CBS News has big shoes to fill at “60 Minutes,” now that it has ousted the show’s longtime executive producer, Jeff Fager. The CBS unit faces a big question: Should it hire someone for the job who hasn’t recently trod the halls at the show’s West 57th Street headquarters?
The list of people who have held the top job at “60 Minutes” is so minuscule it can’t even be called short: Since the venerable newsmagazine launched in 1968 with Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace (above, pictured), only two executives have supervised it: Don Hewitt, its founding producer, and his successor, Jeff Fager. Hiring an outsider would be unthinkable to many on the staff.
Without years of experience reporting and editing stories at a very high level, said one person familiar with the show, a new boss would not be welcomed. Two people familiar with the show said the executive producer role is not an easy one to fill with a producer from a rival network. The show is not like other newsmagazines like NBC’s “Dateline” or ABC’s “20/20,” which often focus on crime stories or newsmaker interviews. Some staffers at the show consider PBS’ “Frontline” a competitor, one of these people said
CBS News declined to comment on who might be under consideration for the “60 Minutes” job.
Producers and other employees of “60 Minutes” – one person familiar with the matter suggested dozens – gathered in the show’s offices to hear CBS News President David Rhodes deliver the news Wednesday that Fager had been terminated from CBS News, because he “violated company policy.” In a separate statement, Fager said he was let go because of what he called a “harsh” text sent to a producer about the quality of a report. “My language was harsh and, despite the fact that journalists receive harsh demands for fairness all the time, CBS did not like it. One such note should not result in termination after 36 years, but it did,” Fager said.
Fager had been under scrutiny due to allegations – which he has denied – that he tolerated a culture of harassment at CBS News. His ouster comes just a few days after CBS cut ties with former CEO Leslie Moonves amid investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct.
The producer had his supporters, and two people familiar with the program said some staffers expressed outrage and revulsion upon hearing Rhodes’ announcement. The CBS News President stayed to answer many questions from “60 Minutes” staff, one of these people said. But some members of the show’s production team were left angry and disillusioned by Fager’s departure, according to one of these people.
Now CBS News must turn to finding a successor. Bill Owens, a longtime Fager deputy, will run the show for the time being. Two people familiar with the program suggested many staffers would like to see Owens keep the top job. In 2012, he launched the companion series, “60 Minutes Sports,”for Showtime> He has been with the program since 2007, and has worked closely with anchor Scott Pelley.
There are other CBS News executives who could fill the role, according to people familiar with the matter. Susan Zirinsky, senior executive producer of CBS News’ “48 Hours,” has a dazzling resume and the respect of many across the TV-news sector. She is also senior executive producer for breaking news specials for CBS News, and has produced documentaries for CBS and Showtime, including the award-winning “9/11,” a documentary on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks told through the eyes of a New York Fire Department squad that was called to serve on that fateful day. She has worked at CBS News since 1972, and her high standards and outspoken demeanor served as inspiration for the character Holly Hunter played in the 1987 movie, “Broadcast News.’
One name being floated would buck tradition. One executive who has been suggested for the role is Josh Tyrangiel, executive producer of Vice Media’s half-hour newscast on HBO and a senior executive at Vice. Over stints at Time and Business Week, Tyrangiel has exhibited a flair for testing new presentation concepts. The Vice show, for example, uses short segments, immersive, you-are-there reports and even animation to deliver news of the world to a younger demographic. Tyrangiel would likely want to test similar changes at “60 Minutes,” according to a person familiar with the matter, which could spur some culture clashes. Under Rhodes, CBS News has tried new things, including Vice-style documentary programming as well as a new format for its weekend evening news and politics programming for its CBSN streaming-video hub.
Another name that has surfaced is that of Tanya Simon, a senior producer at “60 Minutes” who has steadily gained more responsibility over the years. She is the daughter of Bob Simon, the veteran CBS News foreign correspondent and “60 Minutes” staffers who traveled to dozens of countries over the course of his career. Simon died in 2015 after being severely injured in an auto accident.
CBS News doesn’t always move to fill a role immediately. After Scott Pelley left “CBS Evening News” in 2017, CBS News allowed several months to pass before naming Jeff Glor as his successor. The extended time frame gave CBS executives more room to consider not only internal candidates but also external ones whose contracts might not be immediately set to lapse.
One thing is clear on CBS News’ new choice: as is always the case with “60 Minutes,” a clock is ticking.