He Rarely KnockedBy
Television was a stay-at-home industry before Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt and the rest of the gang at “60 Minutes” began lugging cameras, microphones and lights on the road, storming the offices of the nefarious, the suspect, the infamous.
Before “60 Minutes,” which debuted in 1968, TV news was strictly done from the confines of a studio. The Cronkites, Huntleys and Brinkleys were anchormen in the literal sense—they were anchored to their desks. For decades, no one knew what those newsmen looked like from the waist down.
Even Edward R. Murrow’s groundbreaking “Person to Person” featured Murrow in the studio—chatting up a guest who was in his/her home. Murrow and his crew didn’t come calling.
That all changed when Hewitt, “60 Minutes” executive producer, and Wallace—one of several on-air hosts/interrogators—came up with an idea for a “news magazine” show that would involve the cameras being mobile, the subjects being hunted down, and the questions being harder than a jawbreaker.
Wallace, who died the other day at age 93—following Hewitt’s death by almost three years—was perhaps the most famous of the “60 Minutes” dogs who treated news stories like a pork chop bone.
Wallace would sit, calm, cool and collected, across from his quarry, who was much less comfortable. The sweat would pour, the face would turn pale and the nervous ticks were beamed into our living room. The guests’, not Wallace’s.
A visit by Mike Wallace and his camera crew, for the shady, was tantamount to a trip to the dentist for a root canal—sans anesthetic.
Of course, Wallace didn’t always set up an appointment; his kind of TV was guerrilla television—a pop quiz of immense magnitude.
Geraldo Rivera and every local yocal TV news “problem solver” owes his or her vocation to Mike Wallace, Morley Safer and the rest of Hewitt’s raiders.
Wallace went to the University of Michigan and remained close to his alma mater, though he was born in Brookline, MA, more famously known as the birthplace of the Kennedy political brothers.
Wallace (left) with fellow guerrilla reporter Harry Reasoner
The list of subjects that Wallace interviewed is too voluminous, of course. But suffice it to say that if anyone was anyone, Wallace asked him/her questions. And sometimes Wallace asked the unknown, the low profile, questions as well. And those answers were often just as important and eye-opening as anything uttered by the famous.
“60 Minutes” was groundbreaking, and Wallace did most of the breaking. His professional dealings with Hewitt were famously pointed and occasionally bitter, filled with disagreements. But their turbulent executive producer/on-air talent relationship also made “60 Minutes” such a great program.
Wallace’s decades-long entrenchment at “60 Minutes” was fait accomplit, to hear him say it.
“I determined that if I was to carve out a piece of reportorial territory for myself it would be [doing] the hard interview, irreverent if necessary, the façade-piercing interview,” he once said.
He did do that.