If the recent 60 Minutes piece on Conan O’Brien was designed to embarrass NBC TV, it had a boomerang effect on CBS News. It was a classless piece; it came off as one arrogant network anxious to kick a struggling competing network while it’s down. You have to wonder if the late executive producer Don Hewitt, who put 60 Minutes on the map so many years ago would’ve allowed such a shallow piece of non-journalism to air.
NBC’s handling of the whole Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno Tonight Show debacle was a source of late night talk show humor across the cable and broadcast networks for weeks, making things worse for the 4th rated over-the-air network. But the performance of correspondent Steve Kroft in interviewing O’Brien took CBS and 60 Minutes right into the mud, as well.
It’s difficult to understand how this piece got on the air. Kroft, a long-time member of the 60 Minutes team and a much-decorated news reporter, seemed to make himself and his personal effort to hammer NBC executives the story’s centerpiece. Casting aside any suggestion of journalism, his apparent goal was to get O’Brien to violate his agreement not to comment on NBC and its management. Kroft’s questions served as prompts, attempts to lead O’Brien into criticizing his former employer.
You may recall that O’Brien refused to move The Tonight Show start time from 11:30pm (Eastern and Pacific times) to midnight so that Leno could host a half hour lead-in at 11:30. And, that fact was raised in the 60 Minutes piece. Yet, in signing a deal recently for a late night show on TBS, O’Brien has served to push current 11:00pm comedian and host George Lopez to midnight. Glaringly, Kroft failed to bring that up in his O’Brien interview.
For decades 60 Minutes has maintained a position in television’s top 10, often coming in first. Yet it has plenty of detractors who claim the program and its producers and correspondents never let the facts get in the way of a story the way they want to tell it. Steve Kroft and his Conan O’Brien interview have gone a long way toward validating those critics.
Hopefully, Don Hewitt wasn’t watching from somewhere above.