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Tick... Tick... Tick...: The Long Life & Turbulent Times of 60 Minutes Hardcover – September 21, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
60 Minutes has been on the air nearly 40 years, and as readers near the end of this behind-the-scenes history of the stalwart newsmagazine, they might feel as if theyve been reading about it just as long. Blum writes for Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal and other national publications, and (perhaps unintentionally) captures the famished, breathless tone of a celebrity-driven feature story. Using interviews and the numerous books, articles and memoirs about the show and its correspondents, Blum tells the epic tale. Don Hewitt began as a merchant marine reporter, came to CBS News and launched his dream show as part of the new Tuesday night lineup in September 1968. Although initial critical response was positive, ratings remained poor while the show struggled to establish its identity. By the mid-70s, however, the producers investigative journalism had grabbed viewers attention, and as the audience grew, so did the cast. Blum weaves backstories about Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace (the original front-of-camera team) with relentless administrative squabbles between Hewitt and network honchos, and the cycles of professional ambition and personal egotism are regular and monotonous. Blum attempts to give shape to the ongoing drama of outsized personalities (many come off as predictably power hungry or disingenuously careerist), but the energy dissipates long before books end. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Blum begins with the retirement party for Don Hewitt, the egotistical 60 Minutes executive producer who dreamed up the idea behind the most popular television news show and who managed to stay at the helm until recently. Despite on-air camaraderie, the show has been a rancorous place to work, plagued by Hewitt's wild ideas and insults, balanced by his desire for hard-hitting journalism. The show pioneered news-gathering techniques, including hidden cameras and "gotcha" interviews. Aggressive reporting by Mike Wallace and others provoked lawsuits by the tobacco industry and General Westmoreland. This is a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at the rise of Hewitt and 60 Minutes, including the illustrious careers of the show's correspondents: Wallace, Morley Safer, Dan Rather, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, and others. Blum details the clash of egos and personalities, the individual quirks of the on-air luminaries and their producers, and the ongoing battles with management at CBS, all against the backdrop of 36 years of domestic and international news coverage. Readers interested in the workings of television news shows will thoroughly enjoy this book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
But how did CBS, Don Hewitt and his rambunctious and ever-changing cast of charactors manage to pull it all off? In the pages of "tick...tick...tick....The Long Life and Turbulant Times of 60 Minutes" David Blum reveals that the "shop" as Don Hewitt likes to refer to the "60 Minutes" offices is largely occupied by ego-maniacs who genuinely dislike each other. I had read over the years that many of the correspondents and staffers at "60 Minutes" did not get along but I never realized the degree of rancor and bitterness that has existed. It is hard to imagine how a program of such consistantly high quality could emerge from such chaos. Blum also gives the reader a glimpse at all that is involved in getting a story on the air and introduces us to the producers who play a major role in making those important decisions.
"tick...tick...tick.....The Long Life and Turbulant Times of 60 Minutes" is at once a biography of its gifted but tempestuous creator Don Hewitt and a fairly thorough history of the program itself. For younger fans of the program who are too young to remember original co-host Harry Reasoner and features like "Point..Counterpoint" there is an awful lot here that they are probably unaware of. This is a well written book that managed to hold my interest throughout. Recommended.
But how many of us have watched every broadcast? Probably no one saw them all but those who worked for the show from the beginning. Certainly, if you're under a certain age, you haven't watched them all because the show is older than you are.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Blum had captured as many of the pivotal stories over the years as possible, both in terms of how they were developed and how they were reported. These stories also include 60 Minutes's biggest flubs and embarrassments. As a result, you can catch up on stories you missed the first time around. You also learn details that you didn't know when you first saw the stories you have seen. And you will find out about the aftermath that was often obscure at the time. The key interview lines and responses are usually in the book.
Beyond that, you find out what it's been like for all of these prima donnas to work together all these years. Predictably, they get on each other's nerves and the blow ups can be explosive. Don Hewitt, the show's executive producer and founder, turns out to be one of those high energy, aggressive people who has a million ideas a minute . . . and most of them are worthless. So he's drove people crazy for all of those years. There's a convincing portrait of how his instinct for entertainment in news added a lot of profits for CBS but often undercut reporting professionalism. You will also learn about the personal vices, quirks and flaws of the key players.
When they weren't on deadline cranking out a story, what were Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Andy Rooney, Diane Sawyer, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl really like? There's plenty of material there, as well as brief bios of how they came to join 60 Minutes.
There's also excellent material for those who are interested in the technical side of production on how the many pioneering techniques that 60 Minutes uses were developed.
Mr. Blum had a lot of individual access to reporters, producers and staff so the extensive public record of the shows themselves and the many books published by the leads is amplified by current observations of long ago and current events. The result makes for dramatic reading, particularly the parts about Don Hewitt being ushered off into retirement.
I was pleased to see the many times that Mr. Blum raised ethical issues about what 60 Minutes did or didn't do. Like any show, mistakes happen. It's often what you do about the mistakes that makes all of the difference. There the record is checkered also at times. Mr. Blum points out the issue, but doesn't rub your nose into it. You're left to draw your own conclusion in a pleasant way.
There's a nice insert of publicity photographs in the book to remind you what Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, Dan Rather, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Steve Kroft and Meredith Vieira looked like in their prime.
The book is balanced, apparently quite factually accurate, and informational from many perspectives. I think you'll like it if you ever watched 60 Minutes and enjoyed the show.
I should note before concluding that I watched the very first broadcast and seldom missed one for the first 20 years or so of the show's history. Around that time, I lost interest. If a touted segment strikes my fancy now, I'll tune in occasionally. But for me, this show doesn't fit my needs any more. I'm usually watching the pre-show for Sunday Night Football or something else instead. That's too bad. 60 Minutes was once the highlight of the viewing week for me.