"She doesn't talk to me about it, but she has to have thought about it," says Fager. "Even to sit in that chair and hear that stopwatch ticking - it's a tough thing to do."
There is no such thing as a typical Vicki Mabrey piece, at least not yet. Mabrey is still developing her own voice.
The process is intensely collaborative. Like many newsmagazine correspondents, Mabrey depends on producers who help to pick and research stories and then conduct extensive background interviews.
She plunges into the material, obsessively preparing herself for the crucial taped interviews that make or break stories. The producers write suggested drafts of the stories, and video editors, including her boyfriend Leon Ferguson, match picture to sound. She is involved in shaping the pieces, but she relies heavily on colleagues.
One story focused on a black family's discovery that they were descended not only from slaves on a plantation but also its owner. She gently rebuked a white colleague for wanting the observations of a white scholar to be the engine driving the narrative. The family members should largely speak for themselves, Mabrey argued.
She has interviewed famous cultural figures and those on the cusp of celebrity. She has taken chopper rides with drug enforcement agents and interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates about the growing pains of their new philanthropy. She's flown to an archaeological dig in Turkey, and to Italy to grill officials of the clothier Benetton over a marketing campaign that glorified convicted killers.
On air, she is composed and deliberate, but also warm, drawing people out. She likes to let people tell their own stories. "I know this is a show where we're supposed to take people on adventures - what's Mike [Wallace] doing this week? Who's Mike harassing this week?" Mabrey says, laughing. "But I think we're just a conduit - we're really a vehicle for people to tell their stories."
Joel Bernstein, a producer at CBS for more than 30 years, says Mabrey's informed empathy enables her to elicit surprising and intense responses.
"She's a good reporter - but a lot of people are good reporters," Bernstein says. "She knows what a good television story is - but so do a lot of people. But she gets people to open up."
For a sensitive story about a Duke University study on Alzheimer's, Mabrey followed a woman in her 70s whose condition was fairly advanced. The husband of the patient took his first vacation in years, as the woman's twin sister cared for her at a rented apartment.
At the end of the piece, Mabrey interviews the married couple together. Turning to the husband, she asks: "Is she good company for you anymore?"
The man responds: "Yes and no. It's like - could you continue to carry on conversation with yourself all the time and be satisfied?"
A bit later, Mabrey asks, "Is it love?" The camera focuses on their clasped hands, granting the couple dignity even as they face wrenching emotion. "Is it love, Doris?"
"Love. Oh, boy," the woman says, with a sad little laugh. "Nope." Her husband of five decades rests his head on hers briefly. "Yes," he says, emphatically, his eyes clouding. "Yes," the woman repeats, nodding.
Initially, the weight of the program burdened Mabrey. For her first three months in New York, she lost her appetite. "That's what happens when I get really nervous," she says. "Some people go into binge eating. I stop eating."
The entrance of the "60 Minutes II" front office is decorated with a big poster featuring the smiling faces of the show's primary correspondents. Mabrey is visibly discomfited by it, looking away every time she passes. And she almost never enters from the street level, where a promotional banner looms from the facade of the opposing building. She's something like 15 or 20 feet tall on the banner.
Mabrey clearly wants this show to work, but she doesn't act as though her place is permanent - at least not yet. Along with bookshelves, small plants and reminders of friends and stories distant, her office overlooking the Hudson River contains boxes marked "London" set aside in a corner. Many months after her arrival in New York, the boxes remain packed and sealed. And her contract includes a clause, inspired by Safer, that guarantees her a job back at the CBS London bureau if things fall apart.
"I heard a quote one time that said journalists are people traveling first-class on other people's money, and, at any point, that can change," says Mabrey. "If so, I've had a great ride. I've got great memories, I have phenomenal mementos from all over the world. I'll get another job doing something, and I'll go back to flying coach."
The Bono decision
Back in the darkened conference room, awaiting the word on her story on U2's Bono, Mabrey looks at Fager, her boss. Bathed in light from the banker's lamp, Fager makes it clear he loathes the start of the piece.
It'll run, he says, but not like this.