresher talent be inevitable? Do you trade your family in if they are perceived as being too old?

&#185 – I ‘ran into’ Kroft on the street in Manhattan. He seemed very nice. Genuinely so. He’s been on the show since 1989 and I still think of him as the new guy.

Historical Footnote Dies

One of the most famous recurring bits on the early Saturday Night Live was a Point-Counterpoint confrontation between Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd. It was based on the end-of-show feature on 60 Minutes with Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick&#185.

Curtain would make a point in their argument, only to have Akroyd respond, “Jane, you ignorant slut.”

I loved 60 Minutes back then. The show was different than today – less self conscious. The look was different too, as 60 Minutes was the last of the news shows to be shot on film. It even started with one of the correspondents reading the day’s news headlines live.

In the pre-Andy Rooney era, Point-Counterpoint was a pretty big deal.

I’m sure you know where this is going. It’s another death announcement.

’60 Minutes’ commentator dies of cancer



LOS ANGELES — Trailblazing journalist Shana Alexander, whose verbal skirmishes with conservative James J. Kilpatrick on CBS’ “60 Minutes” were spoofed in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, has died of cancer. She was 79.

This will probably go unnoticed by most. That’s a shame. Shana Alexander was responsible for some very thought provoking TV.

&#185 The feature actually began with Kilpatrick and Nicholas von Hoffman. Shana Alexander replaced von Hoffman in 1972, producing the iconic relationship best remembered.