After 51 years on the air, 60 Minutes remains not just the highest-rated news program, it’s one of TV’s most popular shows of any kind. Believe it or not, it attracts almost as many viewers as NCIS.
And yet, 60 Minutes doesn’t seem to enter into the cultural conversation that much. While the program reports and expands on the news, it doesn’t seem to make the news as often as it used to. Or does that all get lost in a culture that gets more kicks and more clicks from the likes of Survivor?
’60 Minutes’ still ticking after more than 50 years
According to the site TV Series Finale, 60 Minutes is CBS’ most popular unscripted show, with 10.4 million viewers. That’s notably ahead of the other unscripted shows, including Survivor, with 6.5 million viewers, and another news program, 48 Hours, with 3.3 million viewers.
What’s even more impressive is how the numbers stack up in all of CBS’ shows. The only CBS show of any kind that’s more popular is NCIS, with 11.6 million viewers.
Moreover, 60 Minutes is one of the only shows to actually gain viewers, with the audience growing by 3 percent. The only other CBS show to gain viewers is Magnum PI. Everything else, including NCIS, is down anywhere from 2 to 27 percent.
As streaming services continue to make inroads, ratings for every kind of program have fallen in recent years — even the almighty Super Bowl, where ratings have dropped every year since 2016.
The show’s website states 60 Minutes “makes Nielsen’s weekly Top 10 almost every week and “the average audience for a “60 Minutes” broadcast is 150 percent higher than those of the network morning news programs, a figure that still dwarfs the biggest audiences on cable news.”
The show began as Vietnam intensified
CBS News Executive Don Hewitt created the show as kind of a “Life Magazine for television,” that would be a mix of news and features, with each segment being a mini-documentary, according to Vanity Fair. It was good for people with short attention spans like Hewitt.
60 Minutes began rather inauspiciously, initially airing at 10 p.m. Thursdays. It didn’t catch on right away, bouncing around the schedule until it finally settled on 7 p.m. on Sundays. As news over Vietnam and then Watergate gripped the nation, 60 Minutes slowly but surely became an institution.
Initially hosted by Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner, 60 Minutes gained other hosts who became recognizable names, including Morley Safer, Dan Rather, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, and Meredith Vieira. The current hosts are Lesley Stahl, Scott Pelley, Bill Whitaker and John Dickerson.
The show has won more than 150 Emmys, the most by any one news program.
’60 Minutes’ will probably air indefinitely
One of the reasons the show itself has been in the news this year is that it’s the 20th anniversary of The Insider, the Michael Mann film about the scandal that erupted when 60 Minutes initially refused to air a segment about a big tobacco whistleblower played by Russell Crowe.
The reporter who broke his story was played by Al Pacino, with Christopher Plummer playing Mike Wallace. Many have argued the movie holds up better than many of the other Oscar nominees that year, including the winner, American Beauty.
The Insider, seen today, appears to long for a time when news programs like 60 Minutes could actually prompt a better world. Whether it still does that or not is arguable, but there’s no denying the show has become entrenched in the culture. it will almost certainly air as long as a television screen glows somewhere.