Jeff Fager Celebrates 50 Years of ’60 Minutes’ With Book

Fifty Years of 60 Minutes: The Inside Story of Television’s Most Influential News Broadcast is published October 24, and represents Jeff Fager’s attempt at getting a half-century of the fabled news mag between two covers. Fager is, of course, the executive producer of 60 Minutes

Speaking to B&C, Fager wasn’t about to pick a top decade for the show. But he did note how 60 Minutes has changed over the many years. 

“There was a period when 60 Minutes did a lot of ambushes. There was a period when 60 Minutes hid cameras,” he said. “There was a period after I took over when we became more newsy.

“What I think is great is that the viewer doesn’t really see these changes,” he added. “It still feels like the same old 60 Minutes, because in large part it is.”

Fager is in his 14th year in the role. He was on CBS This Morning Tuesday, talking about the book. “My second favorite broadcast on television,” he said of the newscast he played a key part in building. He noted how 60 Minutes started off on Tuesdays, and ran every other week. Gayle King mentioned how the show was No. 75 out of 81 in terms of the Nielsens. 

But it grew. “We don’t underestimate the viewer—ever,” said Fager. 

60 Minutes has won 138 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards. The show stands apart in that it does not use audience research to help decide which stories to cover. “We resist that entirely,” Fager said. “We decide what we’re going to cover, which means the onus is on us to make the story that much better.”

He said 60 Minutes will at times even do stories that people don’t care to see. “We cover them because we think they’re important,” he said. “And we think we can do it in a way that will engage the audience.”

Fager was inducted into the Giants of Broadcasting pantheon last month, where he spoke about the "fairness and integrity" that has defined 60 Minutes across its lifespan. "Those things really do matter, and they're a huge part of why we've been so successful," he said. 

Researching the program’s 50-year history was an eye opener for the author. “Our 50-year story became the 50-year history of our country and our place in the world,” Fager said. The reader learns “as much about the past half-century as they do about the broadcast and the people who put it together.”

Like any news organization, 60 Minutes has a challenge in terms of covering President Trump. Fager said he knows the president watches the program. “We’ve had our differences and I write about those in the book,” he said. 

Trump appeared pleased with the story 60 Minutes did on him after he won the election last November, according to Fager. Lesley Stahl did the interview. “He thought it was fair, and that’s all we ever promise,” said Fager. “We’re gonna be tough and he knows it.”

Fager adds, “You never know how he’s going to feel about a story, and we’re not looking to find out.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.