November 12, 1993|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK — "This is so much better than the 'wrap' party for 'South of Sunset,' " quipped Howard Stringer, president of the CBS Broadcast Group.
No fooling. The CBS detective series was canceled after one episode last month. The party Stringer was attending here Wednesday night was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "60 Minutes."
Some 600 New York notables, from Beverly Sills to Mayor-elect Rudolph Guiliani, ate dinner in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and heard David Letterman offer a special Top 10 list ("No. 2: Like Lassie, there have been three different Mike Wallaces") at the event thrown by CBS Chairman Laurence Tisch to celebrate the longevity (and the ratings and profits) of "60 Minutes," the Daddy Warbucks of TV newsmagazines.
The stars of the evening were the stars of "60 Minutes": Mike Wallace, who was shown in a recent film clip hiking up a hill after a story at age 75; the show's 70-year-old creator and executive producer, Don Hewitt; Andy Rooney; Morley Safer; Ed Bradley; Lesley Stahl and Steve Kroft, at 48 the youngest of the "60 Minutes" correspondents.
"My voice hadn't changed when I started watching '60 Minutes,' " Kroft joked before dinner. "I'm celebrating 25 years of '60 Minutes' after having worked only five years here--and Mike and Don aren't letting me forget that."
The correspondents were "sound-bited" by TV crews and photographed together by a clamor of still photographers before they went into the party. In a medium that has few national institutions among its current programs, "60 Minutes"--still going strong as TV's third most popular program this season--is practically the news equivalent of Johnny Carson.
Hewitt, who based "60 Minutes" on Life magazine, said the program was less dependent on ratings-grabbing subjects than many of the prime-time newsmagazines that have sought to imitate its success.
"I really think that we could have Michael Jackson on one week and it might not make that much difference in the weekly ratings," Hewitt said in an interview.
"A '60 Minutes' story can be an essay, a profile or an investigation. It's the stories and the mix that people tune in for."
Wallace, who said he intends to keep working on "60 Minutes" "till my toes turn up," paid tribute to the producers who work in the shadows of the correspondents. "This is a producer's broadcast," he said.
"It's the producers in the field who are out there working before we get there."
Diane Sawyer, who left "60 Minutes" to join ABC's "PrimeTime Live," recalled that competition there for high-profile stories was intense.
"It was like waking up and finding yourself in the middle of an Olympic relay," Sawyer said. "All of these other people were running past, with their Olympic medals flying, while you'd barely had time to (suit up.)"
Viewers will be invited to join in the anniversary celebration Sunday night when "60 Minutes" serves up a two-hour collection of highlights from its 25-year run at 7 p.m.
Host: Charles Kuralt