Two “60 Minutes” insiders have emerged as top candidates to carry the show forward.
The venerable newsmagazine has been without an executive producer since Jeff Fager parted ways with CBS News in September after CBS charged he violated company policy. Under one scenario said to be getting new emphasis, Bill Owens, the executive editor, could be named the third executive producer in the history of the show, while Tanya Simon, a senior producer, could be assigned a new and elevated role, according to a person familiar with the matter. No final decision has been made, insiders caution, and Susan Zirinsky, a highly-respected and veteran producer at CBS News, remains a candidate for the executive producer position as well.
Anointing the team of Owens and Simon would be a nod to the fact that the culture of “60 Minutes” is an insular one, set off from the rest of CBS News. The only people to have run the program in its more than 50 seasons on air are Don Hewitt, its founding producer, and Fager, his successor. CBS overseers are also said to have noticed that the show has fared well so far this season under Owens’ aegis. The executive has placed new emphasis on stories that bring new angles to breaking news stories, such as this past Sunday’s double segment featuring interviews with former Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama about the death of President George H.W, Bush.
CBS News declined to comment.
The choice of Zirinsky could launch “60 Minutes” into a very different era. Placing Zirinsky at “60 Minutes” could help break down barriers between the program and the rest of the news division, which tend to have separate production processes. And the decision would put a woman at the helm of the program for the first time in its decades on air.
CBS News managers have held off naming a new executive producer for “60 Minutes” due to a corporate probe of employment culture at both CBS Corp. and at CBS News. CBS hired the law firm of Proskauer Rose in March to examine CBS News after “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose was ousted in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment. That investigation was rolled up into a larger one being conducted by two other law firms, Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Pimpton, which have been charged with examining allegations made against CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves. Moonves denied assaulting any of the women or using his role at the company to retaliate against them.
But details of the law firms’ findings have begun to leak, prompting a sense that the CBS board is closer to getting a fuller look at events that have been transpiring at the company. That could free up CBS News in days or weeks to come to move ahead with personnel decisions regarding “60 Minutes.”
The news division has been on pins and needles about the choice of a “60 Minutes” leader. Supporters of both Zirinsky and Owens have leaked details to press outlets about the ramifications of making either one the newsmagazine’s new chief. Depending on who they are rooting for, their anxieties could be inflamed or put to rest in the not-too-distant future.