The Secret World Behind '60 Minutes'
In a rare behind-the-scenes visit with TV’s most revered news program, the inner workings of CBS' crown jewel are revealed. Says executive producer Jeff Fager: "We piss off some really important Hollywood types on a regular basis."
Hewitt and Wallace would engage in epic battles in the screening room. "Don liked drama," recalls Safer. "After a screening, the lights would come on, and there would be a long silence. And then Don would say, forgive my language, 'What the f--- was that all about?!' And then the blood would start to flow." In contrast, when asked who wins the screening-room debates with Fager, Stahl describes a toughness marked by a seasoned integrity: "He always wins, but he is not arbitrary. If the argument is well put, he'll say, 'OK, you're right.' He's sane."
Hewitt had a different reputation, supporting an environment in which Wallace was known for stealing stories from his colleagues. Moreover, women who were brought into the fold (Diane Sawyer, Meredith Vieira) were hazed so severely that they remain silent about their experiences to this day. "You could hear the doors slamming all the way down at my end of this place," says Fager. "It was colorful. But it also got in the way. It's different now. There's still competition for stories. But it's healthy competition. There are no doors being slammed."
With Fager in charge, emphasizes Safer, "there isn't quite so much blood on the floor." He has brought along a new generation of correspondents, including Logan, 42, whom he championed over Hewitt's initial objections; Cooper, the 45-year-old globetrotting CNN anchor; and Pelley, 55, whom he put front and center. (Pelley will file 21 pieces for 60 Minutes this season despite also having a day job as CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor.)
"We lucked out with Jeff because he was determined to keep it a hard-hitting broadcast," says Stahl about the current team, which reaps the benefits of the show's resources and a no-questions-are-off-limits approach by teasing out surprising story nuggets in the process.
Case in point: Stahl and producer Ruth Streeter originally set out to show Spielberg making Lincoln. But the director, says Stahl, "didn't want to talk about the movie until the very, very, very end of our shoot, which made it very hard for us to plan." So they pursued the personal angle in the interim. When Stahl suggested talking to Spielberg's wife, actress Kate Capshaw, he said fine, but she said no. Then Spielberg offered up his parents. "And we said, well, huh, OK, his parents, that's interesting."
Indeed. It was during a pre-interview with Streeter that Spielberg's mother, Leah Adler, blurted out that she was the one who left Spielberg's father, not the other way around, as had been established in Hollywood lore. "That was completely unknown," says Stahl. "So we pursued that. And when Steven opened up about it" -- saying he still blamed his father even after learning the truth years after the divorce and waiting 15 years to reconcile, at Capshaw's urging -- "we thought, 'Wow, this is really interesting. We're going to do our story on this.' It was reporting and digging, it was an unusual Hollywood story to say the least. And we had set out to do the movie Lincoln." Spielberg professed his approval. But his parents were the real stars of the piece: "My mom and dad have gotten more mail, more calls, more e-mails. They're really happy," says Spielberg.
If the luxury of time to report a piece often leads to compelling turns in a preconceived narrative, the news can just as often break on you. Stahl and her producers began working on a profile of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger well before the May 2011 news of a love child with his housekeeper and his subsequent breakup with wife Maria Shriver. And while the scandal gave Schwarzenegger's story a hot news hook, Stahl and producer Rich Bonin were determined to tell the bodybuilder/actor-turned-politico's full story; they already had traveled to his homeland of Austria with him when he became enveloped in scandal.
"He really didn't duck very many questions," says Stahl. "He didn't want me to ask about his children. But I did. I think if you come out of a tough interview, you're better off. The public thinks if you got a tough question and you answered it, there's more credibility there than if you just got softballs and played around." The explosive 60 Minutes interview in September was the first in a series of media appearances for Schwarzenegger -- who was promoting his just-released memoir (which included a seemingly hastily added chapter about the affair).
The show's executives try to sidestep the TV booking wars that have created multiplatform bonanzas for publishers who push interviews timed precisely to street dates. "I wish we didn't have to do stories that were pegged to book releases," admits Fager. "We do far fewer of those when it comes to celebrities." Newsmakers like Mark Owen, a member of the SEAL Team 6 unit that took out bin Laden and whose firsthand account (written under a pseudonym) of the mission, No Easy Day, warranted the entire hourlong broadcast, are the exception. "Mark Owen's book was newsworthy on a number of fronts, including the fact that he was even talking about [the mission] and writing a book about it," says Fager.