’60 Minutes’ Prepares for ‘Last-Minute’ Change at Show’s End (EXCLUSIVE)

·5-min read

There’s a last-minute change brewing at “60 Minutes.”

When the venerable CBS newsmagazine launches its 55th season this Sunday, viewers may notice a twist at the end of the hour. The show is debuting a new end segment, something that its top producer hopes will resonate with crowds as much as previous codas like “Point/Counterpoint” or the musings of Andy Rooney did in their respective eras.

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“We have tried different things to fill the space, and they felt a little unsatisfying,” executive producer Bill Owens tells Variety. “There wasn’t a consistency to it. I ended up giving that time back to the stories and the correspondents, so they would each have 20 to 30 seconds more. They were all very happy to have that time, but it felt like something was missing.”

The new final piece to the show, “The Last Minute,” will allow for updates to past “60 Minutes” stories; previews of pieces to come; a visit to the archives for stories that might resonate with current events; maybe even a brief essay on a newsy topic. And the segment will have its own sponsor, UnitedHealthcare, a rare chance for Madison Avenue to weave itself around the program. “It’s a home base for the show,” says Owens. “You will get something from it. It’s not empty calories.”

For Owens, who took the reins of the program as only its third executive producer in 2019, the move is the latest aimed at making “60 Minutes” more relevant to current viewers, without undermining the elements that keep audiences returning each season. During his tenure, Owens tried to launch a streaming counterpart to “60” with new correspondents and developed a new streaming channel of “60 Minutes” stories people can access via Pluto, the ad-supported venue operated by CBS parent Paramount Global.

There’s good reason to keep the “60 Minutes” stopwatch ticking. Last season, the show, often boosted by the football games it follows, captured the most viewers in primetime on seven different occasions. The last time it achieved such status was in the 1992-1993 season. Even so, this comes in an era when capturing ad dollars is more difficult. Madison Avenue invested approximately $86 million in “60 Minutes” in 2021, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, representing a 22.5% drop from 2020, when that figure was nearly $111.4 million. Meanwhile, the cost of a 30-second ad on the show dipped to $85,683 in 2022, according to Standard Media Index, compared with $91,046 in 2020 — a 6% decline. The pact with UnitedHealthcare was not crafted based on these directional figures.

“60 Minutes” has tested advertising innovation in the past. As part of a unique arrangement crafted with Philips Electronics in 2005, the show was able to run longer story segments and fewer commercials in one broadcast, with Philips paying around $2 million to be the sole national sponsor of the show.

Past end segments for “60 Minutes” have proven memorable. Both Rooney’s curmudgeonly musings and “Point/Counterpoint” were lampooned by “Saturday Night Live.” The show even tried to revive “Point/Counterpoint,” in which a conservative and liberal joust. One effort, in 1996, featured Molly Ivins, Stanley Crouch and P.J. O’Rourke. Another, in 2003, included Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. Neither caught on with viewers or producers.

Filling the space has proven challenging since Rooney left after a run that lasted between 1978 and 2011. “The question was, ‘How do you replace Andy Rooney?’” says Scott Pelley, one of the newsmagazine’s correspondents. “And the immediate answer was, ‘You don’t.’”

In the recent past, says Owens, “60 Minutes” has simply had a quick “good night” at its end, but that’s not how Don Hewitt, the founding executive producer, envisioned things. “Don Hewitt modeled or came up with the idea of a TV show that was based on a magazine,” which often includes a quick one-page feature at the end of the publication, says Owens. At the end of the show, he adds, “there is an expectation from the audience that we are going to give them something else.”

Correspondents — the core now centers on Pelley, Lesley Stahl, Bill Whitaker, Sharyn Alfonsi, Anderson Cooper and Jon Wertheim, with regular contributions from Norah O’Donnell — have plenty to offer this season. Whitaker has already traveled to Uganda to examine the potential for a new virus outbreak in bat-filled caves. “People are moving into areas where humans have not lived before, coming right against bat carriers of viruses,” he explains. “Scientists are trying to see what might be coming our way.”

Pelley last week interviewed Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, who is trying to help get Ukrainian children undergoing cancer therapy evacuated and into hospitals in the U.S. and elsewhere. He and a team of producers have also been working to identify war victims found in a mass grave in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and give identities to people killed in the country’s war with Russian.

And Sharyn Alfonsi has already shot a story about wild horses in Wyoming; explored pieces about sanctions on Russia and offshore wind power; and interviewed Ina Garten, better known as “The Barefoot Contessa.”

All three correspondents say they fight for as much time as they can get for their stories but recognize they sometimes must cede a few seconds for a good cause. “When they tell you to cut a second or two, it feels like opening a vein,” says Alfonsi, but most TV journalists come up against such demands regularly. Besides, the story is appearing on “60 Minutes,” she says. “Complaining about any time being taken out is like complaining your diamond shoes are too tight.”

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