'60 Minutes' started the magazine-style TV journalism in 1968. By 1986, Timothy Noah of 'The New Republic' observed, "The magazine approach had proven to be far more commercially successful in television than it ever was in what must now be called 'print' magazines. It had been estimated that '60 Minutes' was responsible for more than half the profits of CBS’s broadcast division. 

"In the days before television, these magazines had been able to sustain enormous circulations because they were the most important medium for national, visually oriented advertising; radio could provide sounds but no headlines or pictures. Then came TV which had replaced magazines as the dominant mass medium for word-and-image advertising." 

'The Washington Post' reminded, "The economics of the genre are simple. Producing an hour of news costs about $500,000, roughly one-third to one-half the cost of buying a sitcom or drama. So even a magazine show with modest ratings can turn a decent profit." As '60 Minutes' was shown "on the day when people go to church and read the Sunday newspaper", Av Westin believed the program became "a Sunday, go-to-meetin’ absolution." 

Timothy Noah continued, "The comparative merits of print versus TV journalism are a reflection of the comparative strengths, and weaknesses, of pictures versus words. The TV magazines learned from the sticks how to sell a story through people. They also learned from the picture magazines how to tell a story through visuals. Words matter on '60 Minutes'. The writing on '60 Minutes' is simple and direct, guiding the viewer from idea to image with a minimum of hype. 

"'60 Minutes' will present three stories in an hour and continues to track down stories that don’t make their way into newspaper headlines. Av Westin, executive produce of ABC’s '20/20', explained to me '60 Minutes' squeezes down what would ordinarily be hour-long documentaries into tight 20-minute segments. '20/20' word-to-picture ratio resembles that of '60 Minutes'; reporters are permitted to spend a little time paraphrasing abstract material through narration and stand-ups. This allows '20/20', which usually runs three or fewer pieces per show, to take on ambitious stories. Indeed, '20/20' often outdoes “60 Minutes” in the quality of its investigative reporting." 

In 1993, former CBS producer Andrew Lack took over the role NBC News president and gave birth to the program, 'Now'. 'The Washington Post' reported, "He installed Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric as the marquee attractions, brought in Jeff Zucker of 'Today' and gave him two months to throw the program together. The program has 70 staffers." 

Tom Brokaw recognized, "The more the news division can get on the air and deal with non-fiction programming, the better off we are. It's healthy for our survival." Lawrence Grossman begged to differ, "What's missing is hard-edged stories about the economy, housing, the environment or health care." Tom Brokaw called 'Now' a "work in progress" at the time.

In July 1994, NBC announced 'Now' would be absorbed into 'Dateline' as the network planned to combine its news-magazine programs under one brand with a centralized staff and anchor team. Of 'Now', Andrew Lack insisted, "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here. If I have good stories, I don't care if there are 18 magazine shows on. The audience clearly wants more of this stuff."

'The Washington Post' continued, "The 'Now' audience is skewed toward the graying end of the spectrum. Every show needs an identity, and 'Now' leans heavily on emotion-packed tales of crime and violence, leavened by pieces involving celebrities, sex and television itself. It is a formula made successful by such syndicated shows as 'Hard Copy', but since this is network television, even the seamiest stories must be given a high-minded gloss."

Tom Brokaw stated, "We're all conflicted by this (stories on crime and violence). When people say we do it only for the ratings, that's not entirely true, but at the same time we can't go out of business." Katie Couric added, "Let's face it, the ratings have a lot to do with it." Up against 'Home Improvement' which attracted between 30 million and 40 million viewers a week, 'Now' normally attracted between 10 million and 15 million viewers a week, roughly the same figures as the competing Fox drama, 'Melrose Place'.

'The Washington Post' continued, "'Now' is sandwiched between 'Unsolved Mysteries' and 'Law & Order', and Zucker knows he cannot lose that audience. Any lingering doubt about the importance of Nielsen numbers is dispelled by a sheet of paper on Zucker's desk. It charts the show's minute-by-minute ratings in graph form, with the line dipping up and down as viewers go channel-surfing."

Jeff Zucker informed, "When I looked at the minute-by-minute stuff on Tonya (Harding), it went up a lot. That's how we knew to keep doing it." 'The Washington Post' continued, "The competition is so fierce that all the magazine shows use their stars to try to land the big interview. Katie Couric tried to snag Tonya Harding but lost out to Connie Chung, who prevailed by camping out in Portland, Oregon, for 10 days."

Katie Couric recalled, "It was just ridiculous. I was talking to her attorneys two or three times a day and on weekends. It just started to drive me crazy ... It's so out of control." However "Tom Brokaw scored an interview with Randy Weaver, a white supremacist whose wife and son were killed by federal agents, because he knew Weaver's attorney, Gerry Spence." Tom Brokaw told 'The Washington Post', "Connie Chung's producer took the motel room above his. Everyone wanted that one, including Mike Wallace." Before 'Now' was absorbed into 'Dateline', "Tom Brokaw did one major piece every 3 weeks and Katie Couric one every other week, with much of the spade work done by producers and researchers."

In 1997, Katie Couric's 'Today' co-host, Bryant Gumble left the show after 15 years and after 25 years at NBC to join CBS on a reported $5 million annual salary, to host his own prime-time newsmagazine program, 'Public Eye' and his own production company, "What I won't do is set out to do something that is only meant to draw ratings." 'Public Eye' was described as 'Nightline'-like, ''I think the difference is in content. The subjects on 'Nightline' tend to be more heavy and serious, and I don't think you can do that in prime time.'' 'Today' was "the most profitable network-owned property in television, taking in a profit of $150 million-plus a year."

Up against programs on WB, UPN, Fox and 'Ellen' on ABC, 'Public Eye' attracted between 9 million and 12 million viewers each week. However CBS replaced the program after one season with '60 Minutes II'. "Prime time ain't all it's cracked up to be. It's a tough neighborhood. Prime time is a different animal," Bryant Gumble explained. "The thing I'm proudest of is that we've put on a very professional program, in the main, taken the high road. (But) I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dissatisfied with some elements of the program. I would love to have more inventory (of stories). I would like to get a better mix of stories week to week, respond to what the audience wants."

In 1989, Connie Chung left her "$450,000-a-year job at NBC to the $2 million she reportedly makes at CBS News." In 1991, Associated Press reported Connie Chung planned to reduce her role on 'Face To Face' because she and Maury Povich "have reached an important point in our lives. We want very much to have a child. Unfortunately, time is running out for me when it comes to childbearing. I will be 44 next month (August 1990)."

'The Washington Post' reported, "When she took several months off for the announced purpose of trying to have a baby with Povich, CBS cut her back to half-salary, a hardship million bucks per annum. Somehow they muddled through. As for that very public announcement about the baby, which Chung gave as the reason for dropping out of a previous CBS magazine show, she says now she does regret the hullabaloo it caused but doesn't know how she could have done it any differently."

Connie Chung clarified, "We thought very carefully about what we should do, because I had a program which was on the fall schedule in a very coveted time slot, 10 o'clock Monday night, and I decided that I did need to cut back. So I decided I had to cancel the program, but how was I going to deal with telling the staff of 40, 50, 60 people?

"And I decided I couldn't tell these people, many of whom were my friends, it was a 'personal reason.' I didn't think that was good enough. I had to tell them the truth. And if I tell 40 or 50 people, journalists, I knew it would get out, and it would get out in some way or another inaccurately. So Maury and I decided the only way we could handle this was to be honest. And that's all we did, was be honest. If I released a statement, that would be the best way to handle it because I didn't want to talk about it."

In August 1997, CBS faced harsh criticism over its coverage of Princess Diana's death by coming late to the story, preferring to show pro wrestling instead. 'The Washington Post' reported, "The Diana debacle has assumed almost mythic proportions within CBS. CBS's failure to get the story on the air for hours that tragic night has fueled a deep feeling of unease at what was once called the Tiffany Network. The Diana fiasco has renewed criticism that Andrew Heyward is too much a product of the CBS culture to lead effectively."

A whole lot of Andrew Heyward's chips at the time were said to be riding on Bryant Gumbel. Although Don Hewitt had publicly credited Andrew Heyward for resisting pressures to transform news into entertainment, 'The Washington Post' reported in 1997, "But holding the budgetary line is another matter. Westinghouse officials, having bought the network for $5.4 billion, are acutely aware that CBS has lost more than $135 million over the last three quarters.

"Many staffers view the Diana humiliation as the legacy of the budget-slashing era of owner Laurence Tisch. Andrew Heyward survived the tight-fisted Tisch era. He loomed as a savior, a journalist's journalist. He says his 'radical' revamping is paying dividends: Ratings are up 28% among the prized 25-to-54 demographic. Andrew Heyward toyed with the idea of launching a weekday edition of '60 Minutes' but questioned whether the program's serious approach could succeed against prime-time dramas and sitcoms."

Blog Archive