For nearly the last half-century, CBS newsmagazine ‘60 Minutes’ has been the standard-bearer for broadcast news storytelling. And come January, the network—along with corporate sibling Showtime— hopes to begin a new tradition of excellence when it debuts its monthly spinoff, 60 Minutes Sports.
Bill Owens, executive editor on the longrunning newsmagazine, will be coexecutive producer of the new show, and he’s inspired by the challenge. “Some of the best 60 Minutes stories over the years have involved sports,” says Owens, who cites Ed Bradley’s chronicle on Muhammad Ali and Mike Wallace’s exposé on Roger Clemens as examples. “It’s such an important part of the American fabric.”
With a nod toward those and other signature pieces, each 60 MinutesSports broadcast—along with keeping to the classic show’s format—will feature an updated sports piece from the 60 Minutes archive. And the show will broadcast from the same Studio 33 set at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan. “There might be a little bit of a different look,” Owens says, but “you won’t see any difference in the storytelling.”
That will be in large part because Owens’ new show will leverage some of 60 Minutes’ best assets. “Everybody on the floor is going to contribute stories,” he says, noting that Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley, Byron Pitts, Lara Logan and James Brown will all participate. CBS News chief investigative reporter Armen Keteyian will also be a full-time correspondent. And Owens says they have talked about bringing in sports talent from outside the CBS/Showtime corporate family: “We may well end up with a familiar face from one of the other broadcasts.”
The decision to place 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime had as much as anything to do with the premium network’s success, says Owens. “Showtime is really doing so well right now,” he says, adding, “They were the ones who came to us.” Owens also lauds Showtime’s highquality sports broadcasts, including Inside the NFL and Inside NASCAR.
With competition from other sports newsmagazines such as HBO’s Real Sports and ESPN’s E: 60, it was important for 60 MinutesSports to concentrate primarily on all the trust the 60 Minutes brand has built with viewers. “We’re not going to try to do anything differently than what we already do,” Owens says.
Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and executive producer of 60 Minutes, who will be the other coexecutive producer on 60 Minutes of Sports, says Owens’ knowledge and skill makes him stand out. “He has so much experience with every different kind of story imaginable, which is what makes for a great editor…. He’s so good at working with stories, working with producers and correspondents and making the story better.”
Owens’ résumé is packed, with all of his experience coming under the auspices of CBS. “I’ve been [here] forever,” he quips. While he has held numerous producing positions—many of them working alongside Pelley—he can still recall his first days as a page during the 1988 political conventions. The first time he saw longtime anchor Bob Schieffer enter the network’s media trailer, “I couldn’t believe I was allowed to be there,” he says.
But for Owens, helping to cover the 2003 invasion of Iraq truly stands out. While most journalists had to be “embedded” with military units, he and Pelley believed a more freelance approach would make for a better story. “It was dangerous, but we were all very proud of the amount of original reporting that we were able to do,” Owens recalls. “We were running around southern Iraq while it was on fire.”
Owens also covered Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, but as a native New Yorker (he was born in Oyster Bay, Long Island but now lives in Old Greenwich, Conn.). Hurricane Sandy hit closer to home. “I saw it in my own town,” says Owens, speaking of the storm’s devastation.
For Owens, serving the viewer—regardless of the dangers—has always been a paramount concern, and a route to the most compelling stories. He says he saw that time and again on myriad networks’ Sandy coverage. “It’s easy to get caught off-guard when you hear the next storm is going to be ‘the big one,’” he says. “But I think the media [did] a good job.”
E-mail comments to email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays
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