NEW YORK — CBS is scrapping a “60 Minutes” segment planned for this Sunday on anchor Dan Rather’s interview with actor Bill Cosby.
Sources explained that CBS execs were afraid the newsmag’s reputation would be sullied by the exploitative turn the media has given to Cosby’s conversation about his son’s murder and about his long-ago extra-marital “rendezvous.”
Besieged by reporters camped outside his Manhattan townhouse after news of son Ennis’ death, Cosby last weekend decided to speak out and called CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward to arrange the Rather interview.
“This Morning” and “CBS Evening News” aired snippets of the talk early this week, followed a barrage of reports in other media. Cosby and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw then complained to CBS Entertainment presi-dent Leslie Moonves, seeking to stem the avalanche by asking his help in killing the “60 Minutes” piece.
The newsmag’s exec producer Don Hewitt, who’s resisted attempts to sway him in the past, is said by supporters to have reached the decision independently and CBS president Peter Lund reportedly refused to intervene on behalf of Cosby. Hewitt couldn’t be reached for comment.
In the 2-1/2-hour Rather interview, Cosby talked about his son’s L.A. shooting death on Jan. 16. He also spoke at length about an apparently unrelated extortion plot by a woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter, revealing he had an affair with her mother 20 years ago.
The candid admission by the family man and TV star was seized upon by “Hard Copy,” the New York Post and countless other media outlets, along with CBS’ own morning and evening news shows, which broke the story Monday.
Rather also talked about the interview on CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman” Wednesday night.
The decision to yank the already finished segment will be announced today. A senior CBS News exec said it will be shelved after growing queasiness over the role Cosby’s own network — the actor was given a rare 44-seg order for the freshman series “Cosby” — has inadvertently played in the seamy saga.
“The story, which was originally valid journalistically, ethically and in every other way, has been so blown out of proportion by exposure through the course of a week, that there’s really nothing further to say,” the exec said.
Other execs feared that the overexposure, and the slams at CBS from a chorus of press critics, presented the danger that the newsmag would be accused of stooping to the tabloid tactics that Hewitt has charged some rivals with adopting.
” ’60 Minutes’ is too important a franchise to get caught up in that kind of circus,” the news exec said.