What 60 Minutes means to Oprah

The television icon returns to her reporting roots this week as she makes her debut on the broadcast that created her "breakout" moment

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There's a generation of Americans who came of age watching Oprah Winfrey. Her talk show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" lasted for 25 seasons, making it one of the longest-running and most influential daytime talk shows in history.

But for Oprah herself, the television program that had an indelible impact on her was 60 Minutes.

"As someone who's grown up watching 60 Minutes since I was a young girl, not even knowing the power, the impact, the value of the reporting, and then becoming a young reporter myself in my 20s in Baltimore, 60 Minutes was, I would say, for the first 20 years of my career like a religion," Winfrey tells 60 Minutes Overtime's Ann Silvio in the video above.

This week she makes her debut as 60 Minutes' newest contributor with her first story: a voter panel discussion filmed in Grand Rapids, Michigan about America's deep political divide. Winfrey tells Silvio that taking her seat at the table to moderate a heated discussion with Americans from all walks of life "felt like coming home."

Oprah's first 60 Minutes story "felt like coming home"

But it's not the first time Oprah has appeared on the 60 Minutes broadcast.

In 1986, Mike Wallace interviewed a young Oprah Winfrey as her talk show first hit the national airwaves. She was so new that Wallace explained in his introduction, "until three months ago, most Americans had never heard of her."

Mike Wallace interviewed Oprah on 60 Minutes in 1986. CBS News

In her interview with 60 Minutes Overtime, Winfrey admits that she had never been more nervous than when Wallace showed up, despite her breezy confidence on camera. But she also says the 60 Minutes interview was the breakout moment that changed her life.

"I think if 60 Minutes comes a callin', and you haven't committed a crime and they're just doing a story about you, you don't get more break out than that," she says, laughing. She tells Overtime that joining 60 Minutes as a correspondent three decades after that interview "is one of the great honors of my career."

60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager first asked Winfrey to join the broadcast years ago. He says he wrote her a letter after her talk show ended, but she was too preoccupied with starting her own network at the time.

"I thought it was the right thing," Fager says, "that she would be perfect with us."

Fager says Winfrey reminds him of the correspondent who showed up at her door all those years ago: Mike Wallace. Not only do Winfrey and Wallace share a history of hosting talk shows, they're also both driven to get to the bottom of things, says Fager.

"I really think that her qualities fit the best qualities in a reporter," Fager tells Overtime. "She wants to get to the truth."

The video above was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando. It was edited by Lisa Orlando, Will Croxton, and Sarah Shafer Prediger.
Photos of Oprah in Nashville from the personal collection of Oprah Winfrey