'60 Minutes': The Hottest Show on Television

It was never a complicated concept: take three news stories, stitch some commercial breaks in between and kick with some quirk. That was Don Hewitt's idea when he pitched "60 Minutes" to CBS in 1968. It was so simple, he was shocked when it worked. "It took off like a big-assed bird," says Hewitt, who produced the show until 2004. "Soon we were in the top 10, then we were No. 1." For 30 years, "60 Minutes" stayed there, but then its ratings tanked (graphic), bottoming out at an average of 11 million last year.

But just when "60 Minutes" was being written off as old hat, it's back in a big way. Thanks in part to a renewed commitment to hard news (the financial crisis, probing pieces on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) along with some exclusive sit-downs (the Obamas, post-election; Captain Sully and his heroic crew), the audience is up to 15 million per episode through February. "Our success is a direct reflection of America's hunger for news," says Jeff Fager, the show's current executive producer. Fager says he's resisted the celebrity crush for the past few years, but it didn't pay off until the economy hit the skids. "60 Minutes" has also embraced timelier, less evergreen segments—meaning more harried, deadline reporting. "It's the most fun you can have," says correspondent Scott Pelley. CBS has also gotten a boost from a less serious source: the NFL, which has surged in the ratings as well, providing a strong Sunday night lead-in for "60 Minutes." Its competitors, meanwhile, have been too busy catching predators to notice. Maybe they will soon. Tick, tick, tick, tick …

'60 Minutes': The Hottest Show on Television | U.S.