You won’t need an hour to watch “60 Minutes” this summer.
The venerable CBS Sunday newsmagazine will soon end its current TV season, but it is about to start a whole new cycle on Quibi, the short-form mobile-video service that could use the link to one of TV’s best-known programs to lure subscribers. In the last few minutes of Sunday’s broadcast on CBS, viewers will see scenes from the first “60 in 6,” the latest extension of the long-running program.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get our journalism in front of people who probably see ’60 Minutes’ when they are giving their mother and father a kiss and going out to see their friends,” says Bill Owens, the executive producer of the show, in an interview. “Let’s reach them where they are,” he adds, to build an interest in the show in all its forms.
Many TV-news outlets are rushing to create new kinds of programming for video-streaming platforms that range from Snapchat to their own live-video efforts. But only a handful have crafted distinct modern versions of their classic programs. There were fewer rules to follow when NBC News crafted “Stay Tuned,” a news offering for Snapchat that has been in operation since January of 2018. There are many considerations when taking one of TV’s longest-running programs to the digital frontier.
Wesley Lowery will lead “60 in 6” viewers through two harrowing segments from Minneapolis in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody. One will examine how such an event took place in Minneapolis, which has in recent years cultivated a reputation for being progressive, The other will ask why deaths of Black people in custody continue to take place, and will feature an interview with Benjamin Crump, the civil-rights attorney who has represented many families of recent victims. There have been discussions of a third piece featuring the reporter’s interactions with protesters.
Lowery may be working for a new outlet, but this reporter is chasing a familiar story. He gained a wider profile for his coverage of protests of police activity in Ferguson, Missouri. “This is a brand new show on a brand new outlet,” says Lowery, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Washington Post in 2016. “It’s pretty damned important that this is a story worth looking at.”
He won’t have the 12 or so minutes that TV counterparts like Lesley Stahl or Bill Whitaker have on TV. The Quibi version of the show will feature segments six to nine minutes in length, with some other tweaks for the outlet, says Ryan Kadro, who oversees news programming at Quibi. The interviews feel more intimate, he says, and even the show’s signature ticking timepiece has been updated. But some hallmarks remain. “The editors at “60 Minutes” have done a good job of preserving the storytelling, but they have definitely adapted it for mobile viewing,” Kadro says.
Lowery is one member of a team of four correspondents who have joined the newsmagazine especially for this series. Seth Doane is a CBS News veteran who has worked as a foreign correspondent. Laurie Segall has covered technology for many years, including a decade-long stint at CNN. Enrique Acevedo has interviewed presidents and traveled around the nation and hails from Univision, where he will continue to hold some duties. Quibi will release new episodes every Monday after the initial stories from Lowery come out this weekend.
The new program launches as Quibi has come under scrutiny. The service, led by well-connected Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay chief Meg Whitman, debuted just the coronavirus pandemic began to sap the economy and forced the on-the-go viewers the company hoped to attract to seek shelter at home – where traditional TV and emerging streaming-video outlets wait in abundance.. Critics have noted that buzz around some of the service’s new offerings has not matched the attention paid to its debut, which was heralded with Super Bowl commercials.
None of that, says Owens, has diminished efforts around the launch of the newsmagazine offshoot. “They are looking at everything. They continue to improve the platform, and our job is just to provide them with the best ’60 Minutes’ content we can, so that people go, ‘Did you see that ’60 in 6’ show? Let me check that out.’”
Quibi also features news programming from NBC News, BBC and ESPN, but the new “60” program debuts well after launch, and offers potential customers a new touchpoint for the service. “It’s been a bit of a blessing for us to have had a little more time to work to make sure that this all comes together,” says Kadro. “We are just getting started.”
CBS News has been able to take “60 Minutes” to new venues in the past. Owens was involved with the 1999 launch of “60 Minutes II,” a weeknight counterpart that did not always have the support of Don Hewitt, the newsmagazine’s founding producer. In more recent years, however, Showtime was able to launch a sports-focused version of the program and the series has even had some digital extensions. Though the decades, “60 Minutes” has remained one of the nation’s most-watched news programs, the result of the stories it tells, the news it breaks and the audience that often carries over from the NFL football games CBS telecasts each Sunday afternoon.
CBS News expects to produce between 34 and 36 episodes of the new series’ first season. Whatever uncertainty exists, Lowery just wants to get his stories out to the world. “Let’s knock the journalism out of the park,” he says. “And deal with the rest of it later.”