'60 Minutes' special: Show's still ticking, but time's a-wasted

November 13, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

About halfway through "60 Minutes . . . 25 Years," Executive Producer Don Hewitt says, "America's all laid out in the '60 Minutes' vaults."

If that's true, Hewitt should have shared it with us in the special telecast celebrating the show's 25th anniversary that airs at 7 tomorrow night on WBAL (Channel 11).

Instead, what Hewitt mostly gives us is two hours of puffed-up mini-profiles of himself and the correspondents of "60 Minutes." The show wallows in self-importance and preoccupation with personality right up to the end, which features Andy Rooney narrating a reel of bloopers.

Is that Steve Kroft falling in the water? Oh, look at that, Mike Wallace has a couple of hairs out of place and just can't get them to stay down. Oh, stop, I can't take it -- Lesley Stahl in a wig is just too much.

Yes, "60 Minutes" is the most popular TV show of all time. And, yes, in many ways it is an exceptional show. But "60 Minutes . . . 25 Years" is one of the most self-indulgent celebrations you are ever going to see on a medium that now spends more time replaying its past than it does producing new forms of programming.

Still, if you have a strong stomach when it comes to such self-congratulations, the show does have some moments for you.

They reach back to the 1950s when Wallace was a talk-show host in New York interviewing the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt.

"Mrs. Roosevelt, I think you would agree that a good many people hated your husband," Wallace is shown saying on a grainy piece of film.

It appears that Wallace already knew his way to the jugular 40 years ago.

There are also worthwhile snippets of Ed Bradley's interviewing Lena Horne, Dan Rather with Fidel Castro, Wallace with a young Oprah Winfrey, and Morley Safer chatting up Jackie Gleason.

One of the most interesting segments comes from Kroft's tense 1992 interview with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton when one of the stage lights fell in the middle of a question about Gennifer Flowers and almost landed on the Clintons.

But there should have been much from such interviews, showing the correspondents at work -- especially on their most widely known reports.

For example, the story that Safer did in 1982 on Lenell Geter, the electrical engineer jailed in a maximum-security Texas prison for a robbery he didn't commit, is mentioned. And an update is given on Geter today.

But Geter gets less time than is spent showing Diane Sawyer "dropping in" on her former "60 Minutes" colleagues and showering them with phony air-kisses and empty TV chit-chat.

Charles Kuralt, as narrator and lead cheerleader, is reduced to offering introductions such as this one to Hewitt: "You may not know this man, but in TV news, Don Hewitt really is a legendary figure."

"60 Minutes . . . 25 Years" should have spent less time telling us that its producers and stars are legends and more time showing us bits of the reports and interviews that made the show come to mean so much to so many.

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