Susan Zirinsky, who was briefly rumored to be in the running for the 60 Minutes job before being tapped as president of CBS News, made the announcement to staff on Wednesday evening.
“I have known Bill for almost 30 years. He is a tremendous leader and will be a great partner to everyone at CBS News,” Zirinsky told staff in an email.
“To be named the executive producer of 60 Minutes is an inspiring responsibility and a privilege,” Owens said in an official announcement. “I am honored to work alongside the best journalists in the business who cover the most important stories from around the world. I promise that will never change.”
The news caps an extraordinary period of uncertainty at CBS News, which has been buffeted by waves of misconduct allegations beginning back in November 2017 when 60 Minutes correspondent and CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose was abruptly fired. Fager was swept up in the reporting on ousted CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves done by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow beginning last summer, and was abruptly fired in September after sending a threatening text to a CBS News correspondent filing a report on allegations that involved Fager.
Owens has been Fager’s heir apparent for years. He has upped to executive editor of 60 Minutes in 2008, and took on greater oversight of the program when Fager was tapped as chairman of CBS News from 2011 through 2014. He has been serving as interim executive producer since Fager was fired, and had many supporters inside 60 Minutes, including anchor Scott Pelley.
So when Zirinsky was tapped on Jan. 7 by acting CEO Joe Ianniello to lead the news division, Owens’ ascendancy seemed all but guaranteed. Zirinsky’s appointment was greeted with much relief and excitement at CBS News, and it was telling that on that morning, when she addressed staffers for the first time as the leader of the division, many from 60 Minutes were there.
“We are in a new era,” Zirinsky wrote Wednesday in her internal email. “As an organization, and as an industry, we are forever changed. As only the third EP in the broadcast’s history, [Owens] is anxious to bring the #1 news program in the country into the future. I look forward to what the broadcast holds for us — just like I do each week, Sundays at 7 PM.”
60 Minutes in particular is known as a very insular program; it is housed in offices across the street from CBS News headquarters on West 57th Street in New York City. Integrating the show into the day-to-day at CBS News could benefit the entire news division, said Zirinsky.
During a recent interview, Zirinsky noted that Owens “is doing a really good job and they deserve their independence. But the network might gain from some of their stuff in the second life.”
Preserving the show’s singular dominance is critical, especially as CBS This Morning (now hosted by Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga) and CBS Evening News With Jeff Glor have experienced worrisome ratings declines of late. So far this season, 60 Minutes is averaging more than 11 million viewers each week and is among the Top 10 most-watched programs on TV — all of which makes it increasingly important to the bottom line at CBS News.
CBS executives are hoping to turn the page on a very difficult 2018, which saw the ouster of the powerful CEO Moonves amid scandalous misconduct claims. The leaked investigators report into misconduct at the network revealed salacious details about Moonves’ alleged behavior, but it also provided a measure of closure for the company, where executives are eager to move past what had become a steady stream of embarrassing headlines.