50 Years of ‘Evening News’ Now with Scott Pelley at the Helm

By Alex Weprin 

It is 6:25 PM, and Scott Pelley is calmly reading notes, as he fiddles with his glasses in his right hand. Next to the “CBS Evening News” anchor, his colleague and “Face the Nation” moderator Bob Schieffer waits for the program to begin. We are in what was once a skybox in the Time Warner Cable Arena. As usual with the political conventions, they have been transformed into television studios and production offices, with the small space filled with people and equipment.

The lead story on this evening’s newscast was an excerpt from Pelley’s interview with the Navy SEAL who wrote the tell-all book about the Osama bin Laden raid. The Pentagon announced that he revealed classified information, and┬áthreatened┬áto take action just hours earlier.

It was a huge get for Pelley, and for “60 Minutes,” which has had more than its fair share of huge gets.

“We had been working on it for six weeks, maybe two months,” Pelley told me after the program. His name already changed for the “60” story, one of his other concerns was his appearance, which had to be disguised. The traditional methods weren’t enough.

“He was scared for his safety,” Pelley said. “We told him we wouldn’t turn on the cameras until he was satisfied with his appearance.”

The end result, Pelley said, was “amazing.”

The View from the CBS News Skybox in Charlotte

Of course, with the program originating from the DNC this week, it was hard to ignore politics. The roar of the arena crowd often drowned out Pelley inside the CBS box. While Pelley has covered more than his fair share of political events, the presence of Schieffer was incredibly important.

“I go to school with Bob every day, to take advantage of that experience, it is a great honor,” Pelley said, noting that when he asks Bob for his thoughts on the political events that transpired, “I really mean it.”

Pelley closed his broadcast by noting that the “CBS Evening News” was entering a historic year: its 50th as the country’s first half-hour evening newscast.

Walter Cronkite was behind the desk on September 2nd, 1963 when the news was expanded from 15 to 30 minutes. Cronkite secured a big scoop for the program that day: an interview with President Kennedy.

“Back then they didn’t know how they were going to fill the full half hour, so they filled the last 15 minutes with the Kennedy interview,” Pelley told me. “Now we have no problem, we could go a full hour every day with the material we have.”