A Brief History of the TV Newsmagazine

By Chris Ariens 

“One night a week is plenty for us right now,” “Rock Center” EP Rome Hartman tells THR‘s Marisa Guthrie. “We neither want to be considered filler nor do we have any plans for world domination.”

With the launch of “Rock Center” a little more than two weeks away, it occurred to us that this will be the first launch of a new broadcast network newsmagazine in nearly a decade, when FOX launched “The Pulse” anchored by Shepard Smith in 2002. “The Pulse” ran that Summer and returned briefly in the Winter of 2003.

Spinoffs of established shows have been the norm for the last 20 years on network television. Mostly, newsmagazines have been filler for networks when more expensive scripted shows fail.

The granddaddy of them all, CBS’s “60 Minutes,” debuted in 1968. Its spinoff, “60 Minutes II” debuted in 1999. In 2004, the show’s name was changed to “60 Minutes Monday (and later Wednesday).” That name lasted until the following summer, but by then the show was on the chopping block because of “RatherGate.” At the time CBS Chairman Les Moonves said the cancellation, “was a ratings call and not a content call.” “60 Minutes II” had its last broadcast in September 2005.

ABC’s “20/20” debuted in 1978. A second ABC Newsmagazine, “Primetime LIVE” with Sam Donaldson and Diane Sawyer, left, launched in 1989. In the late 1990s ABC put the shows together, using the “20/20” branding. There was a “20/20 Monday,” “20/20 Wednesday,” “20/20 Thursday,” and the original “20/20” on Friday. That lasted until 2000, when ABC relaunched “Primetime.” But even today, the brands are muddled. “Primetime” runs occasionally with Diane Sawyer interviews or true crime hours, while “20/20” airs on Fridays and reports news of the day, newsmaker interviews as well as crime stories which are ratings grabbers.

NBC got into the newsmagazine business in 1992 with the launch of “Dateline NBC” anchored by Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips. For years, it has been used to plug holes in NBC’s primetime. NBC News had another brief run in primetime with “Now” which was anchored by Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw. The show would last a year in 1993-94 and would later be folded into “Dateline.” As you can see by the show’s open, right, it also used the iconic symbol of Rockefeller Center, the Prometheus statue.