Wednesday, February 17, 2016

From My Memory Bank - How 60 Minutes Come to Be

During the early years of my time in TV news, I was fortunate enough to know and work with Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Don Hewitt and others in later years.
But how did 60 Minutes come into being?
Fred Friendly was CBS News president at the time. Don Hewitt, respected news gadfly, had finished a documentary on Frank Sinatra (I think the first on Sinatra). Included were never-before-seen footage of Sinatra cutting an album in real time, his back stage entrance onto the MSG stage, his performance, Sinatra's bio and more. It was a great doc but Fred Friendly wouldn't put it on the air because it wasn't "news".
I was in the main newsroom to hear the Hewitt side of his conversation with Fred Friendly on the subject. To say the least, it was a loud conversation.
As a result of that conversation, Don was banished to the rear of the production center -- a former dairy between 10-11th ave on 57th St. That's where all the film projectors & telop machines were housed. Believe me, it was a remote part of the building. His secretary was one Suzanne Davis, a brilliant girl, who -- in a 6 degrees of separation moment -- turned out to be my college girlfriend's roommate.
Months, probably more than a year, it was rumored that Don was working on a new project. One day, in the hallway outside the Evening News studio-newsroom, Hewitt asked to borrow my stop watch, a new split second Heur.
By the time '60 Minutes' debuted, Fred Friendly had resigned over principle and Dick Salant (also a wonderful but very different executive) had replaced him. Don Hewitt and '60 Minutes' had found an ally on executive row.
Lo & behold, Don had filmed my stop watch running for a full 60 minutes and, of course used it (in actual time) as a logo & bumpers between segments on his new show. The original anchors were Wallace & Reasoner.
That's how '60 Minutes' came to be.