’60 Minutes’ Ratings Dominance Demonstrates Power of CBS News Sunday Lineup

Even in a fractured news landscape, CBS News’ Bill Whitaker believes that there will “always be a need and a place for hard-hitting, well-presented news” – and “60 Minutes,” which has maintained its relevance in the five decades since it first debuted in 1968, proves his point.

“60 Minutes” made television history this year, as it marked its 50th straight season as the No. 1 newsmagazine show in the U.S., the first time any program has topped ratings for that span. The hour-long Sunday program is seeing success by sticking to what they know — no-frills, deeply reported narrative segments that translate seamlessly to the screen.

“In this very fast-changing world, ’60 Minutes’ has found a formula and stuck to it. We’re not flashy, in any way,” Whitaker — who has been a correspondent on the show for 10 years — told TheWrap. “It’s just a straightforward presentation of the news. We find people who can present an issue, present a story that someone at home can relate to.”

For the Sunday evening program’s 56th season, “60 Minutes” averaged 8.35 million viewers, according to Nielsen’s most current ratings. The show also reached one in three Americans at least once this year on either the linear broadcast network or live streaming options. The show has also been TV’s No. 1 non-sports primetime program 15 times throughout the season.

Executive producer Bill Owens attributes much of the success of the show to the painstakingly intricate editorial process that goes on behind the scenes, telling TheWrap that viewers “might be surprised about how much effort and time goes into the writing, re-writing and editing,” of the program’s script. “Every word is carefully considered, and like a good book, it’s fulfilling when you finish one of our stories,” Owens said.

This is demonstrated in the content aired on the program, but also the interviews they score and the quality with which they are conducted. This year Norah O’Donnell secured a rare and historic interview for a U.S. broadcast network with Pope Francis.

Lesley Stahl was relentlessly covering anti-judicial reform protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “60 Minutes” just prior to the outbreak of war on Oct 7. Since then, she has reported from Israel four separate times this season, interviewing a released Israeli hostage, visiting Israeli border communities destroyed by Hamas attacks, and spending a week on the ground in Israel while the IDF was engaged in fighting on three fronts.

“60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley conducted an interview with President Joe Biden just days after Oct. 7, which marked his second interview with the program since taking office. Additionally, a “60 Minutes” interview from 2018 between Stormy Daniels and Anderson Cooper has resurfaced lately in relation to the trial and subsequent conviction of former president Donald Trump.

"60 Minutes"
CBS News (Bill Whitaker with French President Emmanuel Macron)

Whitaker pointed out that since “60 Minutes” only airs once a week, viewers know they can come to the program to have news presented in a way that “truly helps you understand,” rather than “talking heads yammering at each other.”

“This is a place where I would hope people come to find out what’s behind these stories, what’s behind the divide, and what’s making us feel so torn,” the ’60 Minutes’ correspondent told TheWrap, referencing entrenched political divisions seemingly manifesting across the country.

“Face The Nation,” moderator and the network’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan told TheWrap that “CBS just is so proud of ’60 Minutes’ and and sees it really as just such the gold standard for the kind of extended reporting we all want to do.” She added that while she isn’t a correspondent for the program, she appreciates any opportunity to work with their teams and contribute to the show.

But it’s not solely “60 Minutes,” as CBS News boasts a well-rounded Sunday lineup including “Sunday Morning” and “Face The Nation.” Both programs serve as the ideal lead-in for a viewer looking to walk away with a comprehensive media diet as they prepare for the week ahead.

“I think we have different audiences that are each loyal and substantial,” CBS News “Sunday Morning” anchor Jane Pauley told TheWrap. “Our programs are a shared commitment and appointment. And that’s a very special relationship while all too rare now.”

“Sunday Morning” — the baby of the trio, launched in 1979 — starts out the day with a wide range of topics that can vary from light-hearted to straight news at the drop of a hat.

“It’s such an eclectic mix of of stories and storytellers,” Pauley said. “It can be anything and maybe that’s part of the magic.”

The program has ranked No. 1 in total viewers and the key 25-54 demographic for 21 consecutive seasons. “Sunday Morning” has scored many high-profile interviews throughout the years including current and former presidents, politicians, entertainment personalities, and more. In 2023, the CBS News program conducted the first interview with Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy after announcing he would leave office.

Pauley told TheWrap that what brings the audience back is “viewers can expect to feel the same way they felt the Sunday before and the month before that. That’s the voice and the sensibility,” of the program.

CBS News Sunday Morning
CBS News (Jane Pauley)

And one admittedly “biased” but loyal consumer, Whitaker, attested to Pauley’s sentiment.

“I wake up Sunday morning, have my cup of coffee, open the newspapers, and sit down in front of the TV to watch ‘Sunday Morning,’” the “60 Minutes” correspondent said. “It’s a very comforting way to begin my Sunday.”

Brennan told TheWrap that “Sunday Morning” is a “beautiful example of the more light-hearted and exploratory,” side of CBS News, adding that it serves as a “great lead into” her program “Face The Nation.”

Launched in 1954 and marking its 70th anniversary in November, “Face The Nation” is the longest-standing show on the Sunday roster. Brennan moderates the public affairs program currently, scoring high-profile interviews and holding leaders to account.

Brennan told TheWrap her unique role in the Sunday lineup is to provide effective live interviews with policy-makers and agenda-setters to viewers, which has proven more challenging in an era of misinformation.

“We have to actively combat untruths,” Brennan said of the “Face The Nation” team. “I operate in that information space in a different way than other,” Sunday CBS News programming.

The “Face The Nation” moderator has recently conducted high-profile interviews with U.S. politicians like Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. Mike Johnson, and international figures like Netanyahu and Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan.

CBS News Margaret Brennan
CBS News (Margaret Brennan and Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan)

“Watching Margaret conduct business is really must-see television,” Pauley said of her CBS colleague. “She’s just become a giant in her ability to do that kind of interview, which doesn’t take her foot off the gas.”

The public affairs program has ranked No.1 in total viewers for eight out of the last 12 seasons, with four consecutive wins in the most recent four seasons. “Face The Nation” also ranks No. 1 in the 25-54 demographic for the second season in a row.

“We’re not in the churn business,” Brennan said. “We get to separate what is really important from what might just be interesting. And what does someone really need to know by the end of the week.”

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