Jeff Fager looks back on 50 Years of "60 Minutes" in new book

Jeff Fager: 50 years of 60 Minutes

"60 Minutes" has won 138 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards in its five decades on television, and it has shattered enough ratings records to be called history's most successful program. But the legendary program is still evolving.

"I think that we're more relevant on the news today than we were for many years, and I think that's important today," said Jeff Fager, now in his 14th year as executive producer of "60 Minutes." "But you know, the fundamentals haven't changed over all these years, and I really think that's a big part of the success."

In honor of the broadcast's half-century anniversary, Fager is out with a new book called "Fifty Years of 60 Minutes: The Inside Story of Television's Most Influential News Broadcast," published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS.

The Whistleblower

Staying relevant and timely is important to the broadcast, but Fager said it can present a challenge because stories like their bombshell investigation into the opioid crisis with the Washington Post took months to prepare. It resulted in lawmakers calling for action and Rep. Tom Marino withdrawing his nomination as drug czar.

"We hope to have that kind of impact. And I think a lot of times we judge ourselves based on the investigative reporting," Fager said.

"60 Minutes" producers' screenings of pieces before they go to air are infamous for their intensity. Even "60 Minutes" special contributor Oprah Winfrey said last week on "CBS This Morning," "I love the process of sitting in a room and everybody ripping your stuff apart. I love that. They say, go back, make it better. Jeff Fager has an ear and an eye like – unbelievable."

"It's not personal. It's direct. And I think that a lot of that translates on the air. But in the interest of fairness and accuracy, it should be intense," Fager said.

The executive shared stories about some of the legendary journalists he's worked with at "60 Minutes," starting with the broadcast's creator, Don Hewitt.

Remembering Don Hewitt

"It wouldn't have happened without him. Just a creative genius," Fager said. "He was an amazing character. Really, full of life. Larger than life. And he was a great editor as well. Really good storyteller. And I think that's a huge part of what we have become. Why we became that. And Mike Wallace joining up with Don Hewitt."

Fager said the Hewitt and Wallace duo were like John Lennon and Paul McCartney "because it was those two unique characters that had so much to do – and today still – with how we operate and the way we approach stories."

Almanac: "60 Minutes" debuts

"And also, what a rascal," Fager said of Wallace.

"I tell stories in the book about Mike because he was so much fun to be around. And at the same time, so difficult. A combination of the two," Fager said. "And, you know, always in the halls very much like he was on the air, which was, if you gained a few pounds, he'd make sure you knew it. You know, and if he didn't like your story on Sunday night, he'd tell you that, too. If he liked, it he'd tell you." 

Classic Morley Safer interviews on 60 Minutes

As for journalist Morley Safer, Fager said he "brought something really different."

"Part of, I think, why he – because he was such a great writer. And so his stories were built around a prose. And I think part of that is because Mike Wallace started stealing stories from him," Fager said. "Mike was so competitive. Morley had to come up with something that was unique, and he did. The kind of whimsical tale, an adventure he would take."

Fager has been on adventures himself as executive producer, even arm wrestling with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting for "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose's "60 Minutes" interview with the world leader.

"It was a draw," Fager said.

"It was a draw. I was there," Rose concurred.

"I was afraid I might beat him, so I called the draw," Fager said, laughing.