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Not in my ‘60 Minutes’

Correspondents don’t want to do celebrity interviews
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you see some celebrity interviews on “60 Minutes,” the correspondents are probably holding their noses. Morley Safer, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl didn’t hide their distaste Wednesday for the hottest trend in their line of work. Celebrity chats are such winners for newsmagazines that NBC and ABC this summer arranged for help from entertainment news shows in landing them.

“This cloying by various television reporters for the right to interview the slut du jour just becomes kind of a silly joke, something out of ‘Saturday Night Live,”’ Safer said at a panel discussion arranged by the National Television Academy.

He acknowledged, though, that “60 Minutes” wasn’t immune to chasing after the big “gets,” a TV phrase that Safer detests.

Over the past year, interviews with Whitney Houston, Sharon Osbourne, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have been unexpected ratings hits. ABC, NBC and Fox competed feverishly during February sweeps for footage of Michael Jackson talking.

After noticing that NBC News used its corporate relationship with “Access Hollywood” to land the Affleck and J.Lo interview, ABC agreed to share celebrity chats with another syndicated program, “Entertainment Tonight.”

Stahl and Kroft noted that entertainment celebrities are usually the most demanding interview subjects, in terms of what they will talk about and when they will appear — usually to promote their latest projects. Affleck and Lopez only talked about their romance when their bomb movie, “Gigli,” came out.

“It’s made doing these interviews a little more distasteful for all of us,” Kroft said. “It’s turned us all into shills.”

Celebrities not very interesting
More often than not, Stahl said, these celebrities aren’t particularly interesting.

“Most of the time, we walk away from them,” said “60 Minutes” executive producer Don Hewitt. During the past year, “60 Minutes” has interviewed Nicole Kidman, Sheryl Crow and Billy Crystal.

Usually a comfortable profit center for CBS, “60 Minutes” has more leeway to say “no” than its competitors. Hewitt, creator of television’s first and still most popular newsmagazine, estimated “60 Minutes” has generated more than $2 billion in revenue for CBS in the show’s 35-year history.

“When you make money, they leave you alone,” Hewitt said. “That’s really why you want to have a profitable broadcast.”

“60 Minutes” has been showing signs of wear lately, losing some 10 million viewers over the past decade and having one of the oldest audiences. CBS announced earlier this year that Hewitt would step down at the end of the upcoming season.

While praising advertisers, Hewitt was interrupted during the panel by “60 Minutes” curmudgeon Andy Rooney, who noted how commercials have cut in to the broadcast time.

“The show is 42 minutes long now and that’s hurt it,” Rooney said.

Hewitt shot back: “How do you think they get your salary?”

“Thank God for the ratings,” Safer said. “If it wasn’t for the ratings, we wouldn’t all be millionaires.”.