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Oprah Winfrey has been named a ‘special contributor’ to CBS News’ ’60 Minutes.’ Winfrey will bring occasional reports to the newsmagazine starting this fall, when it begins its 50th season on the air.
USA TODAY

NEW YORK  — CBS’ 60 Minutes, the newsmagazine that can credit consistency for much of its success as it enters its 50th anniversary year, is about to see a major change with the addition of Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey will debut Sept. 24, reporting on a story about America’s political divisions.

MORE: Oprah Winfrey joins ’60 Minutes’ this fall

It’s a testament to the power of the Sunday-night newsmagazine that it seeks to absorb one of television’s biggest stars into its fabric instead of the other way around. One of the medium’s best-known celebrity interviewers will do some, but will largely work against type in reporting stories, said Jeff Fager, the show’s executive producer.

“She wants to do stories with impact,” he said. “She’s driven by that and so are we. That’s part of why this is such a good fit for her.”

Many of the names that made 60 Minutes great — Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Don Hewitt — are gone now. But the stopwatch keeps ticking every Sunday at 7 p.m. While everything in media seems to have changed around it, the show’s mix of investigations, news-making interviews, esoteric and entertaining features timed to the length of founding executive producer Hewitt’s attention span remains remarkably unchanged.

“It’s a miracle,” correspondent Lesley Stahl said.

When she joined in 1991, Hewitt told Stahl that he wanted correspondents to be like actors in a repertory troupe who could play all the roles, and that’s still the philosophy she uses to plan stories she pursues.

Gone, too, are the volatile days of throwing coffee cups, shouting matches and feuds, of Wallace peeking at colleagues’ notebooks to steal stories. But it’s still keenly competitive. Newcomer Bill Whitaker told Fager he dreamed of screening a story that his bosses found so perfect it merited no changes. Fager leaned in and told him, “that’s not going to happen.”

There’s a different pressure from the daily deadlines of the evening news, Whitaker said. At 60 Minutes, correspondents have time, talented producers and travel budgets. So they’d better deliver.