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After the shocking exit of 60 Minutes chief Jeff Fager on Sept. 12, CBS News management is in the throes of a delicate and highly scrutinized transition to replace one of its top executives.
Casting for a new executive producer of 60 Minutes as staffers are gearing up for the show’s 51st season premiere on Sept. 30 would be hard enough. But doing so after Fager was fired — amid ongoing investigations and after multiple reports characterized the culture at 60 Minutes as sexist —has made the undertaking all the more difficult.
Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews — CBS News executive vp and president David Rhodes’ No. 2 at the news division — is leading the effort to identify a successor. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that she has been ensconced in an office next to the 60 Minutes screening room, where she has been holding closed-door meetings with 60 staffers.
Many inside 60 Minutes would like to see executive editor Bill Owens get the job. He was named interim executive producer in the wake of Fager’s exit. He was promoted to his current position in 2008 and when Fager was tapped in 2011 as chairman of CBS News, Owens took on a larger role running the broadcast. Susan Zirinsky — the senior executive producer of 48 Hours as well as the division’s breaking news specials — also is being considered for the role.
Owens has strong support at the show, and several staffers who have met with Ciprian-Matthews have lobbied for him. He’s been in the 60 Minutes firmament for more than a decade; he first worked on the broadcast in 2003 as a producer for Scott Pelley. Before that, he had produced Pelley segments for 60 Minutes II. He joined the senior staff of the flagship 60 Minutes in 2007. Owens also ran 60 Minutes Sports, the sports-themed spinoff newsmagazine that ran for five seasons on Showtime.
When Rhodes broke the news of Fager’s departure to the shocked staff Sept. 12, his announcement that Owens would temporarily lead the broadcast was greeted with sustained applause. But Owens’ gender — and his position as Fager’s No. 2 at the broadcast — could work against him. Several 60 Minutes staffers expressed concern that management could make a calculation based on “optics.” Though, one said that, “so far, [Rhodes] has said all the right things” about protecting the show’s brand.
“Everybody wants Bill to get the job,” said one source. “People are saying, ‘Don’t mess with this, we know Bill,’” said another.
Zirinsky — or “Z” as she is known — is something of a legendary figure inside CBS News. A hard-charging producer, her relationship with Fager was one of mutual respect, say sources who know both of them. She’s been at CBS News since 1972; she worked in several roles on the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather. (She was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character in the James L. Brooks film Broadcast News.) By picking a woman, network executives could potentially diffuse the characterization in media reports of a hyper-masculine workplace. (Reports that Fager strenuously pushed back on.)
60 Minutes is headquartered in a building across West 57th Street from CBS News headquarters. But it isn’t just its location that separates it from the rest of the news division. The show — which has a staff of 150 — always operated with a large degree of autonomy. In part this was due to its success; it has dozens of awards, still lands industry gets and is regularly among TV’s most-watched programs of the week.
It is also a defining broadcast for the CBS News brand with an imprimatur of quality that is unrivaled in the industry today. That siloing is complicating management’s undertaking, with more than one source noting that executives are unfamiliar with the inner workings of 60 Minutes. It’s not just a weekly broadcast, it’s a business enterprise that brings in significant revenue to CBS News. The person running it needs to have an editorial gut (producers say Fager was known to screen pieces 10 or 15 times), a head for business management and the wherewithal to manage a notoriously competitive correspondent corps.
A source familiar with the process said that management intends to pick Fager’s successor by the end of September. But an individual close to the network said there’s no official timetable for the selection process. And multiple sources at the program hope that management will actually let the broadcast progress further into the season before announcing a decision. A spokesperson for the news division declined to comment on the search and interview process.
Said one 60 Minutes staffer: “There is no one from outside who knows how hard it is to make this thing run.”
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