CBS names a new chief for '60 Minutes'

Bill Owens is only the third executive producer of the series, which has run since 1968 and hosted nationally renowned journalists, including Mike Wallace.
Image: CBS Television City in Los Angeles.
CBS Television City in Los Angeles.Tripplaar Kristoffer / Sipa USA via AP

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By Claire Atkinson

CBS News is starting to take shape under its new president, Susan Zirinsky.

Zirinsky on Wednesday named Bill Owens to one of the most powerful perches in journalism, executive producer of the long-running Sunday evening news show “60 Minutes.”

Owens is only the third executive producer of the series, which has run since 1968 and hosted a series of nationally renowned journalists, including Mike Wallace and Morley Safer, as well as humorist Andy Rooney.

CBS News confirmed the hire in a statement to NBC News.

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Owens is a longtime No. 2 on the CBS show and worked closely with its prior chief, Jeff Fager. Fager stepped down in 2018 after sending a text to a CBS reporter who had been following up on allegations of misconduct and poor company culture made against CBS News staff in an article published by The New Yorker. Only Don Hewitt, the creator of the show, preceded Fager.

Zirinsky, who was elevated to run the news division after also having conversations about running “60 Minutes,” told staff of Owens' appointment late Wednesday afternoon. One “60 Minutes” producer, Keith Sharman, tweeted a confirmation of the new title after NBC News first reported that Owens was finalizing his deal to take over.

The news is the second major hire since Zirinsky took over the news division a month ago from outgoing chief David Rhodes, and two sources familiar with CBS News who were not authorized to speak publicly said there are more changes to come. Zirinsky, who was previously the executive producer of “48 Hours,” promoted her colleague, Judy Tygard, to run the show on Zirinsky’s first day as CBS News chief.

Owens had been executive editor of “60 Minutes” since June 2008 and has overseen several big news making interviews this season, including an interview with the president of Egypt and a sit down with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in which she outlined a plan to tax the rich. The show also scored an interview with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Owens joined CBS in 1988 as a summer intern, and one of his first roles was as a national desk assignment editor. He later was the anchor producer for Paula Zahn and Harry Smith’s “CBS This Morning.”

CBS News was probed by investigators last year looking into sex harassment claims and concerns about the company's internal culture. Details of the work of the investigators from two law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling, were never publicly revealed.

One of Owens’ challenges moving forward will be the extent to which the “60 Minutes” team, which has until now operated as its own fiefdom, becomes more integrated with the rest of CBS News.

CORRECTION (Feb. 7, 2019, 2:11, p.m. ET) : A previous version of this story misstated Keith Sharman's title at CBS News. He is a producer at "60 Minutes," not an executive.