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CBS Tries To Clone 60 Minutes

January 12, 1999

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ There’s a certain attitude common to most everyone connected with CBS’s ``60 Minutes.″ They invented television newsmagazines, still feel theirs is better than anyone else’s, and aren’t hesitant to say so.

Some call that confidence. Others see arrogance. But these facts speak for themselves: 30 years on the air, a regular top-10 berth in the ratings, and the show by which other investigative TV journalism measures itself.

That swagger may be just what CBS needs to carry off the cloning of ``60 Minutes.″ The familiar stopwatch begins ticking tomorrow, announcing the arrival of ``60 Minutes II″ on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. EST.

``There’s a certain confidence in what we do, and I think (``60 Minutes″ founder) Don Hewitt sets the tone,″ said Jeff Fager, executive producer of the new edition. ``It’s a very confident, self-assured group ... You can feel that we have a pretty strong sense of who we are and what we want to do.″

It can be seen in correspondent Morley Safer’s suggestion when CBS’s promotions team was thinking of ways to advertise the new edition and cut through the clutter of competitors.

``Does America really need another newsmagazine? Yes, if it’s called `60 Minutes,‴ was Safer’s idea.

That, in essence, is what Fager is doing. ``60 Minutes II″ will precisely follow its parent’s formula: three stories per hour, some viewer mail, some curmudgeonly commentary, although this time from humorist Jimmy Tingle instead of Andy Rooney. One story each week will update a tale already told on a Sunday ``60 Minutes.″

``It’s a great model,″ Fager said. ``How could you ever ask for a greater model than `60 Minutes’? And why not take from what works?″

The difference will come in the individual styles of the correspondents: Bob Simon, the CBS foreign correspondent who has contributed to ``60 Minutes,″ PBS interviewer Charlie Rose, CBS London correspondent Vicki Mabrey, and Carol Marin, who earned integrity points for quitting a Chicago newscast when station owners wanted to bring in Jerry Springer as a commentator.

It’s a younger cast than ``60 Minutes,″ but not youthful.

``For the last several years, my two favorite places in the world have been `60 Minutes’ and the nursing home where my father-in-law stays in eastern France,″ Simon said, ``because they’re the only places where I’m occasionally called `young man.‴

Leading the pack is the seemingly overworked Dan Rather, who left as a ``60 Minutes″ correspondent when he took over as anchor of the ``CBS Evening News.″ He’ll now do double duty, triple if you count continued contributions to ``48 Hours.″ And he’s 67. (``60 Minutes″ star Mike Wallace is 80).

The new team has quickly learned the first rule of competition with the original show. ``If Mike wants to do it, he gets to do it,″ Rather explained. ``The ones he doesn’t want to do or doesn’t know about, then the rest of us have the right to squabble over it.″

For all the talk of ``60 Minutes″ as the Cathedral of Television Journalism, cloning was strictly a business decision. CBS executives saw NBC’s success in spreading ``Dateline NBC″ throughout its schedule, and wanted a piece of the action. The old lions at ``60 Minutes″ roared in protest, but backed off when they saw they had little choice.

Fager’s appointment was also key in calming the fears. He’s a former Hewitt aide, a confidant of Rather when he was executive producer of the evening news, and an accepted member of the fraternity. Now he’ll occasionally come to work and find a macho challenge taped to his office door by Hewitt: It’s 6 a.m., I’m already here. Where are you?

CBS executives are already delighted that ``60 Minutes II″ has attracted advertisers that its entertainment programs couldn’t on Wednesday nights. CBS’s older audience has enabled the network to corner the new market of drug advertisers.

Yet expanding the franchise comes with risks. CBS is careful not to publicly state their ratings expectations for the new show, yet there’s clearly pressure to perform financially. ``60 Minutes″ is a Sunday night habit for millions of viewers. Will the same type of show be as appealing on Wednesday nights?

Fager insists the second edition will have the same exacting standards for stories as its predecessor. But when Jack Kevorkian, the assisted-suicide advocate, came on ``60 Minutes″ in November, the controversy was dulled somewhat by Wallace’s reputation. Will viewers give a controversial ``60 Minutes II″ story the same benefit of the doubt?

``We have to live up to the name `60 Minutes,′ which is a daunting task,″ Fager said. ``What Don and everyone else have done over there through the years is really create something quite unique. It’s that kind of storytelling that we’re trying to live up to, and that’s hard to do. Not everyone can do that, which is why I think it hasn’t been copied before.″

``I do get the feeling that all eyes are on us,″ he said.


Elsewhere in television ...

ADOPTION ON `MAURY’: The subject is close to Maury Povich’s heart _ as most people know, he and wife Connie Chung adopted their child. On today’s show (rescheduled from Wednesday), viewers meet kids of all ages from all over the country who have been in foster homes for most of their lives. Each youngster says what he or she wants more than anything is a permanent home and a loving family. Maybe yours? Check local listings for time and channel of this ``Maury″ segment, ``Please Adopt Me.″


David Bauder can be reached at dbauder″at″ap.org

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